The length of queues depends on what you\’re counting of course

Even last month’s maximum queuing time of just over two hours recorded by Heathrow’s operator, BAA, is an underestimate after it emerged that the figures do not take into account people waiting in the corridors outside the arrivals hall.


As being in an ambulance in the car park isn\’t being in a queue at A&E…..

9 thoughts on “The length of queues depends on what you\’re counting of course”

  1. Lud’s iron law of queues:

    The length of any given queue increases in direct inverse proportion to my distance from its end, until such point as I join its end, whereupon the length of the queue will never increase but will decrease at half the previously observed rate.

    Or, if you will

    q = fg

    where g describes the f that constitutes the queuing.

  2. Or waiting in a queue to be seen by a triage nurse….

    Haven’t we discussed this before?

  3. As Frances points out, we’ve touched on this subject before And it’s a particular interest of mine. The dynamics of queuing.
    In any flow through process there’s a choke point. The bit where an operation is performed. Think of the checkout at a supermarket. From the customer’s point of view, it would be ideal if they always found an unoccupied checkout when they chose to pay. But to achieve that the store management would have to have a surplus of till girls who’d spend a lot of their time doing nothing but wait for the next customer. So they build a queueing requirement into the process to act as a buffer. Smooth the flow through. The length of the queues isn’t arbitrary. They do a lot of research on this. The maximum time customers are willing to wait. If it goes past this, they pull in more till girls from other tasks.
    But supermarkets work on a relatively short time span. Typically something like an hour. They accept they’ll have busy periods & slack periods & staff accordingly. Because they’re competing with other supermarkets not only on price, but on shopping convenience. And the balance between the two.
    But there’s other organisations are effective monopolies. Customer can’t easily go elsewhere.. They’re much more ambitious in the their buffering strategy. Make the queue buffer big enough & they can shift use peaks across several hours. Even days. 2-3 hours is enough to move a midday surge to midnight. And there’s an added benefit. They can graze off the queues. Hence the retail & catering at airports. Drink dispensers & parking charges at hospitals.
    This is all very efficient for the organisations. They calculate such & such queue time requires so many fewer staff over the working day. But they’re assigning zero value to the time customers spend queuing. Typically, the cost to the user can be several times the saving to the organisation. For every three people queuing for 2-3 hours, it’s a complete working day lost. The cost to the economy as a whole must be enormous.

  4. Nothing that a good old-fashioned time & motion study wouldn’t fix. Given how visible this issue is, and given that it has been known for months (if not years), there seems to be remarkably little political will to do anything about it.

  5. Catering and retail doesn’t make much money off people queueing up at Deathrow to get their passport scanned, it makes money on the way in where the queues have been intentionally increased to scare people into turning up stupidly early giving them spare time to spend money on overpriced crap they wouldn’t otherwise have bought.

    Been commuting a lot recently from Frankfurt (my local) to Berlin-Tegel (my customer. Tegel is old (was scheduled to close a few weeks ago actually) and rather shabby, and you can comfortably make your flight by turning up 20 minutes before departure. Frankfurt completely redeveloped, spick and span, and at busy times 1 hour is just about enough. The difference is Tegel was built to be an airport and works just fine as an airport. Frankfurt, the management openly admit they regard themselves as a shopping mall with runways.

  6. bloke in spain,

    These things are modelled in terms of things like average call time, acceptable hang ups and so forth. Look up Erlang B and Erlang C if you’re interested. Call centres know how many calls they get and from that, can work out how many people they need at different times of day. It’s all done in terms of cost and losses. Put on enough staff that every call can be answered straight away and you don’t gain any more customers than a 10 second wait.

    And of course, it also depends on what your customers are like – I’m pretty sure that Coutts have a shorter queueing time than NatWest.

  7. Yes,TSt That’s how it works when you’ve competition.
    The airport’s rather different. There’s no real reason Passport Control couldn’t cope with the 7.30-8.00 am peak. The number of flights is known in advance. Passenger numbers less well but close enough. It’s just more convenient for them to staff the desks later in the day. The queue isn’t a failing. It’s intentional. They buffer the load in the queue till it suits them.
    The article mentions staff sitting around drinking coffee half the time. It’s a straight management problem. To have those desks full staffed at 07.00 you need to be organising at 06.00. Management’s still abed, no doubt. Throwing emergency resources at the problem’ll make damn all difference unless they relearn what they’re supposed to be doing. Clearing the arrivals to the punter’s convenience, not theirs.

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