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Disney Prepares to Ramp-Up Magical Express Service

#1 User is offline   QuickGold 

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 07:10 PM

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Disney Prepares to Ramp Up Its Popular Airport-Shuttle Service

Jason Garcia | Staff Writer
Orlando Sentinel
September 1, 2007


A little more than two years after its launch, Walt Disney World's first-of-its-kind, free airport shuttle has proved wildly popular with customers, ferrying 150,000 tourists a month between Orlando International Airport and hotels within the sprawling resort.

But fewer than half of those riders check their bags with Disney before leaving the resort for their flight home, a practice Disney executives want to boost in hopes of freeing up customers to spend more time -- and money -- on company property.

"That's something we're focused on growing," said Michelle Bentubo, director of Disney's Magical Express.

Disney expects to carry about 1.8 million riders on its Magical Express buses during the company's current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But only about 800,000 of those passengers will also have made use of the airline-check-in option, which allows them to obtain boarding passes and drop off their bags while still at their hotel. The next time those customers see their bags is when they pick them up at their home airport.

The check-in service should get a boost next week, when US Airways, the fifth-busiest carrier at OIA, joins the ranks of airlines that allow their passengers to use it. The Arizona-based airline says it plans to do so beginning Wednesday.

With US Airways on board, the number of airlines participating in Disney's remote baggage check in will have doubled since the company launched Magical Express in May 2005. It will also include eight of the top nine carriers at OIA.

But no airline is as important as the one that still isn't among them: Southwest Airlines carried nearly one-fifth of all the travelers who passed through OIA in 2006, making it Orlando's leading carrier.

Representatives for Disney and the company it contracts with to run its check-in service, Orlando-based Bags Inc., say they are still working on an agreement with Texas-based Southwest. An airline spokeswoman said it hopes to join by early 2008.

Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said much of the holdup stems from difficulties in ensuring that the two companies' reservation systems are compatible. "We just haven't had the technology in place . . . for our system to talk to Disney's," Mainz said.

Signing up airlines isn't the only hurdle Disney's baggage option faces. For one, the check-in service isn't available yet to international travelers, who account for 6 percent to 9 percent of Magical Express riders, Disney's Bentubo said.

Craig Mateer, president of Bags Inc., said his company has been granted approval from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to begin processing travelers on international flights. Now it's a matter of working through security details and other logistics with the airlines.

The goal, Mateer said, is to begin offering the service to at least some international travelers before the end of the year. "It should be coming out shortly," Mateer said.

Disney's contract with the airport also requires it to drop Magical Express passengers off at least two hours, on average, before their departures. So the resort only offers the remote check-in option to passengers whose flights take off at 8 a.m. or later.

That cuts out almost 15 percent of travelers, Bentubo said. The company is studying whether it can open its registration desks earlier or check in early-morning passengers the night before their flights.

Disney hotel guests arriving in Orlando can have their luggage shipped directly to the resort, regardless of airline, because the check-in procedures at their home airports aren't affected.

And guests who can't, or don't want to, use Disney's remote check in when heading home are still permitted to ride Magical Express -- each bus has space to stow baggage.

But getting more customers to take advantage of the baggage-check-in option is good business for Disney.

Travelers on a late-afternoon flight, for instance, are more likely to spend their final morning in a Disney theme park if they don't have to worry about storing their luggage for the day or getting to the airport early enough to trudge through check-in lines in the terminal.

The baggage option also allows Disney to control more of their customers' vacations.

"That's so big with them, to have [guests] . . . under Disney's care the whole way," said Jerry Aldrich, president of Orlando-based Amusement Industry Consulting. "Because they feel their care is better. And if you get a better experience, your chances are better of coming back."

Disney officials acknowledge the baggage service's boost to their bottom line. But they point out that the airport also benefits when more people use the service, because it means fewer people standing in line at ticket counters and less luggage clogging conveyor belts in OIA's main terminal.

Even now, Disney is handling about 5,000 bags a day. That's luggage that gets processed inside a hangar that Disney subleases from Delta Air Lines, instead of inside the main terminal.

As Disney handles more of its own luggage, it will free up more terminal capacity for non-Disney travelers, said Chris Schmidt, a deputy executive director at OIA.

"We're as anxious as Disney is to increase that," he said.

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#2 User is offline   Jambo Everyone 

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 10:13 AM

Good news. The more the better. No matter what the critics say at WDW Today and other places, ME is a great service. Yes, you can get to places quicker by renting a car. But ME and Disney Transportation provide a TERRIFIC option to cutting some costs and spending money in other places at WDW
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#3 User is offline   QuickGold 

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 12:35 PM

I've always liked DME, whereas the other guys on the show are rental car junkies. I have no trouble recommending DME to anyone.
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#4 User is offline   Matt Hart 

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 06:08 PM

I agree, the more airlines that participate in resort check-in the better.

