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

Jason Diffendal

Updated on:

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

Jason Diffendal

Updated on:

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.

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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.

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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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File downloaded from dreamstime.com under free editorial trial.

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.

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38 thoughts on “EDITORIAL: Why Disney’s Bag Check Process Needs An Overhaul, And Needs It Now”

  1. Omg! More mass hysteria! Stop it already.. oh no germs are everywhere, its dangerous, people are touching my things.. shut up! Tho i know you wont post this. Know its how everyone really feels

    • Lol let me tell you as someone who works in a job that has now opened again against most health experts’ advice: people do *not* feel the same you do. People don’t even want to touch door handles or table tops at my employer and i’ve seen it in stores as well. Nice try though with the “omg hysteria” chant. I’m gonna guess your required mask will have a mouth and nose hole cut out of it, but you can always dye it red to match your red hat.

    • Wow, he posted it! So you are wrong. And ah…no, it is NOT how everyone else feels. So wrong again Disney Fan. Why are you so anxious to become infected and to infect others? Do you think it makes you more patriotic? If you are a man, does it make you feel more masculine to defy science and not wear a mask or follow safety guidelines? Why should WDW risk lawsuits and the health of its staff and guests to satisfy your hatred of rational thinking? I suggest you never go to any Disney park so you don’t have to be around rational people that care about their health and that of others around them.

    • Based on the number of down votes your comment is getting, we now know it’s NOT “how everyone really feels.”

    • Thank you. I wish that people would stop living in fear and just start living again!!!

  2. I am not a fan of the current process at all myself, however you are over reacting to the current issue and forgetting things that happened less then 5 years ago…The Orlando shooter cased our Disney property and because of this security presence went elsewhere. That is a massive piece of information missing from this piece.

    I would also prefer machines to hand searches however your analysis is incredibly over the top

  3. I worked at WDW in 2015 when a guest was caught with a gun in MK. That’s why bubble gun shooters and toy guns in Frontierland were pulled off the shelves overnight. Security doubled down. They did randomized metal detector screenings and made us CMs go through bag check when we never had to before. That coupled with the awful bus service oftentimes made CPs late to clock in. Anyways, it makes me wonder how effective security actually was if they weren’t “all-in” like they were before the incident.

    I would love a moving x-ray machine for bag checks. I feel like it would go faster than the airports because you wouldn’t have to take your shoes off.

  4. If a person is that come concerned about the virus, maybe an amusement park isn’t the place for them. Also, with the assistance of Homeland Security Disney is tested often and has always outperformed TSA.

    • I don’t see how in world that Disney is better than the TSA or the TSA is better. The point is that the TSA has x-ray machines and Disney doesn’t. I would agree that the TSA has its problems from the start. Maybe Disney should talk to Universal about the use of x-ray machines.

      One thing that Disney needs to do is fix their fence lines where the tresspasser’s like Matthew has gained illegal access into its parks by walking around the fences where stop at the creeks. If he can do it someone else can do it and that person may do harm.

  5. People bring way too much stuff with them. Back packs are so full it looks as if they are moving in to Cinderella’s castle. One fanny pack per person is all that’s necessary unless a baby is involved then maybe a small baby bag for diapers bottles etc. only necessary items.

  6. This is crazy. We can’t sanitize the entire world. we can live with germs and we will survive.

    • Tell that to the front line workers and grandparents whose corpses are currently stored in government rented empty buildings because “we can live with germs”. Those people died alone without their family. But by all means, keep on with that “we will survive” mentality. Yes we as a world will survive but did we really need to let hundreds of thousands (marching towards millions) of people die because people were inconvenienced my rubbing sanitizer on their hands? Grow up.

      • I know many of those front line workers.
        Many that are getting laid off because there are no patients. I feel for the families of those who got this and didn’t survive. Just as I feel for the boy lost at sea last week. We couldn’t prevent it. AND Hundreds of thousands die every year from flu and we aren’t freaking out. My son is compromised. We live knowing how fragile life is everyday but we refuse to live in fear of death. That’s just not living!!! We can’t be afraid of the germs that are around us. Mortality is still 100% and my son may only live to be 20 but we will not fear death or what could kill him. That is no way to live! No way to enjoy life!

      • we are all going to die of something…hand sanitizer isn’t the cure …lol…get out, get some immunity built up.

  7. All good points, Jason. I’d like to add, that while I’m no expert, maybe if the “door frame” many of us have to walk through at the Security line is strong enough to catch everything (like a good xray) they could just let us keep our backpacks on and walk through (ALL of us entering the park). It’s difficult sometimes to remember where to put everything back into travel vest pockets or the various lanyards around our neck (I’m a bit like a pack mule in the parks), and having to zip up all the backpack compartments after a regular bag check is done holds up the crowd line sometimes.
    With a more thorough screening for everyone walking through the security door frame, if anyone’s bag or pocket contents set off any alarms THEN Security would have to take that person aside and check out that person’s bags/pockets for unsafe items. It would be faster – granted, we’d have to approach slowly and with safe distancing between each person (guided by the security agents). Your suggestion would be good, too, and Disney could do whichever one is more accurate at finding unsafe items (and is cheaper, perhaps). I saw that bag check machine used at Universal Studios Hollywood before, too. Either way, the security agent would only have to touch the contents of a bag if something unsafe is found by the machine in question. Otherwise, with the current way Disney does bag checks, I’d think that the officers would have to wear plastic gloves and change those between each bag checked. A time waster along with being bad for the environment (too many gloves used). (EDIT: sorry, I didn’t see that you already mentioned the gloves issue.) Let’s hope they do something better than the current process when the parks re-open.

