Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Queue Madness or Why I Hate Standing in Lines

Queue Madness:
A state of being mad or frenzied as a direct result of being in a queue

Photo by Nicole Holt

Sometimes, when I think about traveling, it becomes clear to me that I spend far too much time standing in lines. I wake up to stand in line at the front desk of my hotel to check out, then I get to the airport where I stand in a line to get my boarding passes, another line to check my bags followed by a line to actually get the bags to the TSA. After all that there's another line to get through security. Once all that is done I need coffee so I'm in yet another line.

There are lines to get on the plane and lines to get off the plane. There's a line of people to use a tiny restroom on the plane because that coffee from a previous line has to go someplace. Lines of people to get taxis and lines of people buying lunch. On a really tough day there's even a line to let someone know that my bag is lost. Perhaps my bag got in the wrong line.

I wonder how much time on a given travel day I spend in standing in line, hmmm...
10 minutes to check out of a hotel
30 minutes in food lines
30-45 minutes to get boarding pass and check bags
15-45 minutes to get through security
10-15 minutes to board
10 minutes to get to a restroom
10-15 minutes to deplane
10 minutes to get a cab

That's between 2 hours 5 minutes and 3 hours per day just standing in queues. The reward for all this standing in line is getting to sit down for large periods of time. Of course I always have things to do but basically I'm waiting in line to sit down. It's no wonder I have issues with people that do not understand the subtle art of the queue.

As far as I can tell there are two main human aspects of the queue: queue management (which is part queue design) and queue participation. Queue management is the responsibility of those that have established the queue: the coffee shop, the security line guys, Disneyland, whoever. The group or individual that designed the queue has an intrinsic responsibility to manage their queue. If the queue hasn't been thought out properly it can cause countless problems: confusion, frustration, fights, you name it. A poorly designed queue is a tool of chaos and a good friend of entropy but surely no friend of mine.

A properly designed queue that is well laid out and quite possibly regulated by an attendant will resolve most issues that are caused by faulty queue participation. The sad reality is that most queues are not set up to regulate the human element as well as they should. For someone that spends as much time as I do standing in queues it surprises me how unaware of queue protocols people are.

Graham's Standard Universal Queue Protocol:
Stand in line. Move forward so that others may follow you. When you get at the front of the line you respond to a visual or auditory cue and then you get to do something.

It really isn't that hard yet I continually see people that don't move forward causing queue backup and needless congestion for those trying to pass the queue and frustration for those in the queue behind the transgressors. The problem compounds when there are two or more queues and no queue management such as the case with two tills at a coffee shop.

I was at just such an airport coffee shop not long ago and there were a couple of women in line talking to each other. They were standing in what seemed to be the center line but it could have easily been the left line but the lines were not marked so I had no way to know. The rightmost till opened up and the two ladies remained unresponsive. I took this to mean that they preferred the leftmost line for some unknown reason. It's far from me to question someones whims so I stepped to the right and stepped forward.

Much to my surprise the lady at the register yelled at me not to cut in line. Had it not been so early in the morning I would have calmly explained that the situation was a misunderstanding due to poor queue design, poor queue management and faulty queue participation. It was early , as I mentioned, so I just cursed her under my breath.

Another queue pitfall of the airport can be found at the check in kiosks. These kiosks tend to have decent queue design but then limited queue management once you get to the front of the line so that open kiosks are often left unused. This really gets to me as I don't want to be That Guy and yell at the people in the front of the line to shift. Equally I can't jump the queue and cut in front of everyone because that's just plain rude. Instead I just stand there like the other sheep and when I get to the front I briskly walk to one of the kiosks that has been unused the whole time. Perhaps others behind me notice and follow my lead but I never turn to check.

For the bettering of society I present you with some simple rules for queue participation:
Rule 1: Respect the queue itself, do not cut in line and do not modify the queue
Rule 2: Be aware of yourself and your place in the queue
Rule 3: Respect your queue mates, do not bump or nudge them
Rule 4: Be aware of your queue mates and do not inconvenience them unduly
Rule 5: Observe the queue and learn what to do when you are in front (queue leader)
Rule 6: Move quickly and safely through the queue, do not let a large gap develop ahead of you

If everyone followed the rules that I have outlined above I think that the world would be a much better place. Of course I may be a bit biased since I spend so much time standing in line.

A well thought out and properly managed queue can do a great deal to reduce queue participation issues. I don't have any personal experience in designing queues so I can't comment on them at length. I will say that clear markings designating the beginning and ending of each queue along with appropriate queue management (even if minimal) do help quite a bit. I will leave further comments on the matter to the queue design experts out there.

The next time you are stuck standing in what seems to be an endless queue please follow the rules outlined above and try not to get too mad on account of people that don't know what they are doing. After all, there's probably another queue waiting for you just around the corner.

I'd like to thank Nicole for inspiring the topic of this entry as it was based on her continuing problems with a poorly set up queue and some less than cooperative queue mates at her local coffee shop.

Are there any queue participation rules that I missed? Do you have any good queue stories to share? I'm sure you do. If you are a queue designer I'd love you hear you thoughts.

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Coming Soon: Shaving in Airports

1 comment:

  1. It bothers me when not everyone plays by the rules (cutting in line), but ignorant queue users not so much. If there's someone at the front of the queue not stepping up to an unused terminal, why not politely inform them? I think one reason it happens is people assume there was a reason why the person in front of them didn't go to the terminal so they follow suit. Everyone in the queue benefits and I can't think of any negatives except that they might be slightly embarrassed, which can be minimized the way you tell them.