Disney's (NYSE:DIS) aerial gondola system returned to action on Monday, nine days after Disney World's new mode of transportation experienced a malfunction that stranded guests for roughly three hours. Disney's Skyliner was open for less than a week before the headline-generating accident.
The leading theme park operator paid a heavy price at the time of the incident, handing out hundreds of dollars in compensation to each inconvenienced rider in the form of gift cards and park tickets. Disney's reputation is probably paying an even heavier price. The new scenic way to get around two of Disney World's four theme parks and several of its hotels has been closed longer than it's been open, and it's going to take months of consistent uptime before guests forget about the mishap that resulted in a rough night for hundreds of visitors.
Disney World didn't need Skyliner. Folks were able to go from its two least visited Florida theme parks -- Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios -- by boat, bus, or foot before the aerial tramway became the fourth way to get around. However, now that it's here, it's a clever way for folks to get a bird's-eye view of the resort and adjacent hotels where they may wish to stay in the future. The resort hotels being serviced by Skyliner can now charge more for overnight stays.
With Epcot turning into a hardhat construction zone until its long-overdue makeover is completed by 2021, Skyliner was the perfect distraction. It also funnels more visitors to the back entrance of Epcot, which is not the eyesore that guests arriving through the main entrance are now experiencing.
Disney World's theme parks matter. It's been the media giant's most consistent operator. Disney's parks operations have been so steady that investors were shocked and executive heads rolled after attendance slipped at its domestic theme parks in the fiscal third quarter. We'll find out if the House of Mouse was able to turn things around in the seasonally potent fiscal fourth quarter, when Disney reports fresh financials next month.
Skyliner reopening is a good thing, as long as Disney has licked the problem that stalled the ride with hundreds of guests in cramped gondolas with strangers. No one was hurt in the ordeal, but some of the visitors were evacuated in some pretty dramatic sky-high rescues before the ride finally got back up and running again. One major outage is enough. A repeat occurrence would sink any shot at the attraction's viability.
The theme parks business has been the steadying force at Disney, making the content-rich stock one of the biggest draws for first-time investors. There's a lot in the air right now, and Disney would like to keep it that way.