Guest Assistance Cards Vs. FastPass+: Let the Battle Begin

| January 16, 2013

As many know, Disney’s FastPass+ system has been under testing for several months at Walt Disney World.  As a result of this new initiative, which allows guests to book attraction times in advance of their trip, we’ve seen some changes in the current FastPass system, not the least of which is the requirement to return within the allotted one hour timeframe.  But there is one more variable to the system Disney is trying so hard to perfect, and that’s the Guest Assistance Card.  Continue below to find out how FastPass+ could be forcing some changes to the Guest Assistance Card.

I’ll start off by saying I’m sure this topic ranks right up there with ECV usage, various dining annoyances, and any other highly controversial Disney policy.  Having said that, I’ve been told by many who deal with it everyday, that the Guest Assistance Cards and their abuse is increasingly becoming a problem Disney needs to address.

Guest assistance cards (GACs) allow guests with a disability to be given reasonable accommodations based on the nature of their disability.   Although this might simply mean waiting in an alternate area away from the sun, it can also mean being given a reduced wait time.  While Disney always emphasizes that they are NOT a Fast Pass, many times their use leads you straight into the Fast Pass line or wheelchair entrance (which is what those who abuse the system use it for).

Let me be VERY clear, I am not advocating against GACs.  I am not saying everyone who gets one is able to use it as a Fast Pass or that every attraction accepts it as a Fast Pass.  I AM saying, that if you say the right thing, anyone can get one and with many attractions, it will lead to either the Fast Pass line or wheelchair entrance.

I had the chance to see a good friend of mine recently who works in Guest Relations.  He told me the abuse of the guest assistance cards is growing out of control and one park in particular has been trying to push back about it.  Yet, at the end of the day, the cast members are stuck because even if they know someone is abusing it, they cannot legally question the disability.  This leads to people exploiting the system and the problem has been growing.   There are actually tour companies who bring small groups into the parks and utilize the GAC to express the group to the front of attraction lines(through the FP line or wheelchair entrance) as part of the overall tour experience.  Sadly, some of these tour guides working for the tour companies are also cast members, but that’s a discussion for a different time.  Regardless, the problem is growing and Disney has taken notice.

So how does this tie into FastPass+?  The idea behind FastPass+ is having a very controlled guest flow for the attractions which is why FastPass return times are now being enforced.  So the new restriction on return times in coordination with guests reserving attraction times in advance potentially create a well-managed, positive experience for the guests (and Disney’s bottom line because less time in line means more time in gift shops).  But there’s one variable in this tight knit system, and that’s the GAC.  Just how much of a variable is it?

When Radiator Springs Racers opened in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, the large amount of annual pass holders utilizing GACs created a reduction of fast passes available at the popular attraction by as much as 33%.  Additionally, Guest Relations’ cast members were stationed outside the entrance of the attraction, giving people with a GAC a return time based on the current stand-by wait time.  So if the wait time was 2 hours, they were given a hand written pass to come back in 2 hours and then enter the FastPass return queue.  Eventually this reached the desk of George Kalogridis who commissioned the Guest Relations team to come up with a way to reduce the expectations of those using the GAC and create more restrictions around it.

So what about Walt Disney World? Well, Disneyland is about 18 months behind WDW in the next-gen initiative, but WDW is already in the midst of rolling it out.  With George now coming over to WDW and having seen this problem at Disneyland, one must wonder what’s in store for WDW’s GAC program.  If GACs really created that much of a problem for Radiator Springs Racers, imagine the problem it could create with rides like Soarin, Test Track, and Toy Story Mania, all of which will be relying on carefully planned statistics to implement FastPass+.  Clearly these statistics can’t account for groups of 5 at a time randomly being thrown into the FastPass line.

I want to be clear – I have not heard anything saying things ARE going to change at WDW.  However, FP+ relying heavily on statistics, GACs being blatantly abused, and the President of Disneyland becoming the President of WDW as of February 1 all point to the large possibility of a change in the near future.


