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.

Plan your airport layover with T+L’s Airport Navigator

I hate airports. I hate sitting around and waiting, and I hate being unable to escape the thought that soon my plane will be the one zooming down the runway and lifting off into the sky. So rather than arrive early to the airport and allow myself time to get anxious about flying, I prefer to arrive at the last possible second, so that as I run through security and down the terminal, I don’t have time to think about my fears.

Unfortunately, sometimes I have an unavoidable mid-length layover at an airport – one that’s too short for me to go out and explore the city and too long for me to just sit at the gate and wait for my next flight. At those times, I need to find something to do to keep my mind occupied. Often, this means that I end up wandering the unfamiliar airport for about an hour in search of something good to eat, before giving up and buying the next thing I see – usually an uninspired sandwich or a bag of chips.

Next time, I’ll check Travel and Leisure’s Airport Navigator for tips on my airport before I go. For each of 20 airports, T+L has put together a list of places to eat and drink, shop, things to see and do, and places to relax. They’ve covered several major hubs in Europe – London, Madrid, Rome, Paris, and Amsterdam among them – plus major Asian airports like Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. They’ll give you the scoop on Sydney, Cairo, Dubai, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires and Mexico City, along with info on Vancouver and Toronto in Canada, but coverage in the US is non-existent.

Along with listings of each airport attraction, the guide offers reviews, websites, hours and price ranges.

Four paper and pencil travel games with a holiday twist

After reading the news about people being stuck in various airports and bus stations where hours have led to days because of the bad weather we’re having, I thought of travel games they might want to play in order to pass the time.

All a person needs is someone to play with, paper and a writing implement. A crayon will do–or a small nub of a pencil. If a piece of paper isn’t available, look to napkins.

These games would also work at a family or friends get together and can be adapted for any age group. You can make them as hard or as easy as you want. Each can be played by more than two people, but you’ll need at least two, except for the last one.

Each of the four games are games I’ve played at various times. To see what I envision this group playing, keep reading.

Game 1:. Hangman Santa- This is a version of regular Hangman, but you can see where I’ve added a Santa hat and sack.

  • To play this game, draw a rough sketch of a gallows as shown in the finished picture. One person thinks of a word and draws short horizontal lines, one for each letter of the word. I thought of the word “travel.”
  • The other person calls out letters.
  • If the letter is in the word, the player who thought of the word, writes the letter on the appropriate line. If the letter is not there, the player draws part of a person, starting with the head.
  • With each wrong guess, a body part is added. If the opponent guesses the word before the entire person and the Santa hat and sack are drawn, that person gets a point.
  • If the entire Santa is drawn, the person loses and the point goes to the opponent.
  • Then you switch roles, and it’s the other person’s turn.
  • I can see where hanging Santa might seem grim, so you could draw a sleigh instead, although the name of the game is Hangman. I don’t know why–it just is.

Game 2: Categories (with a holiday twist)– To play this game, give each player a piece of paper and a writing implement.

  • Players divide the paper into at least five columns.
  • Across the top of each column, write the names of categories like “names,” “cities,” “countries,” “holiday songs” and “food.” The last column is “total.”
  • Then one person starts saying the alphabet to him or herself until one of the players tells him or her to stop. Whatever letter the person stops at is the letter for that round. The person tells the players that letter and each person thinks of a word that fits the category that starts with that letter. The players write the words they come up with on their own paper.
  • For example, if the letter is “J”, my answers might be “Jerry,” “Jackson,” “Jordan,” “Joy to the World” and “jello.”
  • Whoever finishes first says “Stop.” At that point, everyone must stop writing.
  • Then you calculate points by sharing answers. Each answer no one else has equals 15 points. If one person has the answer, it’s worth 10 points. If more than one person has the answer, it’s worth 5 points.
  • Add up your points for each column and write that in total.
  • Keep playing rounds until you’re tired of the game. Whoever has the most points wins.

By the way, if the same letter is picked, pick again, or any of the repeat answers don’t count. To make harder, add categories. To make easier, remove categories, and think of easier topics.

Game 3: Dots (To make this one have a holiday theme, use green and red pens, pencils or crayons.)

  • Draw dots in rows. 10 dots across and 10 dots down as shown in the picture.
  • Each person takes turns connecting two dots with a straight line, either horizontal or vertical.
  • The object is to eventually start making boxes. If you can make a box by drawing one line, write you initial in that box.
  • Sometimes you’ll be able to draw more than one box. You can only connect two dots at a time, however, but if you end up drawing a line to connect two dots and then you only need to draw one more line to make another box, you can do that one too.

Whoever has the most boxes by the time all dots are used, wins. To make the game harder and take longer, add rows of dots. In the pictured game, the other person is winning. (O = other person)

Game 4: Word Creation

  • Write the word “Happy Holidays” on a piece of paper. See how many words you can make with the letters in Happy Holidays.
  • You can only use the number of letters that are in the word. For example, there are only two a’s so your word can only have two a’s.
  • You can use letters more than once with each new word.
  • Words have to be at least three letters, (if playing with small children, don’t use this rule.
  • Whoever has the most words by the time limit you decide on wins.

