I recently posted a story on TPU’s Facebook page about a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan while serving his country. Sgt. Stephen Jackal recently visited Six Flags Fiesta Texas where he was spending the day with his daughter. Upon reaching the load platform of the Boomerang: Coast to Coaster attraction, the ride attendant told Stephen that he couldn’t ride unless he had at least one functioning arm and one functioning leg.
After being turned away, the veteran, who was awarded a Purple Heart, went down to Guest Services to ask for a refund. Instead, Six Flags offered him complimentary tickets to come back and visit on another day now that he was aware of what attractions that he could and couldn’t ride. He then point blank asked for a refund, to which the Guest Relations employee denied. After breaking down and crying in front of his daughter, he left the park upset and clearly angry.
Instead of turning away and accepting the complimentary ticket, asking to speak to upper management or even writing an angry letter, he decided to call up his local news station to tell the good people of Texas and Six Flags how he was mistreated at the park. Six Flags issued a statement stating that their first response is to always offer a complimentary day at the park and if that isn’t sufficient, they can offer a full refund. Even though it took him going to a local news station, he ultimately got what he wanted, which was a refund. However, did Six Flags handle this properly?
First of all, let’s gets something straight: Six Flags, Disney, Universal, Sea World and all other theme park giants are not walking buildings that make decisions as one solid unit. Sure they all have policies in place when it comes to compensation, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Individual people make the final call and they happen to represent a corporation. The employees all have different levels of sympathy and compassion as well as at least a basic understanding of what company guidelines are that they need to follow.
Another thing to keep in mind, if you have read the back of any ticket from a theme park that has one admission price (as opposed to the few that are still around where you pay for individual rides), it clearly will state “NO REFUNDS” in bold capital letters. You have this there for a reason: To keep the line down at Guest Relations. People will come in every single day, sometimes by the dozens, demanding a refund for a smattering of possibilities: Their favorite attractions is closed due to annual maintenance, an employee was rude to them, lines are too long, an attraction closed temporarily due to technical difficulties and my personal favorite: rain.
Every single one of these requests for a refund are legitimate depending on the circumstance, yet none of them are at the same time. There are varying degrees of severity with all of them. Maybe it rained all day and you are from out of town and can’t come back on another day this year, perhaps the employee you dealt with was so rude they spit in your face? There are no cut and dry rules for every single type of situation that arises and many times the response you get varies depending on: the person who you speak with, the severity of the issue at hand and your unique situation on how you visit the park.
In the case of our veteran, he is claiming no personal responsibility to his unique situation visiting Six Flags, a park filled with roller coasters. Should the person who sold him the ticket have looked down, noticing he was in a wheelchair, told him that he was not allowed to ride certain due to his disability? Absolutely not. Maybe he wanted to go just escort his daughter around to all the big roller coasters and doesn’t want to ride anything. Maybe he has a favorite show at Six Flags that they always watch. Maybe he just likes midway games. There are unlimited ways to enjoy a theme park and for the person who sold him the ticket to assume that, because he didn’t ask about his extremely uncommon situation of having no legs, that they should volunteer the information. Imagine: “Sir, I couldn’t help but notice, you have no legs. Please be advised that there are several attractions in this park that you will not be able to experience.”
That conversation is no different and no more appropriate than “Ma’am, I notice that you are pregnant. Please be aware that we do not allow pregnant mothers on several of our attractions.” Anyone who has ever worked in a theme park knows this is a fatal mistake, because by making this statement you assume: The guest didn’t do their homework and know what attractions they are prohibited from and more importantly, maybe they aren’t pregnant? (Gasp!)
It is not a theme park employee’s responsibility to tell a guest what they can and can’t experience, unless they approach an attraction that they are unable to ride and are then turned away. However, if a guest wants to know what rides they can go on? That information is available to them if they ask Guest Relations or even call the park in advance. By him taking zero responsibility in doing any research on his own, and expecting people to randomly come up to him and offering that information is asking Six Flags employees to be unprofessional.
Keep in mind, Stephen Jackal went to the media. They didn’t call him randomly asking for this story. He also volunteered the information that he was a Purple Heart veteran, as if that has any bearing on how he should be treated or even what he should be allowed to ride. While his service to his country is noble and his sacrifice was clearly life-altering, he should be treated just as fairly as any other guest who visits Six Flags. However, based on everything I have read, Stephen wants to get extra special treatment. Maybe another guy visits Six Flags who lost his legs in a horrific wood chipper accident, would they get the same air time that Jackal got? Probably not. To try and use his military service to his advantage isn’t fair to the employees of Six Flags and certainly not the news media.
Had he done any research at all before calling the cameras over to his house, he would have read a story about another veteran who was also an amputee, who was thrown from a roller coaster in Darien Lake to his death. That’s right; This exact same situation could have ended much differently if Stephen Jackal was allowed to ride.
As I have stated on this blog before, the ADA does not get into specifics about making sure all theme park rides are accessible by all people, thanks to the recent case decision handed down to Universal Studios Hollywood.
In the end, Jackal got some media attention from his situation and some compassion from random strangers who clearly don’t know how the operations of a theme park are run. I commend Six Flags for doing everything right in this situation. They offered an alternative to a refund that would have given an extra full day of fun, at no additional cost to him and his daughter. He chose not to ask anyone before purchasing the ticket about how his unique situation could affect his enjoyment of the park and he got upset because of it. These things happen, however, Six Flags in the end gave him his refund. Some things are just not worth having a fight over in the media, which is an entirely different subject altogether. Your thoughts?