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Category: Disney World, Disneyland

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  • raeolight

    I think the point the author is making is whether or not GAC’s will be needed vs. the new system. b/c maybe now they will be able to incorporate GAC’s into the new system all together. I think you all are confusing the Fastpass program with Fastpass+ which will have more included than before. So he’s debating on whether or not GAC’s will be integrated with the new program. Therefore I don’t think he should have to rewrite his article b/c he’s just talking about the flaws of the current system and the possibilities of fixing those flaws with the new system. Also the reason people might abuse GAC’s now is because they think it is like a fastpass and as was stated above maybe employees at DL treated as such because they did not have proper training on what they truly were. So don’t fault the author. Personally I’m glad he wrote the article b/c I didn’t even know this program existed and now I’ll be more aware.

  • SueM in MN

    I was sitting on a bench at Germany in Epcot with my youngest DD when some people stood behind us and commented that they hated “fakers like that who get a wheelchair so they can go o the heads of lines.”
    They based their assessment in the fact that my daughter was sitting on the bench with her legs crossed, swinging her top leg. Her wheelchair was parked next to the bench. It is not a rental wheelchair and to anyone who knows anything about wheelchairs, it is an expensive custom manual wheelchair (cost more than my first car).
    What they did not see ( and obviously did not care about) was how she got on the bench. Since she can’t stand or walk without support or even transfer herself, I lifted her out of her wheelchair and sat her down. She wanted her legs crossed, but she needs us to do it for her or grab her sock to pull her foot up. This was not the only time someone judged us and, I’m sure will not be the last.

    There are people who will get fake doctor’s letters or lie to get what they think us a benefit. There was even a black market in Make a Wish buttons at one point!
    I don’t think there are as many people willing to temp Karma as some people seem to think, but those who are willing and unscrupulous enough to do that are likely to continue.

    There are also people who do not understand how to use their GAC – for example, a prior poster said they were no longer allowed to enter Splash Mountain thru the exit. They has been told to go thru the regular line until they got to the point that the regular line got to the stairs, then take a path that goes to an area by the exit to wait.
    I don’t know if she was talking about WDW or Disneyland, but the WDW line is considered ECV and wheelchair accessible to that point and according to the WDW park map for guests with disabilities, the ‘mobility access’ is to o train a Fastpass or go thru the regular queue.
    It has been that way for at least 10 years. If people show up at the exit, a certain number of CMs will probably let them board there because it is less trouble to do it than explain to the guest (and possibly get a mad guest). Even though it is not correct. That guest is likely to think that is what they hold o t other attractions.

  • raeolight

    I by far would never suggest as in Sue’s case that someone was not in need of a GAC based off a person sitting on a bench. If you have a wheelchair than you are in need of that. I know that people in wheelchairs can still walk and get up and sit etc. When I say sometimes you can tell someone is cheating the system it’s b/c it’s pretty obvious. It’s not at all in how people look it’s how people act. I personally would never say to someone’s face or even behind their backs like in Sue’s case that that was true but you have to realize when you’re a veteran of customer service people give off certain vibes that alert you to a scam. That’s all the author and others are saying. It’s not to be rude or disgusting it’s just a matter of life and what you learn as an experienced and savvy CM. And noting those things should be a good sign of CM’s want to protect those they know need a legitimate GAC. It’s like when I have to ask for an id when someone is writing a check. People get so irate that I don’t trust them, but they don’t realize it is for their protection b/c the ones that are writing fraudulent checks have a totally different demeanor when they are asked and that’s how we protect good honest people from them. We don’t ask to insult their trust. The same is happening here. The author is not accusing people who are honest that they are cheating he’s speaking of those who have broken a system that was put in place to allow everyone to enjoy the magic of Disney. And further discuss if that system might need to be renewed or revamped to further protect it’s integrity via the Fastpass+ system.

  • peemagg

    The biggest problem with this article is the incorrect information, and the assumptions made in it. If it was an article saying that with the Fastpass+ it could do this to help eliminate the misconceptions as to how the GAC is actually supposed to work, then it would be fine. Also if the “let the battle begin” wasn’t in the title. Why would you put that there if you were not looking for a fight.

