As well as being a fan of all things that fly, I am a theme park nut, and I’m particularly fond of Disney. When I was travelling the most for work, I decided to make it my mission to visit all 11 Disney theme parks in the world. This meant trips to L.A., Orlando, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo. I actually managed this quite easily by planning routes with stopovers or staying an extra day here and there. Until they fiendishly opened a 12th theme park in Shanghai. Only a month after it opened I got the call asking me not only to go to China, but direct to Disneyland Shanghai to train the new staff there! I couldn’t believe my luck, I ended up with a multi-entry visa to China and I made it to the new theme park twice in one year. Anyway, you’re not here to read about my trips to Disney parks, what about the Disney no-fly zone?
Disneyland in California, (the original park) and the Magic Kingdom in Florida (the second version of Disneyland made bigger and better), both have “Temporary Flight Restrictions” over them. These were originally introduced in 2003, following the 9/11 attacks, as a security measure to prevent similar attacks from happening in areas where large amounts of people might be gathered. Temporary Flight Restrictions are usually used to protect large events that attract large amounts of people, like a major ball game or something like that. However, Disney has managed to keep its restriction in place for almost 20 years.
Why does Disney want a no-fly zone?
You can trace this all the way back to Walt Disney himself. When the first Disneyland theme park was built in California, he managed to get all kinds of unusual permissions to improve the quality of his park. The original idea of Disneyland was to create a place where you could visit various fictional lands and actually believe you were there. He went to enormous efforts to create the perfect illusion.
First, the theme park was built with a high earth perimeter covered in trees, known as the berm, all around the theme park to shut out noise, traffic and outside buildings that could distract you from the theming and create the illusion. Next, he got permission to restrict the height of buildings built near the park to make sure no high-rise hotels could again break the illusion of being seen from the park. This was in the 1950’s, so there were a lot less aircraft in the air to worry about then, but I’m sure Walt Disney would have welcomed a ban on any aircraft flying over his park to help keep the illusion working. As it happened, when the park first opened those who could afford it could book a flight on a helicopter to get from the airport to the front gate of the theme park. So not only was there no flight restrictions, but you could actually fly to the front door.
As air traffic increased over the decades across the country, a no-fly zone over Disney theme parks is something its creators would have wanted for a long time. The 9/11 attacks were the perfect excuse to get them in place. Once there, they were easy to keep. The restrictions are set to 3000 feet, meaning it only really applies to drones, and light aircraft and prevents larger aircraft that are in the process of taking off or landing nearby from passing over. The Florida restriction only covers the original Magic Kingdom and a little bit of EPCOT, the other 2 parks and other facilities are not covered by the restriction.
It’s coming to an end…
However, these restrictions might not last forever. There are politicians now actively campaigning for the restrictions to be lifted, citing unfairness to other companies saying Disney gets special treatment. One of the biggest reasons Disney does not want it lifted and probably the real reason why other parties are interested in it going is advertising. At the Disney theme parks you have tens of thousands of people in one space, so flying a plane dragging a banner over the parks is a great way to advertise to a large number of people at once.
In my opinion, Disney theme parks are different from other parks. They do create an amazing illusion of taking you to different places, giving you a break from reality and inspiring the imagination. Very few other theme parks manage to create this level of immersive experience. It’s my personal belief they should stay as no-fly zones, especially if everyone is going to start flying drones and tacky advertising banners behind planes are going to be flying over.