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.

Free public theater tickets in Central Park to see “Hair.” The how to get them and why I’m feeling miffed

An article I read in the New York Times last Thursday night left me feeling miffed. It explains one reason why it can be difficult to snag tickets to see “Hair,” the current, free Shakespeare in the Park Public Theater production at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater.

It’s called CHEATING. Clever, but CHEATING.

According to the article, there are people who are hired to wait in lines by people who don’t want to wait in line themselves. The line at the Delacorte Theater is one example of where this hired-line waiting cleverness happens.

And, why am I MIFFED?!

As a person who STOOD IN LINE with my brother and my 6-year-old son on August 6, slathering on sunscreen and sweltering, waiting for the line to move into the shade, but DID NOT get tickets, I’m annoyed.

Here is the saga. The good news first: My brother lives in Manhattan, therefore, I have the enviable position of having a place to stay whenever I show up in the Big Apple for a visit.

The smart news: Knowing that anything can happen in Manhattan, we had back-up plans when we took our spot after walking past the gobs and gobs of people already waiting when we walked the distance from the subway stop to the end of the line. Some were reading in the lawn chairs they had the foresight to bring with them, and others were eating a picnic feast.

The not so smart news: We showed up at 11:00 hoping for the best. Getting tickets can mean arriving in line as early as 6:00 A.M. As if, I’d drag my son to Central Park at 6 A.M. for an 7-hour wait. Hardly.

The way the line works: Tickets, you see, are handed out at 1 A.M. Depending on your spot in line, you can be done soon after, or be still waiting at 2 if the tickets or vouchers for tickets hold out. Although we showed up awfully late, a woman who works for the theater assured us that we had a chance. I call her Friendly Explainer. Friendly Explainer pointed to a lamp post past us in line and said, “People that far back have gotten tickets.”

She also pointed to a spot way, way, way, way, way, in front of us and said that tickets are gone well before then as well.

While we waited, another man with the theater–Helpful Guy, told us the procedures for getting tickets once they begin to hand them out.

Another woman, let’s call her Line Watch Dog, stood at the end to make sure that we all minded our P’s and Q’s.

Here are the P’s and Q’s:

  1. Each person in line can get 2 tickets.
  2. There is no line jumping.
  3. You can not save a spot for someone else.
  4. You CAN NOT LEAVE the line for any reason. If you LEAVE THE LINE, you lose your spot. It doesn’t matter if you are sweltering and feeling faint, hungry and need to something to eat or you will be tempted to eat the grass, or if you have to pee so badly that you can hardly stand it.It does not matter if the people you happen to be waiting with will save your spot. DO NOT LEAVE THE LINE for any reason.

My son did leave the line to go play on the playground close by, but he was whining so much from the heat and boredom of waiting that Line Watch Dog may have been happy for him to leave the line.

I also gave him money for the ice-cream truck that came by. As if it would have been possible to stand him if I had said no. Line Watch Dog may have even given him money herself.

Since I had already agreed to let him take off his shirt, when Sponge Bob melted all down his chest, cleaning him up with a bit of bottled water wasn’t a problem.

By 1:45 p.m. we found out we did not get tickets or vouchers to possibly get tickets later in the day. If you are given a voucher you can come back at 6:30 to see if you can get unclaimed tickets. I was thrilled to not get a voucher because, being the obsessed person that I am to get anything free, I would have been right back in line at 5:30 p.m. waiting in line. A stupid way to spend one of the only two days one has in New York City. It’s a big city with lots to do.

Why are there unclaimed tickets? Here is what Friendly Woman explained:

The Delacorte has 1,800 seats. Some of the seats are given to corporate sponsors, but on any given day, the theater doesn’t know how many of those people will come or exactly how many tickets will be available to the general public. Each day is a surprise.

Personally, I find it ironic that the public can’t really get all that many tickets to public theater on certain days because private donors get most of the tickets. Just a thought. I don’t think this is bad necessarily. It’s just an observation. As the tickets are being given out, they don’t know how many people in line will be taking one or two tickets.

Once the tickets are gone, a certain number of vouchers are handed out. If you get a voucher, you may get a ticket later, but again, they won’t know until they see how many people who have corporate tickets don’t show up to claim their seats, or how many people who got tickets earlier decide not to come and bring their tickets back.

And also, there are those UNETHICAL CHEATERS who hire people to show up to wait in line for them. The hired help show up at 6:00.

And that’s the story of why we didn’t see “Hair.”

Although, ticket luck was not ours to have, we did have a good time thanks to the ice-cream truck and the people we visited with who were also waiting. One of the women in line was asked out on a date by Kevin Kline when they were in high school.

Coincidentally, I saw Kevin Kline in Pirates of Penzance at the Delacorte Theater years ago when it was easier to get tickets. That’s what makes New York City a surprise. There are all sort of crazy connections.

Maybe one of these days when my son is older, we’ll pack breakfast, lunch, games, lawn chairs and books to read and show up at least by 7 a.m. in order to give ourselves a fighting chance. We’ll keep our eye out for the cheaters and give Line Watch Dog a hand.

The show goes through September 14, so you still have time. Since there are no reservations, except for the corporate tickets and Summer Supporters, you have a fighting chance. Be smart. Show up no later than 8 a.m. To be a Summer Supporter, you donate $165.00 to Shakespeare in the Park and you can get a ticket.

(The above picture is one thing we did after we didn’t get tickets. Walk to the pond, where sailboats glide and ducks like to be fed, to see where Stuart Little, the talking mouse had his victory ride in one of the boats.)

Yourdon, who took the first two pictures, did get tickets this summer. So, it is possible.