Pandemic Speeds the Transition to Virtual Queuing

January 10, 2021
Pandemic Speeds the Transition to Virtual Queuing

Will queues become a thing of the past?

Realistically, some queues will still exist post-pandemic, but many that go virtual now for health and safety reasons may stay virtual for efficiency’s sake later on.

Technology is becoming an invaluable tool in keeping customers safe, whether they are waiting to enter a favorite pub, spending time in airports, or seeking urgent care.  Magnetic queuing grids, timed-entry passes, and virtual lines are making waiting safer, more efficient, and more pleasant, and it appears that they are here to stay.

Video Spotlight: 

This post is based on The Atlantic article, The pandemic could end waiting in line, by Elissaveta M. Brandon, October 28, 2020; the Cinema Blend article, How Waiting In Line Works At Disney World During The Pandemic, by Mack Rawden, November 11, 2020; and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: Peeradontax/Shutterstock

Discussion Questions:

1. What applications of virtual queues are being used to better manage waiting lines during the pandemic?

Guidance: Studies have shown that people tend to overestimate their time spent waiting in line by 36%.  They also view it as a drain on their productivity.  Thus, even before the pandemic, virtual queuing systems like QLess, Qmatic, and Qminder were on the rise.

Now, with concerns about health and social distancing, these types of systems are becoming important weapons in the fight to keep customers healthy and safe.  An archery store in Pennsylvania allows customers to wait their turn from the comfort and safety of their car by using an app.  Urgent care patients in one Nevada facility can get into a virtual queue and show up to the clinic just as it’s time for their appointment.

Short term fixes like social-distancing tape on the floor and signs that remind people to stay six feet apart are being replaced by more sophisticated technology that not only keep people safer but make their waiting more pleasant and efficient.

2.  What company do many look to in order to “benchmark” best queuing practices?

Guidance: Ironically, while Disney theme park visitors willingly wait longer for rides than they do in almost any other aspect of daily life, Disney is considered a pioneer and leader in studying the psychology of waiting.  The company is credited with many innovative ideas over the years, beginning with developing the switchback queue for the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65.

Since then, it has developed an array of distractions, such as themed queuing areas, murals, and other props to distract and amuse visitors waiting in lengthy lines.  It also pioneered the well known “Fast Pass” to let guests queue virtually and then short-cut long lines when their designated time slot arrives.  The more recent “Fast Pass+” allows rides to be booked online in advance.

Now, however, Disney has also created a “queue within a queue,” meaning that while visitors stand in line for a ride, they can also order food on a Disney app and pick it up as soon as the ride is over.  This last technique has been done in large part to minimize queues and wait times in food areas of the park to try to keep visitors safe, but it has a positive side effect of making visitors happier as well, since they bypass the long food lines of the past.  It also encourages park patrons to order more food, since they aren’t discouraged by seeing long waiting lines, and it means the park can free up valuable space that was once used for customer food lines for other purposes instead.

3.  How has facilities layout changed when it comes to queuing in places like Salt Lake City’s airport?

Guidance: In another benchmark company example, Salt Lake’s newly designed airport has a magnetic grid embedded in the ticket hall’s floor.  This allows stanchions (those post dividers connected by retractable belts) to be snapped in place along the grid to create a flexible queuing area that allows for reconfiguration based on the needs of the day.

In addition, everything from ticketing areas to security checkpoints and hold rooms are more amply sized to allow for better distancing.  Even the bathrooms have been designed with both social distancing and queue minimization in mind.

The restrooms, placed every 300 feet in the concourse areas, correspond to the number of seats on the planes serving each particular area and also factor in the different amounts of time that men and women spend in the restrooms to minimize waiting lines.  Designers even added extra stalls to the ladies’ room to accommodate the longer lines that traditionally exist for the female patrons.  They then mimicked Disney’s distraction techniques by adding murals to make any remaining bathroom waiting time pass more pleasantly.


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