October 15, 2019

Disney apologizes to guests after Skyliner ‘nightmare;’ no indication on reopening

Walt Disney World Resort has yet to set a reopening date for its new aerial cable car system, the Skyliner, after it stranded passengers for hours on Saturday night.

Riders were stuck when one of the Skyliner cars became stuck in the air, the company said. Disney’s website still says the service is “temporarily closed.”

“We have a team diligently looking into the cause of Saturday’s malfunction on the Epcot line of the Disney Skyliner,” Disney told USA TODAY in a statement. “We have been in contact with the guests, many of whom were on the Skyliner for more than three hours until we were able to restart the system. We express our sincere apologies for the inconvenience and continue to work with each guest individually.”

It was not immediately clear how many riders were stuck. Photos on Twitter showed a few yellow cars jumbled together along a platform.

Chris Edenfield told the Orlando Sentinel that he and his disabled mother were stuck on the ride for hours.

“We’ve cracked open the emergency kit awhile ago for water; it’s just a nightmare right now,” he said.

The company said no injuries were reported and that it was working with each guest “regarding impacts to their visit with us.”

The Skyliner system opened a week ago to much fanfare; Disney announced it would be ready in fall 2019 in November of last year. The company describes the Skyliner on its website as a “grand, state-of-the-art gondola system” that connects Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot to four Disney hotels.

Glitches aren’t an anomaly for newly opened attractions, according to amusement park safety expert Bill Avery of Avery Safety Consulting Inc.

“Glitches are rarely catastrophic and more often than not associated with minor malfunctions where a little extra ‘tweaking’ may be necessary,” Avery tells USA TODAY. Assuming Disney followed typical safety precautions for new attractions, they would have operated it for some time testing safety features — first unloaded, then with load testing. Next, in-house personnel would ride it before guests ever got on.

“Sky rides malfunction for various reasons,” he adds. “Many times it is a part of the safety system that shuts it down. Preparing and practicing for an evacuation such as occurred in this instance is very important for operators of sky rides. Failures happen, and the operator must be prepared. Operators must be prepared to respond quickly and effectively.”

Brian Avery, an events, tourism and attractions operational safety expert, told USA TODAY that three hours is too long for people be stuck in the cabin on any attraction.

“Measures should have been in place for the possibility of a ride or device failure that required an expedited rescue and/or the delivery of water, food, medicine, portable toilets,” Brian Avery told USA TODAY.

Passengers — and Disney — lucked out that the weather wasn’t threatening. “In this instance for example, if a violent thunderstorm had popped up and/or high winds were present, this could have been a serious event,” Bill Avery added.

“You can never anticipate all the things that can go wrong,” he said. “I would imagine they learned a lot handling a real shut down and will incorporate what they learned into their procedures for the next time.”

Dennis Speigel, president of industry consultant International Theme Park Services Inc., told USA TODAY that Disney will likely look at all of the systems, including braking, pulley and wind systems as a means of testing. He says it shouldn’t take more than a couple of days to figure out what happened before putting it back in service and that the public shouldn’t be concerned.

Speigel recalled another sky attraction incident: In the early 1980s at Kings Island theme park in Ohio, a sky ride stranded people for six hours. After getting everyone down safely, the attraction shut down for a week and went through testing. Once it reopened, lines were longer than the previous few years.

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