I like DME, but I have all but sworn off the Disney bus system.

We fly in from the west coast, so I think we get there late enough that we don't have to deal with some of the delays many people complain about. We've used DME twice and were taken care of pretty quickly both times. Not quite as quick as if we had rented a car, but close.

But the big benefit is the luggage service, both when arriving and when leaving. We usually go for 2+ weeks at a time, we've got two kids (8, 2) and I also bring my golf clubs, so schlepping all of that through the airport is a nightmare of epic proportions.

DME takes that out of the picture, both for arrival and departure. BIG benefit.

But the bus system in WDW stinks. We waste too much time waiting for busses and making extra stops. I paid attention to that on this last trip and there were days where we lost well over an hour.

And then there's dealing with standing room only.

Resort to resort? Forget it.

I'll still use DME, but next trip I'll be renting a car as well if it's at all possible, even if we only use it on days where we would otherwise have to use the bus.
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#5 User is offline   Jeanine 

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Posted 06 September 2007 - 02:35 PM

I agree that the luggage part is wonderful. We take too much stuff anyway, but to not have to wait at the carousel and not have to carry luggage around for party members who can't carry their own is magical in and of itself. The part at the end where you can check your luggage in the lobby and not have to deal with it until you get home is also great.

I did, however, also have to swear off the bus system, after they made me wait something like an hour in 200 degree heat at the MK for a bus back to ASM. I always rent a car when I get there, however the problem coming from the West Coast is that a lot of flights get you there around 4pm, which is when a lot of the car rental places close for the day.
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#6 User is offline   QuickGold 

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Posted 06 September 2007 - 03:13 PM

Ideally I would take DME to WDW (who wants to pay the tolls or have to wate for luggage or lug it around) and then get a rental car to drive around for the rest of the trip.
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#7 User is offline   Eric 

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Posted 06 September 2007 - 05:33 PM

I most be unusual, because I like the bus system. It'snice to not have to hassle with driving for a change.

I can't justify the extra cost of a rental car to save (at most) an hour a day. Plus there's parking, the extra time it takes to walk from the parking lots, finding your car at the end of the day, filling up on gas, etc. etc.

A nice 15 minute bus ride at the end of a long day sometimes gives me the chance to rest my eyes a bit as well.
Eric
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"Universal is like Wal-Mart with roller coasters."
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#8 User is offline   QuickGold 

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Posted 06 September 2007 - 08:12 PM

Eric said:

I most be unusual, because I like the bus system. It'snice to not have to hassle with driving for a change.

I can't justify the extra cost of a rental car to save (at most) an hour a day. Plus there's parking, the extra time it takes to walk from the parking lots, finding your car at the end of the day, filling up on gas, etc. etc.

A nice 15 minute bus ride at the end of a long day sometimes gives me the chance to rest my eyes a bit as well.
I used to love the buses, but rental cars make things so much more convenient.
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#9 User is offline   biblio 

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Posted 06 September 2007 - 10:09 PM

What we loved about DME?

Not having to take our luggage through the airline check-in. The line for the Delta check-in was about 50 deep when we were dropped off with DME.

But, we will rent a car next time (and for MouseFest), just so we can get back to the room quicker!
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#10 User is offline   Matt Hart 

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Posted 07 September 2007 - 03:43 PM

Eric said:

I most be unusual, because I like the bus system. It'snice to not have to hassle with driving for a change.

I can't justify the extra cost of a rental car to save (at most) an hour a day. Plus there's parking, the extra time it takes to walk from the parking lots, finding your car at the end of the day, filling up on gas, etc. etc.

A nice 15 minute bus ride at the end of a long day sometimes gives me the chance to rest my eyes a bit as well.


Good points, and that's why until now I've stuck with the busses.

But the negatives have just gotten to be too much for me. An hour a day (all things conisdered, this was probably a low estimate now that I think about it) is pretty valuable when I'm on a vacation with limited time.

I want to take the time to smell the roses in the parks and resorts, not in the busses and bus stops.

With the kids I really don't get much of a chance to rest my eyes on the bus anyway, and actually on our last trip, a seat was a rare find.

But I don't think you are unusual at all, Eric (at least when it comes to using the busses :wink: ). Obviously a lot of people are using them.
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#11 User is offline   JEANYLASER 

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Posted 08 September 2007 - 07:47 PM

great news and thank you for the info!8)
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