New court documents were filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court’s Orlando division on behalf of two individuals; identified only as “M.P”, a resident of Orange County, FL, and “E.K” of Palm Beach County, FL. The lawsuit claims that Disney has exemplified ‘predatory business practices‘ in limiting Annual Passholder access to the pandemic-born park reservation system, even when single-day ticket entry remains obtainable.
“Disney’s conduct is a predatory business practice aimed at exploiting the customers who support it the most, its annual pass holders. Disney abused a global pandemic to take advantage of its own loyal customers and increase its revenue,” stated the lawsuit on Tuesday. The pair, who are now out of pocket over six hundred dollars per family member, claim they are not able to use the passes over the entire 365 days of the year as expected at the time of purchase.
Christine McCarthy, Walt Disney Company’s chief financial officer, responded, “we needed that (reservation system) when we were limited — severely limited in capacity when the government restrictions were such that you could only allow 10%, 20%, 25%.” McCarthy continued in March of this year to add, “then we saw that we could actually use this, even when the restrictions were lifted, that we know how many people are going to the park on a given day. And if they filled up a certain amount or how many reservations would be left for people just walking up at the last minute, but it allows us to better balance load throughout the year, throughout the week, throughout the month.”
Fans took issue with Disney’s approach to managing crowd intake, with a similar case arising against Disneyland in Anaheim, California, earlier in the year. The lawsuit, initiated by Jenale Nielsen, claimed that the company had falsely advertised their revised tiered Annual Passholder system with limited access available to many passholders who had invested into a tier that provided no block-out period. The disgruntled party reports spending $1,399 for an annual Dream Key pass, though was unable to secure a park reservation for any weekend within the month, even while single tickets were still available for the same days at a premium price.
“Ms. Nielsen reasonably believed and relied upon Disney’s advertisement and promise to mean that, if Disney had capacity at its Anaheim parks, Ms. Nielsen and her fellow Dream Key pass holders would be allowed to make reservations and visit the parks,” the claim stated; as it requested the court approve the complaint in the form of a class-action suit, open to more than 3,600 people who have purchased Dream Key passes. Nielsen is seeking damages in the matter along with attorneys’ fees, alleging that Disney has demonstrated a ‘breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, concealment, false advertisement, and unfair competition, and seeks damages and attorneys’ fees.’
A spokeswoman for Disney, Liz Jaeger, responded, “we have been clear about the terms of the Magic Key product, and we know that many of our guests are enjoying the experiences these passes provide. We will vigorously defend our position as the case proceeds.”
Despite the Disneyland website stating a caveat that guests are not guaranteed access to the park at any time, regardless of the price of their annual pass, the action has been given the green light to proceed. In May of 2022, the OC Register reported that Judge David Carter of the United States District Court had denied Disney’s motion to dismiss the west coast Magic Key case, and it would proceed.
Back in Orlando, Disney responded to the latest lawsuit on Tuesday afternoon with a comment from representatives that drew focus toward the Passholder’s opportunity to withdraw from the program at the beginning of the pandemic. “Annual Passholders continue to be some of our biggest fans and most loyal guests,” the statement read. “We’ve been upfront with Passholders about the updates we’ve made, and we offered them the flexibility to opt-in or opt-out of the program early in the pandemic, including refunds if they desired. This lawsuit mischaracterizes the program and its history, and we will respond further in court.”
While Disney has advertised 365-day access to the parks through their passholder system, some are questioning the vagueness of that statement, expecting Disney to petition that access was available, even if those who couldn’t obtain a reservation weren’t quick enough to secure the limited allocation. Conversely, others wonder if this is evidence of a wider systemic failure to comply with reasonable expectations when passes were purchased in good faith.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
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