Jack Scheatzle has detected a growing trend at amusement parks, and he doesn’t like it one bit.
The New Franklin man first wrote to me two years ago to complain about his experience at the Universal park in Orlando. I told him I rarely write about issues that aren’t local.
He wrote again in September to tell me the practice had spread to Cedar Point. That got my attention, but his timing was terrible: The amusement-park season was virtually over.
Before he could return to his keyboard this spring, yet another nearby resort had moved to the dark side: Pittsburgh’s Kennywood.
The issue in question: The ability of people with big money to cut in line ahead of everybody else.
At Universal, the pay-to-cut practice is called an “Express Pass.” If you’ve got a spare $70 or so per person (on top of the $88 basic daily admission), you can brush past everyone else, just like a lunch-line bully.
Cedar Point calls it the “Fast Lane.” Those passes start at $50, enabling you to take cuts at 24 of the park’s rides. For $65 or more (depends on the day), you can thumb your nose at everyone else at 26 rides.
Kennywood is offering an a la carte menu to line-cutters, with nine different packages involving one to six rides and ranging from $5 to $18.
Scheatzle isn’t just annoyed by this practice; he is fuming.
“Horrible, un-American and immoral,” he says.
A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps. But only a bit.
As he points out, this is not the same as someone paying more money to get a better seat.
Preferential treatment for the well-heeled dates back to the first stirrings of commerce. Folks with more money have always gotten a better view of the world: “box seats” at the ballgame, “orchestra seats” at the theater, “first class” on airplanes.
But the folks sitting in first class on a Boeing 737 aren’t slowing down the journey for the people in coach.
As Scheatzle puts it, “When a wealthy person buys a better seat, the person who paid for a general-admission seat does not lose anything. With these [line-cutting passes], the wealthy person actually takes from the general-admission person. By moving to the front of the line, he steals time from the rest of the people in line. And, since time at a theme park is limited, the passes are legalized theft.”
When the waits for popular rides are 45 to 60 minutes or more, the last thing a patron wants to see is others breezing by to a special entrance and fast access.
Cedar Point’s marketing manager, Bryan Edwards, says this is much ado about nothing.
“Due to the number of rides included in the Fast Lane service, the limited number of Fast Lane ... wristbands sold per day and the efficient and safe procedures that Cedar Point operates its rides, Fast Lane will have minimal impact on the regular ride line,” he wrote in an email. “Cedar Point has the highest ride capacity in the amusement industry.”
When asked for a ballpark definition of “a limited number” — 50? 500? 5,000? 15,000? — he said the resort won’t reveal that information.
This caste system isn’t limited to amusement parks. The PGA Tour has dipped its toe into the same territory with “Inside the Rope” tickets.
At January’s Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii, spectators who forked over $850 could get a package whose main selling point was the right to romp around inside the ropes that separate players from fans — thereby coming between the players and regular spectators who are constantly jockeying for the best viewing angles.
Akron’s Bridgestone Invitational does not advertise its “Honorary Observer” passes or sell them on the open market, but those work the same way. Two well-connected civilians are allowed to follow each pairing thanks to a perk attached to big corporate packages.
Don Padgett III, executive director of the local tournament, says the practice began in 1999, and he has yet to field a single complaint.
“They’re moving along with the group, so if there is an obstruction, it’s not for very long,” he says.
During the mid-1990s, some PGA tournaments created special lanes and seating areas inside the regular ropes and allowed up to 1,000 spectators to truck around for $1,500 a head. A public outcry brought a rapid end to that atrocity.
Padgett says he is not aware of any current tour event where more than two spectators are allowed inside.
But you know how that goes. Where there are two, eventually there will be four. Then six. …
At the airport, if you can’t be troubled with long, frustrating security lines, never fear. Paying extra will let you shoot through a special fast lane while the rest of the customers stand around grinding their teeth.
US Airways, one of at least four airlines offering such a program, said last year in a news release: “We know that our customers’ time is important to them and are happy to offer a service that helps them get on their flight more quickly” — regular customers be damned, apparently.
Bottom line: More money should get you a better seat. More money should not give you the right to step on ordinary folks on your way to that seat.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.