Disney Used the Pandemic to Cheat Guests Out of Their Annual Passes: Court Filing

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When the coronavirus pandemic was at its height in the United States, Disney used the public health scare to cheat Parks Guests out of their annual passes, according to a recent suit filed against the company.

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But The Walt Disney Company is fighting back against the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court by two annual passholders angry over the lack of available dates for them to visit the parks at Disney World.

Erica Kelly, a resident of Palm Beach County, and Marilyn Paone, an Orange County resident, filed suit against Disney in October 2022, when they were unable to make reservations to visit Disney World using Disney’s Park Pass Reservation System for their desired dates, despite the fact that their annual passes claim to have “no blackout dates.”

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In October, when the pair filed their suit, neither plaintiff wanted to use her name, and instead, each woman used only her initials in court filings, saying that they feared the ramifications of using their full names in the suit, as the suit had gotten unexpected media attention, and both women were concerned about receiving derogatory comments on social media.

“One of the Plaintiffs has a minor stepson she does not want to subject to ridicule and confrontation due to her connection with this lawsuit,” court records read in part. “The other Plaintiff is specifically concerned the tenants in her rental house will be heckled by disgruntled Disney supporters due to her name being listed on the rental home.”

The women submitted screenshots of comments made about the lawsuit on social media to back up their claims, but to no avail. Judge Daniel Irick warned that the suit could be immediately dismissed because of the plaintiffs’ refusal to reveal their names.

“Instead, [the] Plaintiffs’ concerns are more akin to the fear of personal embarrassment, and their argument and evidence do not outweigh the interest in proceeding publicly,” Judge Irick wrote in his order, as he denied the women’s request to keep their identities secret. “This case is subject to being dismissed without further notice for both a violation of the Court’s Order and a failure to prosecute.”

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Following the magistrate’s order, the plaintiffs disclosed their names.

But Disney is fighting back against the suit filed by Kelly and Paone, who claim in their complaint that “Disney’s conduct is a predatory business practice, aimed at exploiting the customers who support it the most–its Annual Passholders.”

The Walt Disney Company intends to see the suit dismissed, and as such, the company argued in court that they have worked with passholders during the coronavirus pandemic–during which the rules and procedures for securing admission to the parks changed.

“Kelly and Paone omitted from their complaint everything that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts did for annual passholders during the transition to the reservation system,” Disney argued in court documents, “including, most notably, giving every Passholder the chance to opt-out and be refunded.”

In court documents, Disney noted that both Kelly and Paone did not choose to opt out of their Annual Passes or to be refunded.

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Kelly and Paone allege in their suit that “Disney abused a global pandemic to take advantage of its Platinum passholders and unilaterally changed its Platinum passes, even after the threat of the pandemic subsided.” The plaintiffs also allege that “Disney altered the Platinum Pass terms so dramatically they do not even resemble the original agreement bargained for by [Kelly and Paone].”

Disney’s Park Pass Reservation System requires that Guests who want to visit the parks make a reservation for specific dates and specific theme parks. This applies to Guests who purchase single-day tickets, as well as to Annual Passholders with the highest tier pass, the IncrediPass. But there’s a limit to how many dates can be reserved–depending on whether Guests are staying at a Disney Resort Hotel or not.

But many Guests feel that such restrictions, as well as the fact that some dates might not be available because of other Guests’ previous reservations, negate the passes’ claims of “no blackout dates.” Disney has dismissed these claims as well.

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Kelly and Paone maintain that Disney used the coronavirus pandemic as a way to cheat some Annual Passholders out of the benefits and perks of their passes, and in court documents, the pair of plaintiffs has gone so far as to suggest that Disney’s new Annual Pass terms don’t read anything like the terms in place when they purchased their passes. But Disney points out that Kelly and Paone–like every other Annual Passholder during the pandemic–had the opportunity to be refunded for their passes and relinquish them, but chose not to do so.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!