What’s In a Line…

Who says waiting in line can't be fun?

Well for the most part it is us, I forget the crazy amount of time which studies say we spend in them. In addition just love the fact that my European colleagues refer to the action in more formal terms as instead of lines, they tend to “Queue” up if you will which just sounds like fun rather just saying I’m waiting in line.

Yet these lines fascinate me, what is the anatomy of a “line”, as what makes one move faster then another, is maybe a “holy grail” of solutions if you will to unlock their secrets.  In fact my employment over the years has involved quite a bit of study when it comes to “lines” (queues).  As I’ve applied the mathematical concepts of Erlang, as well as network theory to forecast the best way to do the most with the least.

Yet it seems that the mystery still alludes me as I wait in line here at the airport as I always worry if I’ve picked the fastest line as most of the time in fact I don’t.  While it’s not practical to whip out the iPhone and crunch a bunch of Erlang numbers (only because I don’t have all the data I need, not due to the geeky-ness).  However I do attempt to apply set logic, as in waiting in the passport line.

This is typically an interesting time as there are always multiple lines, with multiple dynamics to each.  Here each non-resident has a longer screening interval then a resident (US Citizen, non-Green card holder).  Therefore assessing how many people are holding blue passports (each country typically has a different color) so should be positive indication.  Yet families go up as one unit, so therefore, looking for (groups of) families could provide an advantage.

In fact I’ve come up with a long list of attributes which I use for selection as keep in mind if two 747s (the norm for long range international travel) unload, that over 600 people in queues at one instant.  As I also pick a reference point in surrounding lines to measure my progress against theirs as we move through the line.  However more times then not, even factoring in all this data, I seem to fail in selecting the optimum line.

With this I have to wonder what component “opportunity” plays into the mix as this still is mainly driven by chance.  As think about this, you’re in a grocery store an spy that one open lane at the far end while all the others are packed full.  You thank your good fortune and make a mad dash to the end only to be greeted by Betty Sue flipping off her light to go on break.  Now, not only do you lose out here, you also lose your former position too, as it’s here not all opportunity is equal.

While yes I know of all kinds of math-a-magical formulas to forecast opportunity, it still only a forecast and not an absolute.  Therefore your back in the same boat of infinite possibilities with finite probabilities and we are left to await lady lucks smile…

P.S. For those wondering, yes I know about Global Entry (a fast track to re-enter the country for a premium fee and pre screening). However this fits in the story above, as after studying the queues, it appears most frequent international travelers have signed up for this program to beat the lines.  So this in fact has created a new line for the kiosk to enter.  Therefore if one fly’s business class meaning de-planning first ahead of the crowds, on average I can move through the normal line faster.  Go figure…


About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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