Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald made a splash yesterday comparing wait times at the Veterans Administration to wait times at Disneyland. Today, McDonald was given a chance to back down on the comparison by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell but refused to do so.

The banal point McDonald was trying to make was that wait times are not the only factor in deciding whether someone is having a positive or negative experience. That said, there are at least two problems with his Disney comparison. First, as Allahpundit pointed out yesterday, no one is dropping dead in the line for Space Mountain. If they were, people might feel differently.

The second problem is that Disney obviously spends a great deal of time and energy thinking about wait times. In fact, one wonders if Sec. McDonald has ever been to a Disney park. If he had, he’d have seen the big signs at the entrance to every ride which are constantly updated with expected wait times. (Photo from this blog.)

Wait_time_sign

Anyone who has been to the park in the last decade or so is also familiar with their system of fast passes for major rides. Those allow you to get a guaranteed spot in a shorter line if you’re willing to go do something else for a couple hours. In short, wait times are constantly being presented to visitors (in 5-10 minute increments) so they can maximize their experience at the parks.

So it’s no real surprise that Disney had a lot to say when asked how they manage wait times at their parks by the Independent Journal:

We take wait times very seriously. We continually push the boundaries to give our guests the best experience possible. A large team of highly trained industrial engineers are tasked with improving our guest’s experiences, from transportation, to guest flow, to ride comfort and certainly wait times.

One of the things we take great pride in is if you have a wait time at our parks, your wait is enjoyable. We call this the Disney Difference. We recently remodeled the Dumbo ride, doubling its size and adding a Big Top area for families waiting for the ride. This area is a huge, interactive, air conditioned area for children to play in and where adults can relax with a buzzer they receive that notifies them when their spot is ready on the ride.

Okay, first, kudos to Disney on fixing the Dumbo ride. That thing really needed some attention. But more importantly, this shows that Disney sees wait times as an important factor in creating a good experience for their guests. And because it’s important to them, they make adjustments to insure wait times are bearable, entertaining and that every visitor has a chance to get on a few key rides with shorter wait times (fast pass).

But, again, no one is dying while waiting to get on It’s a Small World. The VA ought to be taking this much more seriously than Disneyland. Instead, you get the impression McDonald made this comparison without even realizing it would make the VA look worse than it already does. Of course Disney keeps track of wait times because it matters to the overall experience. The real embarrassment here is that the VA has once again missed the chance to learn something from the private sector about how to do this better than they currently are.