Six ways to make waiting in line better (and shorter)

The holidays are coming, and if your plans involve travel, expect to lose large chunks of your youth to the painful ritual of waiting in line. Aside from the occasional ascetic masochist, nobody digs the ol’ “hurry up and wait” game. Yet, you’ll be doing plenty of standing in line at airports, hotels and retail establishments. Last year, I wrote about what you can do to make this easier. Now, let’s turn our attention to the queue-masters – the people and organizations responsible for creating and managing what become monstrosities from late November through the end of the year.

Below, I’ll kick this off with six suggestions to airlines, airports, hotels and others in the business of making you wait in line. But, treat this as my opening offer – I’d love to get your ideas on this.

To start, here’s what I suggest:

1. Ban parallel lines: think of most grocery stores. If there are five cash registers, there are five lines. A super-efficient employee can make people in one line happy while pissing off the rest. Instead, use a single line in which the person at the front goes to the next available teller/agent/representative. This approach is gaining popularity, but some places (mostly retailers) are still living in the past.

2. Have an expediter: when lines are long, this person should help people prepare for the moment of truth. Tell those waiting to do what they need to do – from pulling out a credit card at the store (instead of digging for it) to taking laptops out of carry-ons in the security line. At the front of the line, don’t merely suggest – emphasize.

Also, sell it a little. The monotone TSA shout, “All laptops must be removed …” isn’t good enough. Instead, “Take out your laptop. Take off your coat. Get ready early. Save yourself – and everyone around you – some time.

3. Wrong sign syndrome: have you ever waited in line for half an hour only to find out it was the wrong one? Or, you had the wrong form? Then, you had to start over and wait another half our? It sucks. Clear signage can help, as well as the “expediter” mentioned above. Make the whole process idiot-proof.

A note on personal responsibility: sometimes, we know we need to be in the long line but choose the short one in the hopes that raising hell will get us bumped to the front of the other line or that our needs will somehow be handled even though we’re in the wrong place. Queue-masters, this is not your fault! To everyone else waiting in line, know where to hurl your scorn.

4. Don’t go the extra mile: it doesn’t always make sense to indulge a troubled customer. While you’re helping someone who is in the wrong place or isn’t paying attention, perhaps hundreds of people are forced to wait. Is the goodwill you gained from one person sufficient to offset this?

5. Don’t talk among yourselves: watching someone in a customer-facing position check a text message, chat on a cell phone or kibitz with another employee is beyond annoying … and on the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas, totally unnecessary. It happens, and it shouldn’t.

6. Don’t wait for a manager: if you need support, help other customers in the interim. One problem should bring everything to a halt.