OPERATIONAL ALERT: As of March 7th, 2012, Disney has announced internally that FASTPASS return times will be strictly enforced. You may not be admitted to the FASTPASS line if you are past your return window. They may allow a certain degree of latitude, and there will certainly be some exceptions, but if you typically use your FASTPASSes late, you now need to plan to use them on time. This is in preparation for some new FASTPASS-related services. So everything below won’t mean much after that date 🙁

[Note: I welcome feedback for any errors in typing or logic in this…]

WARNING: The following has been approved by the FDC for use as a cure to insomnia. Side effects are headaches, jitters, and repeated muttering of, “Huh?”…

This is a never-ending battle on the forums – should you be allowed to use a late FASTPASS or not. This is despite the fact that Cast Members have said it is policy (or “procedure” if you want to be pedantic) to allow late FASTPASSes, some argue that using one late is akin to line cutting, or clogging the line later in the day, or whatever. But it is generally a fact that except for certain circumstances, late FASTPASSes don’t really affect anything. In fact, they actually are to the benefit of some guests that actually get to ride earlier because the FASTPASS holder is late.

Note that this same analysis can be applied to FASTPASS in general (i.e. the should or shouldn’t FASTPASS exist argument), although there are far more variables there, so I’ll keep this about late FASTPASS use.

Think of a FASTPASS as a placeholder in the Standby line. You have the option when approaching an attraction of either getting in the Standby line now, and getting through it in X minutes, or getting a FASTPASS and returning Y minutes later (leave those who get a FASTPASS AND get in the Standby line out of it for now). Y is usually greater than X. So, if the FASTPASS is holding your place in line as if you entered the Standby line such that you’d ride at Y time, then everyone that rides between X and Y has actually BENEFITED from you getting a FASTPASS. Everyone riding after Y experiences NO DIFFERENCE, because in either case you’d have been in front of them in line.

If you show up later than Y, say at time Z, then in fact everyone riding from time X to time Z has actually benefited in the same way – you in fact are being more courteous to your fellow guests, allowing them to ride before you – just as if you stepped aside and said, “No, you go first.” And again, anyone riding after Z is not affected at all. It doesn’t matter when Z is – it could be hours later. In fact, the later you go, the more guests that benefit.

Some caveats to this, however: First, it assumes that the Standby ride queue always has someone in it waiting. If the queue empties out at any time prior to time Z, then you do affect those riding after Z (because otherwise you would have already ridden it via the Standby line), at least until the standby line empties out again. However, you are only affecting it by ONE PERSON. This generally means you are affecting people a varying amount of time from 0 seconds to a few minutes (what ever the ride cycle time is) – but averaged out over the everyone riding the attraction after that point, it’s barely noticeable. But really, how often does the Standby line empty for a FASTPASS attraction?

Second, it presumes that Y is greater than X. But if the opposite is true, it means that FASTPASS isn’t being used much for that attraction, and thus the number of FASTPASS guests is small and not likely to affect the wait times much. Besides, some of those in the Standby line should have seen that the FASTPASS would be quicker and grabbed the FASTPASS instead!

Lastly, those who do the aforementioned “FASTPASS then Standby”, who otherwise would have only ridden once if FASTPASS was not available, or those who get a FASTPASS for one attraction and immediately ride Standby on another busy attraction, will have effects. In the former case, those riding after they return to use the FASTPASS at time Z would be affected. In the latter case those riding after them at the second attraction are affected, up until the point at which they would have entered the same Standby line later if they had gone Standby for the first attraction. After that time there is no effect.

In EITHER case, again the effect is of a single person averaged out over every guest who comes after – for the most part totally unnoticeable.

Now, the perception of there being an effect on the time someone had to wait is a different story entirely. Obviously, those at the head of the Standby line that get held back while a stream of FASTPASS users get to go in front of them (late FASTPASS or not) makes it seem like you have to wait longer – but remember, these people would otherwise have been ahead of you regardless. That is typically lost after you’ve waited in line for an hour in the heat though.

Another perception-affecting item is the “Standby Wait Time” indicators. These are the clocks like the one shown that most people believe tell you how long the wait is if you enter the Standby line right now. In reality, they don’t tell you that. What they DO tell you is how long it took the most recent person who was given one of those red badges at the entrance to reach the point in the line where they hand it in. However, since then it is possible a large number of people had entered the line behind them, which would increase the time – or perhaps they were behind an unusually large group, and he had to wait longer, but there are only a few people in the line right now. Now, on average, with the exception of the very early and very late times, the clock can be fairly accurate outside of a large touring group or a breakdown throwing everything off. A large group of FASTPASS holders could also similarly throw that Wait Time indicator off. So don’t assume that the the indicator is any sort of guarantee that your wait time will be what it says, or that the FASTPASS people going in front of you are the reason it took longer. I’d prefer it if Disney changed the signs to say “The most recent wait time…” and perhaps alleviate the perception of accuracy.