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Posts Tagged ‘Waiting Lines’

Queuing has been in the news lately. First, the Wall Street Journal’s most recent The Numbers column was on queuing theory (The Science of Standing in Line, Oct 7). The story is in someways disappointing since it emphasizes the history of queuing over its current applications or general insights. However, it does feature this rather spiffy graphic contrasting service systems in which several servers pull from a common queue as opposed to each server having a separate line.

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The Chicago Tribune had an interesting article a week ago on waiting in lines.(“Wait your turn: Good rule in kindergarten, good rule now“.)

The author of the article reports on an incident in which several people cut him in line until he told them to go back to the end of the line. He then continues

Line etiquette is one of the first things we learn as kindergartners. There were dire consequences for disobeying one of the basic rules of society — that you stand patiently behind the person in front of you, no matter how long it takes.

But is this really always the case?  One has to acknowledge that there are cases in which people regularly cut in line AFTER asking to do so, i.e., cutting is done by acknowledging the other people in line, yet providing an excuse to cut in line. This is a common practice in airport security queues when people may ask to cut the line to avoid missing their flight. In certain places, this practice is sometimes coined “I just have a short question” to describe people trying to declare to not require too much of the service provider’s time, justifying cutting in line. This phenomenon is also described by Robert Cialidini in his book “Influence” (Thanks Andy Huang for the reference). In this study, a woman pretended that she needed to make copies while there was a line to use the Xerox machine. When asking “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” 94% agreed to let her cut ahead. In the UK, the birthplace of the First-In-First-Out line, similar behavior is observed when in line for train tickets: one may jump to the front of the queue when almost missing their train.

Admittedly, in other situations, as the one described by the author of the Tribune article as well as many other examples of people waiting to buy tickets to sporting events or U2 concerts, this behavior is considered unacceptable and is aggressively banned, as shown in the following clip:


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