What’s the Deal with FastPass?
In my best Seinfeld voice, I ask you a simple question: “What’s the deal with FastPass?”
We’ve reached a point where Walt Disney World has loosened social distancing restrictions. Disneyland will follow suit on June 15th.
The parks have increased capacity significantly, solidifying the need for digital queuing.
Right now, only one attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, uses it. Fifteen months ago, most Disney attractions offered virtual queuing via FastPass.
Why hasn’t FastPass returned? What’s the deal? The discussion is nuanced, but I’ll talk you through Disney’s internal struggle.
Are FastPasses Gone?
Anyone who has visited Walt Disney World lately can answer this question. No, FastPasses haven’t vanished from the parks.
Unfortunately, most guests don’t get to use them, though. When you visit an attraction, you may notice people standing in the FastPass line queue.
Disney does assign FastPasses to guests in certain situations. For example, let’s say that an attraction tears down while you’re standing in line.
You receive a complimentary FastPass good for a replacement attraction.
Since FastPass isn’t available to the overwhelming majority of people, you effectively walk on the secondary ride.
So, on those rare occasions where you get a FastPass, you’re golden.
Park guests may also receive FastPasses in other instances. They could be complimentary make-good offerings for previous inconveniences.
I once had a Disney vacation where more than 15 rides tore up while I was either standing in line or physically on the attraction.
Afterward, Disney comped my traveling party with twice as many FastPasses each day of our next trip.
Similarly, people with disabilities or parents of children with them receive FastPasses.
In doing so, they avoid the struggles that come with hours spent in the standard lines.
Similarly, Disney has started operating VIP Tours again. Guests participating in those tours utilize the FastPass line at each attraction.
As such, you will notice people in FastPass lines frequently. Frustratingly, that doesn’t help you any.
Why hasn’t Disney restored FastPasses for everybody else? Like an ill-defined relationship during the early days of social media, it’s complicated.
The Current Problems with FastPass
I don’t want to get into the weeds too much here, but my college education is in computer programming.
I code about as well as people with a black thumb tend to plants, which means that I’m experienced in all forms of disastrous programming.
One of the dirty secrets of computer coding is that starting from scratch is easy. You can build a program to do anything.
The maintenance phase is what kills you. That’s the rest of the lifespan of the computer program, the time when countless code changes get introduced.
Think about the situation like your closet. When you first move in, you organize everything perfectly, creating the perfect system.
Over time, you accumulate a bunch of stuff without a designated location.
You only care about not having junk in plain sight when guests visit. So, you throw it in your closet and kick the can down the road.
After a while, you’re afraid to go in your closet because of all the pesky skeletons and dust bunnies.
Computer programming works similarly when done poorly…and more places than you’d like to believe are done poorly.
Have you ever heard those stories about computer missile silos that still use floppy disks and computer languages from the 1960s?
They’re a feature, not a bug. They’re impossible to hack, and the lack of available processing power/storage space ensures that nothing gets added.
What does all this have to do with FastPass? Well, it involves the pandemic…
Nobody Programs for the Impossible
Computer programmers often design under the black box or snack machine premise.
When you want potato chips from the snack machine, you could care less about how the technology works.
All you want as a user is to hit a button and have a bag of Doritos pop out.
Coders design everything so that the user experience remains easy. Unfortunately, they cannot plan for every possible scenario, though.
To wit, when Disney constructed the FastPass system, it employed one reasonable supposition.
Attendance always goes up at Disney theme parks. As new rides and themed lands join the parks, more people visit.
Nobody could have anticipated the black swan event of a pandemic, one that forced an attendance squeeze.
Park officials had to react on the fly to unprecedented circumstances.
One of the changes involved the introduction of Park Passes, which required changes to the virtual queuing system.
I don’t want us to get too far into the weeds here. So, I’ll say it like this. In the snack machine scenario, imagine if it suddenly added coffee.
Now, imagine if the coffee part happened in an emergency and tended to leak on the other snacks.
Sure, you’ve got coffee, but the older stuff in the snack machine no longer works right.
The same general philosophy applies to FastPass. Disney made emergency changes to get its Park Pass system up and running.
At the time, the company’s choices were “no money coming from the parks” or “some money from the parks.” They understandably chose the latter.
To make that happen quickly, Disney modified its tech to introduce the Park Pass system, which works very well.
There are side effects, though. One of them is that Disney cannot simply flip a switch to reactivate FastPass.
Can Disney Even Bring Back FastPass?
The answer is yes. You can fix any piece of terrible code, and I say this from experience.
Well, in my case, it was the experience of my standing in a professor’s office while they tried to figure out how to fix the code I had butchered.
Anyway, the point is that Disney built FastPass to work one way under optimal circumstances, presumed full park capacity.
FastPass was never designed to work with Park Passes or artificially constrained capacity limits.
These issues may sound trivial, but they require an overhaul of the elderly code.
Disney can fix it, just as my professor somehow turned my alphabet soup into viable computer software.
FastPass could come back in a matter of weeks. It’d probably have some hiccups, but it’d work.
The question is whether the company wants to bring it back. Parts of the code are more than 20 years old and reflect 20th-century thinking.
That circles back to the maintenance phase I mentioned earlier. Disney theme parks have evolved over the past two decades. FastPass hasn’t.
Park officials may prefer to start from scratch with something new, which is why I recently asked how much you would pay for FastPasses.
A new system that works differently could reinvigorate Disney theme parks while modernizing and planning for the future.
In fact, recent patents suggest that Disney has something specific in mind.
So, even if FastPass does come back soon, it’s possibly temporary.