EDITORIAL: Why Disney’s Bag Check Process Needs An Overhaul, And Needs It Now

The world is becoming a more dangerous place, even at the Most Magical Place on Earth. The attacks of September 11, 2001 shook up security processes across the country, and Disney Parks weren’t excluded. Among the changes was the implementation of a bag check system for guests entering the parks. Ostensibly, this was to stop guests from bringing weapons into the parks, which were now considered a terrorist target.

Over the years, these bag checks did indeed find guests attempting to bring guns into the park. In 2016, it happened twice in the same day. Often we hear that the guest “forgot” they had a gun in their backpack, or had a concealed weapon permit and somehow thought those apply on Walt Disney World property. In any case, Disney security was successful at stopping weapons from being brought into the parks a number of times.

But this begs the question: How often are they unsuccessful? Thankfully, we have not had an incident where weapons were used inside a Disney park. But does that mean the security personnel have a 100% success rate? I highly doubt it. After all, the TSA has missed weapons being brought onto commercial airline flights, sometimes as often as 95% of the time, and that’s with their advanced millimeter-wave screening equipment, x-ray machines, K-9 units, and bomb detection machines. Somehow I doubt that Disney’s security guards, with their advanced equipment such as flashlights and wooden sticks, have a higher success rate than the TSA. Beyond that, there are way too many alternate entrances into the parks that could be exploited by those with criminal intent. Remember, Buzzy didn’t just walk out the front exit of EPCOT.

So with the bag check being nothing more than “security theater” designed to provide the illusion of security and make guests feel safe, they do not actually preventing someone from causing a catastrophe with a weapon or other device inside a theme park. So what is their purpose? The “security theater” gives the appearance that Disney takes safety seriously, and of course the bag checks are relatively effective at catching people trying to bring selfie sticks into the parks.

However, these bag checks are also rather annoying to frequent park visitors, especially those who park-hop and have to go through the security checkpoints multiple times each day. I’ve heard from many friends and acquaintances that the security personnel either did such a cursory inspection that there’s no way they would have found a gun, to the other end of the spectrum where the checkers insisted on squeezing a woman’s tampons to make sure they were not dangerous.

But after the coronavirus pandemic, there looms a much larger issue with these bag checks: The threat of contamination. Sure, the security guards wear gloves. However, gloves are designed to protect them from things they are touching. Gloves do not protect my possessions from being contaminated by a virus particle in the bag of the guest in front of me, because the virus particle can easily stick to the outside of the glove then be transferred to by bag. If a guest is an asymptomatic carrier of coronavirus, it is very likely that something in their backpack or purse has virus particles on its surface. And thus it’s quite easy for that virus particle to be spread to one or more guests by the bag check process. The six-foot distance does nothing to prevent the spread of the virus when someone is touching the contents of your bag and the bags of hundreds of other guests. In fact, this manual bag check process probably has the potential to spread the virus farther than standing 2 feet away from someone and holding the handrails on a Disney bus. Think about how many bags that one security guard puts their hands in.

Of course, the security personnel could change their gloves after every bag check. Although it would be somewhat effective, it also seems like it would slow down the already slow process even more, and lots more money would have to be spent on gloves.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a contactless method for bag inspection? Where the screeners could use a machine to look inside your bag and see all of the contents without having to touch all of your personal belongings? Where women wouldn’t have their personal care items handled by strangers?

Well, someone in the theme park industry has come up with a solution. Unfortunately this genius doesn’t work at Disney. But right up the road at Universal Orlando Resort, they are employing this brand new contactless technology right now to safely inspect bags without the risk of cross-contamination. And if my facetiousness hasn’t come through yet, let me make it clear: I’m referring to the humble x-ray machine, being used at airports since the passing of the Air Transportation Security Act, in August of 1974. That’s right folks, there has been a contactless bag inspection system in use in this country for forty-five years, and in use at Universal Orlando since the summer of 2016. Not only is an x-ray machine arguably better at detecting prohibited items than sticks and flashlights, but anyone who’s been through the screening checkpoint at Universal will tell you that it is much faster and more efficient than the bag checks at Disney.

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In addition to Universal, the Disney parks in Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo all have x-ray machines for bag scanning. In Paris, even the hotels will inspect your bags upon arrival in the lobby.

So let’s sum this up. X-ray machines are more effective than manual bag checks, the process is faster and more efficient, as well as less invasive, and there is significantly less risk of virus transmission. What’s the downside? Like everything Disney does nowadays, the decision is probably based on money – the substantial initial cost of the machines. If so, Disney is once again putting profits ahead of guest safety, efficiency, and guest satisfaction.