A proposed class action lawsuit filed this week claims that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has essentially used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to “take advantage” of people who bought the higher levels of its annual passes.
The 30-page case alleges that although consumers paid hundreds of dollars for Platinum and Platinum Plus passes—which purportedly granted access to all four of Disney’s Florida theme parks with no “blockout dates” for a one-year period—passholders have been subjected to “a host of new restrictions” ever since the parks reopened in July 2020 amid the pandemic.
Per the case, Platinum passholders believed these changes, which included a park reservation system and “park hopping” limitations, would “only be temporary” but have come to find that Disney has kept the restrictions in place even after the threat of the pandemic has lessened and the state of Florida no longer has COVID-19 mandates in place.
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According to the lawsuit, although Platinum and Platinum Plus passholders were told they would be able to access Disney’s parks 365 days a year, many have been unable to make reservations on certain days even when single-day passes are still available for purchase. By refusing Platinum passholders even when the parks have not reached capacity, Disney has “directly contradict[ed]” its representation that the Platinum passes would not be subject to “blockout dates,” the lawsuit alleges.
Per the case, Disney is “doing nothing more than taking advantage” of its loyal Platinum pass customers, who “had no way of knowing” that the terms of their passes would be unilaterally changed to such an extent that they “do not even resemble the original agreement.”
“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.”
Disney’s Platinum and Platinum Plus annual passes were introduced in 2015 as a means for customers to pre-pay for essentially unrestricted access to Disney’s Florida theme parks, including EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the case relays.
Both Platinum-level passes were distinct from the lower-level Gold and Silver passes in that they were represented as having no “blockout dates,” meaning customers could use their passes every day of the year that the parks were open and not at maximum capacity, according to the complaint.
The suit further notes that both Platinum passes allowed for “park hopping,” i.e., visiting more than one of Disney’s Florida parks in one day, which the complaint alleges is “one of the most sought-after and important features” of an annual pass given the flexibility it provides.
The lawsuit claims all of this changed, however, when Disney shut down its parks in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Temporary” safety precaution?
When Disney reopened its parks in July 2020, those hoping to visit the “happiest place on earth” were met with new restrictions that were seemingly put in place for safety reasons, according to the case.
One such restriction was a new reservation system that required guests to make a park reservation for a specific day in addition to buying an admission ticket, the suit relays. The reservation system artificially limited each park’s capacity such that Platinum and Platinum Plus passholders could no longer gain entry 365 days a year, according to the suit.
The park hopping benefit was also restricted, the suit says, in that guests could only go to one park per day when they first reopened. In January 2021, Disney began allowing annual passholders to begin park hopping but only after 2:00 p.m. each day, according to the case.
The lawsuit says that although Platinum passholders at first expected these changes to be temporary, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy stated earlier this year that the parks will not be returning to their pre-pandemic capacities—meaning Disney intends to keep these new restrictions in place, according to the suit.
“You shall not pass”
The two plaintiffs, described in the complaint as “loyal customers of Disney,” claim the benefits they believed they would receive with their Platinum annual passes have been substantially changed even after the threat of the pandemic has begun to wane.
Per the suit, Disney issued a modification in the spring of 2020 that limited Platinum passholders to only three days of park reservations at a time. When the plaintiffs began planning a trip to Disney in May 2020 that was scheduled for November of that year, they realized they would be unable to use their Platinum passes for the nearly six months between May and November since they could only hold three reservations at a time, the case relays. After “dozens of phone calls to Disney,” including one with a 13-hour hold period, the plaintiffs ultimately had to rebook their trip at a much higher price and could not even use their “next to useless” Platinum passes, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs further claim that Disney has unfairly limited the number of Platinum passholders who can make a park reservation for a particular day even when the park has not reached capacity. One of the plaintiffs alleges, for instance, that while she and her significant other were planning a trip to Disney, the plaintiff, who had a Platinum Pass, was unable to obtain park reservations for certain days even though her significant other, who was using a multi-day pass, was able to make a reservation for those days.
The other plaintiff says she also experienced blockout dates when she observed that ticketing kiosks at the parks appeared to be selling single- and multi-day tickets even though the parks were shown to be sold out of reservations online.
“The issue in both scenarios was not that park reservations were unavailable, or that the parks had reached its full capacity, the problem was that Disney had decided to block out otherwise available park reservations so that they were only available to new purchasers and not Platinum Pass holders,” the complaint reads, claiming Disney has been “unfairly favoring” single- and multi-day ticket holders “in order to make a larger profit.”
The case claims Disney never informed the plaintiffs and other Platinum passholders that it would “artificially decide” when park reservations would become unavailable to them.
According to the suit, Disney has attempted to “cover-up its own wrong-doing” by phasing out its older annual passes, including the Platinum passes, in favor of new annual passes introduced in September 2021.
Who does the lawsuit look to cover?
The lawsuit aims to represent United States residents who held a Disney Platinum Pass or Platinum Plus Pass and were denied entry to one or more of Disney’s Florida parks as a result of the actions alleged in the case.
I was denied access. How do I join the lawsuit?
There’s usually nothing you need to do to officially “join” or be considered part of a class action lawsuit when it’s first filed. The case will be litigated on your behalf, and if a settlement is eventually reached, that’s when the people covered, called the class members, should receive notice of the settlement with instructions on how to file a claim for their share.
In the meantime, one of the best things you can do is to stay informed. We’ll update this page with any notable developments, but keep in mind that it could take months or even years for the lawsuit to be resolved.
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