Still More Ideas for Improving Queuing


When we posted our first article on "How to make queuing a more positive experience" we did not expect it to become our 3rd most viewed insight blog on our website (thanks all!) Since then, we’ve found a number of other blogs which are also addressing the waiting/queuing issue, so we’re adding this post to capture some of the best ideas, and we’ll keep appending more as and when it appears.

So to begin, let's get into the psychology of waiting-in-line....

First, an excellent OpEd piece in the New York Times (Aug 18th 2012) titled “Why Waiting Is Torture”. This picks out a number of research findings that identify:

  • Occupied time (e.g. walking to baggage claim at the airport) feels shorter than unoccupied time (standing at the carousel waiting for bags to arrive)
  • On average, people overestimate how long they’ve waited in a line by about 36 percent
  • Uncertainty magnifies the stress of waiting (e.g. having a display board showing how many mins till your next bus arrives helps lower angst)
  • People who wait less than they anticipated leave happier than those who wait longer than expected (that’s why UK train companies pad their timetables with spare minutes so they can arrive ‘early’ at station)
  • When a long wait ends on a happy note — the queue speeds up, say — we tend to look back on it positively.
  • People want queues to be fair – we will put up longer waits provided we’re all in one queue rather than multi-queues and risk one moving faster than another (seen as ‘unfair’)
    • curiously, supermarket express lanes are still seen as fair, because it’s become socially unreasonable for 5-item customers to have to wait behind whole-trolley folks

From our own experiences of ‘monster’ queues (getting a visa, ski lifts, immigration at the airport) we reach the same conclusion – that perceptions of queuing can be impacted positively, provided those managing them put a little thought and effort into it.

Our favourite example:

Bottom lift line
Bottom lift line

Ski Lifts – in the US and Canada (Vail and Whistler to be specific), visibly cheerful operators carefully manage ski lines, to demonstrate fairness, including for those in ski school who get priority (we’ve all benefitted from that at some point). There are tissue stations along the way, so you can use the downtime, and once sitting on the lift, gondola bars provide maps, whilst the passing pylons have wildlife quizzes for kids.

Going forward, we’d like to see lift webcams and wait-time boards, so skiers can check out real-time queues whilst on the mountain and adjust their runs accordingly. These could be displayed on screens at key points on the mountain, as well as thru’ a mobile phone app (does anywhere do this today?)

And once this kind of data is being regularly collected, perhaps ski resorts could use it to design better connectivity both on and around the mountain? For example, in huge resort areas like Porte Du Soleil in France, extra buses could be provided to move skiers from one base mountain point to another at peak times. Surely our creativity could be fired by having this extra insight to hand...?


If you’re still skeptical about whether single-line queues really are better than multi-line versions, Lavi Industries have created this great infographic to persuade you, including when multi-queues do have a role when properly used. (Note: click on the infographic itself to get a full size version to explore)

One more shout-out, this time for Lea Ward and Melanie Standage at Trust Equity whose own blog on waiting-in-line has some strong resources and ideas, as well as putting me on to the NY Times article in the first place!

Finally, for our own part, regular readers will know we spend a lot of time learning from patient’s experience in healthcare environments, who tell us just how frustrating waiting around can be for them. So we’re on the lookout for ways to apply queue/wait busting ideas to this particular sector – all contributions most welcome!!


Credits: Baggage Carousel photo courtesy of Photo by sjsharktank -