    I believe the author got exactly what he wanted with this article. To get everyone on both sides in a uproar. To not correct what was misconceptions and assumptions is his way of poking and insulting those who do need the GAC legitimately.

    If someone can find a way to cheat any system at any time for a perceived advantage, then they will if they have that type of morals. Even asking for proof (which as most who have legitimate disabilities would have no problem showing if needed) is no way to be sure that the person really needs it. There are doctors out there who will write the notes (not to mention someone printing out their own at home) for bogus diagnosis. Why? Because it isn’t like anyone is going to come after them and put their medical license in jeopardy for writing them. Why wouldn’t they? Until there is a form of punishment for writing such things, then that won’t change and won’t help with determining who is legit or not.

  • lovethattink

    raolight, but what about the child who is walking and playing for a time and looks typical? Sometimes my son uses his wheelchair and sometimes not. He is friendly and can hold quite a conversation with people. Nobody can see his disability by just looking at him. However, if someone was observing him over time it would be more obvious. I have no problem with answering any questions or showing ID to get one for my son. Most of the other local theme parks ask for name, address, etc. and input that information into their computer when getting their form “GAC”. I think I gave my ID, his old “GAC” and his annual pass at those parks. Disney has only ever asked for his anual pass and old GAC. Universal has a barcode system attatched to theirs. Sea World’s and Busch Gardens is a paper printed from their computer. Of the other parks, Universal’s works the best.

  • tragicallygeeky

    Dear Author, Titling a post on a known emotional topic “Let The Battle Begin” and then affecting shock when people react defensively seems rather naive, if not disingenuous. Perhaps in future if you want to avoid confrontational conversations, you might want to consider slightly less inflammatory wording, remembering that a joking manner doesn’t always come across in print?

    Regarding how much actual abuse of the GAC exists… it’s a fact that more people in our current population are facing genuine disabilities that hinder their ability to wait in lines. Whether it be the mushrooming numbers of children being affected with autism, growing numbers afflicted with various forms or arthritis, the plethora of immune disorders… what it all comes down to is that more people than ever genuinely need assistance. Many of these are invisible disabilities.

    In my viewpoint, there is more of a problem with perceived abuse of the system, than actual abuse.

    The last time I went to the Parks, I thought I could get by with just my walking cane. If I took the alternate route, even the rides where line has stairs, there were so many dirty looks and muttered complaints from people around me who obviously knew I was “faking.” More than one person actually “accidentally” kicked my cane out from under me in retaliation. So I rented a wheelchair. I really really really hate riding a chair, you’re at butt-eye level with the crowd, it’s bumpy and jostles my joints, and it’s just an insecure feeling. And still people bumped into me constantly, either due to not seeing me or intentional “punishment” because in their perception I was gaming the system. One mother pointed her child in my direction, he proceeded to climb over me, leaving me covered in bruises- when I yelped in surprise she gave me a dirty vindictive look.

    Going soon with a rollator (walker with wheels,) which is really hard on my ego (I’m only 35) but gives me walking support, a flip down seat, a bit of a cage around me to distance other people, and more mobility and independance than an ECV or wheelchair. We’ll see how it goes. Not putting spikes around it to distance the nasty people who want to hurt me for “faking” but it’s tempting.

    These people are thankfully by far the minority. Just as people faking disabilities to obtain a GAC are by far the minority. Maybe Disney needs to institute a wee educational program, a few signs stating “Please show consideration for our disabled guests, many disabilities are invisible and you really wouldn’t want to have to hobble in their shoes for a day.”

    Anyway. I welcome changes to the current system, if they can manage to meet the needs of the disabled while lessening the perceived advantage to outside observers.

  • mazbar

    One comment the person with the gac card doesn’t have to go on the ride. My wife who has a spinal implant carn’t go on any high impact ride but my daughter and myself could use it this is because the disabled person shouldn’t be left for long periods. I have also seen one person getting out of a wheelchair then a different person getting in

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