Here are three words to get you started.” happy ” “holidays” and “play.”

Make your flight (and mine) easier this holiday season

The holidays are coming, and people will be flying. If you’re one of them, instead of feeling angry and entitled in every line in which you late, make a concerted effort to improve your surroundings. No, I’m not talking about picking up garbage or holding the door for some old lady who will punish you with tales of her grandchildren’s accomplishments. Take small steps to become more efficient. You-and everyone around you-will spend less time in line, and you might just be almost happy with your trip.

Rule #1

If you see someone who looks like he travels regularly, do what he does. If he takes his license out of his wallet before reaching the security line, you should too. Did he just remove his laptop from his bag? Guess what … you’ll probably want to take yours from your bag. You can’t go wrong by copying someone who’s obviously smarter than you are.

Rule #2
Don’t prepare for the security stop when you’ve already bellied up to the X-ray machine. While you’re in line, do the following:

1. Pull your laptop out of your bag (if you have one)
2. Take your ID (license or passport) out of your pocket, bag, etc.; hold it with your boarding pass
3. Empty your pockets into your carry-on; do the same with your watch, cell phone and any heavy jewelry
4. Remove your shoes, and carry them on top of your laptop
5. Repeat #4 with your coat and hatNow, you have a stack of personal belongings on top of your laptop. Carry them like you did your books back in grade school. You can drop the laptop into one bin for the X-ray machine, pick up the clothing and drop them in the next bin. It’s fast. It’s easy. It doesn’t leave you screwing around while people are waiting.

Rule #3
Unless you’re moving, don’t pack like you’re moving. If you can’t carry it, don’t bring it. This is just common sense. Bringing gifts to family members you see rarely? Mail the packages. Hell, with the cost of extra baggage right now, it’s probably cheaper to engage UPS for this anyway.

Rule #4
Eating at the food court instead of home? This makes sense. After all, the long lines force us all to go to the airport earlier … just in case. There are more of us than usual, and we’re all friggin’ hungry. So, why the hell does someone who’s in line for an hour wait, ponder and stutter when placing an order? Next time you’re jammed up at Wendy’s, use those 30 minutes in line to think about what you want. By the time someone asks if you want fries with your burger, you should already know the answer.

Rule #5
Forget every rule of good parenting. Sometimes, you need to let your kid cry to learn a lesson. Here’s the problem: we don’t need to learn that lesson, too. Do what it takes to keep your kid under control. If that means coloring books, candy or … dare I say it … active parenting, do it. Do what it takes. Your round trip involves two days of your kid’s childhood. Whatever you do for the sake of expediency will not make a lasting impression.

Rule #6
Know when to quit. We all love to scream at airline employees, and we know they are lying to us. When they say that weather caused the problem on a sunny day, when they say that there are no more exit row seats, when they say the flight is overbooked … we just know it’s bullshit. So, we fight. Sometimes, it works. Appeasement in the form of flight vouchers, hotel stays and free meals sometimes flow. But, at a certain point, you need to know when to stop. If you’re on a full flight of people with super-triple-platinum status (and you’re not), don’t expect to get a damned thing. Accept that you will lose.

Fighting the good fight is okay, but at a certain point, you lose the crowd’s sympathy. Be aware that people who look like serial killers don’t often get what they want (or need).

You’re more likely to have a safe and happy holiday season if you follow my advice. So, I wish you all the best in the coming weeks, and I encourage you not to be a moron once you pass through those automatic sliding doors. It happens to all of us, but maybe if we all make that genuine attempt not to make airport life worse, we’ll all have a better time.

World’s Most Aggressive “Queue Jumpers”

One of the things that annoy me to no end when traveling are people who cut in front of you when waiting in line or as the British say “Queue Jumpers“.

Part of the problem is that I never know whether I should just relax, ignore it and let everyone get ahead of me (I am on vacation, after all… no rush to get any place) OR whether I should “do as the Romans do”, assimilate and become a champion queue jumper myself. I have a feeling I would be pretty good at it, too. What I do know is that most countries in the world could use an elementary school subject called “The Art of Forming a Line”. It would make the world seem a lot more civilized.

Every time I travel from the US back home to Prague I notice how much more aggressive people are in Europe about their spot in line (The UK is an obvious exception here). Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin airports…I swear sometimes you feel like if you don’t squeeze into the front, they would not let you board. The further east you go, the worst it gets.

I just read a piece in the December 23 “The Economist” about the airports in Russia which really made me laugh. The author is describing the various species of the Moscow airport queue jumper: “the brazen hoodlum, the incremental babushka and the queue-surfing clans who relocate in groups when one of their number reaches the front.” It reminded me of my trip to China where elbow-wrestling with 70-year old women in lines was a norm. The Darwinism of the 21st century is quite sad, really.