  8. I think describing Disney’s process as Security theatre is someone harsh. I’ve heard of the TSA process being called this as they miss so much but a manual process of checking bags probably is more effective that xrays to be fair but definitely less efficient. You point out yourself that they have found many weapons.

    • I think we are calling it theater because it takes so long, like a show lol. Universal does well with the machines, we don’t need everyone getting “interviewed”.

    • I think the “theater” label is accurate only because the bag checks are so inconsistent like the post says. Sometimes they toss that bag digging in every nook and cranny and next time they barely open the flaps and wave you through. In order for it to actually be security you should be inspecting every bag to the maximum every time. Or don’t bother. Even better let the ancient tech that exists do its job and get the xray machines lol

  9. When checking bags at security checkpoints they need to use, ultra violet lights to kill viruses and bacteria.

  10. I’ve accidentally brought in a large pocket knife twice into the parks simply because I forgot it was clipped to my belt. We’re taking a fixed blade steel knife that, while perfectly legal to carry, is definitely prohibited on their property. The metal detector didn’t go off either time and I got right in ezpz and I only realized after hat I still had it on me. Point being, they are missing a LOT.

    In addition, it’s important to note that in the state of Florida a concealed license holder is not breaking the law by bringing a gun to Disney. It is specifically NOT against the law to totally disregard “no guns allowed” signs on private property. However, Disney does have the right to remove you from their private property and ban you from returning should they find a weapon that they’ve banned. The only people that face crininal charges for doing so have some type of legal issue related to their firearm, license, or legal ability to carry.

  11. While I’ve only been to Disney on a band trip, I walked right by the bag checks two times. I thought people would stop me and no one did, so I’m not sure how effective they are.

  12. The long headache to get into the parks (parking, transportation, ticketing, security) are far more about crowd control than efficiency and even safety. You might argue that doesn’t make sense because it slows down purchases in the parks….but many guests have already prepaid everything, even meals and snacks, by the time they make it to the gate. So then – what’s the rush?

  13. As an Orlando native, and having had Universal and Disney passes, I can definitely say that Universal’s security is 20 times better than Disney’s- and its actual security, not just a façade to make one feel like they’re safe. At Disney, the line will be 10 people long and take 20 minutes, while at Universal, the line will be 20 people long and take 10 minutes! Also, Disney security guards tend to profile certain types of people and make them go through the Metal detector- I’m surprised they haven’t gotten sued yet for discrimination 😬

  14. Good points Jason. I called and then also emailed Disney world customer service About this cross contamination issue During security checks , after we had spent a few days in Disney world the 1st week in March. My comments included that security personnel were handling Items Belonging to each guest with no hand/glove sanitizer or any other precaution in sight. While they’re waiting for the X-ray machines to show up, security personnel should clean their gloved hands after each and every guest bag search. This can be accomplished with portable hand washing stations, where gloved hands are washed with warm water and bubbly soap and then dried, or cleaned with a disinfecting wipe. It may be more expensive to change gloves between each and every patron, but with practice it can actually be a very quick process.

  15. I’d like to point out you begin the article talking about how bad TSA is at detecting weapons (“missing them 95% of the time”) even with their fancy equipment, then you say the solution to Disney’s problem is to buy arguably worse fancy equipment. Disney, nor any other company for that matter, does not “pretend” to care about security. While you may find their process lengthy and outdated, it serves a purpose. Whether they miss guns or not, the process is also there to make it HARDER to bring a gun in, not necessarily impossible. There is the chance a weapon will be spotted in your bag, and there is a chance you will be asked to go through a metal detector. That’s also why the security staff changes positions often, as it makes it impossible to have someone “on the inside” to purposely allow a guest to bring in a gun. It is all a game of chance that most who want to do harm are unwilling to play. Its like this at most venues, and expecting something different from Disney is a weak argument. While nothing will ever be perfect, the process works and I would much rather wait 10 minutes in a bag line knowing that it does what it should.

  16. I don’t think it’s the cost, over the long term they would save money machines are cheaper then people fewer guards needed. The exray machine does not fit the Disney way they probably feel it intrudes on the magic. Having gone there a million times I could not care less, speed up the process. Newbies and diehards would hate it.

  17. Thank you Jason for such an insightful and lengthy article. I too think we should totally live in total fear of everything! I know that this article does an amazing job for people’s trust in a company that does their best to preserve the magic. So glad that you are part of the WDWNT team.

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