Queueing Theory

“As an important person, I am entitled to be ahead of the hoi polloi and cannot be bothered about niceties like queues and waiting-for-your-turn. Hence, I did not bother to reach here in time, knowing I could take advantage of the apathy of the common people and their diffidence in taking a principled stand, even for their own benefit. I can play the ‘victim’ card, or bulldoze the off person who dares to object, to get ahead.”

He had actually said, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?”

I had cleared the queue to enter the terminal building, and the queue to drop my checked in bag, for my flight to Bangalore in the morning, the previous Sunday, and had entered the third and last queue, for the Security Check, before I got in to the queue to show my boarding card to the airline staff at the gate, followed by the queue to enter the bus that took us to the aircraft, followed by the queue to enter the aircraft, when he had uttered these words.

And he had almost edged past me completely, assuming, I assume, that all was good, and that I should be grateful for the privilege he was according me, of letting him pass, when I had made my move and blocked his path. “Please come in queue. My flight is also about to take off,” I had said firmly.

Clearly not used to such a response, the gentleman appeared lost at first, but quickly composed himself and said, matter-of-factly, “But I will miss my flight.” Apparently, it was my problem that he was going to miss his flight.

“If you are in a hurry, please ask the airline staff to help you speed up the process.” I was in the mood to be logical and reasonable. I also looked around to others in the queue, hoping they would support my logical stance. But they were engaged in other important tasks to save the world, peering into their mobile phones.

“But the airline staff said they cannot help me with the security process,” he said, agony of that slight writ large on his face.

“So it becomes my responsibility to flirt with the possibility of getting delayed myself and letting you go through?” I responded, bringing all my years of experience writing satire to bear upon that single statement, hoping to shame him to the point of withering away, while appealing to the baser instincts of others, as, by this time, the sight of two adults engaged in a quarrel of sorts had ensured that a small crowd had gathered around us, leaving their places in the queue. It was a relief to know that watching a spectacle live is still more important than saving the world on a mobile screen.

“What time is your flight?” someone asked the other gentleman.

“7.45,” he responded.

“What time is your flight?” the same person asked me.

“7.50,” I responded, holding up my boarding card.

“So let him go through then. His flight is before yours, is it not?”

The others joined in the chorus. I wilted under this onslaught. He quickly stepped past me flashing a smile of victory that said, “Take that you idiot.” As many others had left their positions in the queue, he was able to quickly get through to the Security Check station.

Failure to learn fast has never been one of my weaknesses. Though chastened, almost three seconds later, when the next person came up who was late for the flight he had to catch that was almost at the same time as mine, and made his move with, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?” I was ready. I shook his hand, wished him a pleasant flight, and requested the person ahead of me in the queue, to let him pass.

As I kept flagging people past me in the queue, and as people who were late for the flight they had to catch that was almost at the same time as mine, kept making their move with, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?” my mind wandered off to those happy days at the Well Known Institute of Management in Western India (WIMWI), and to Professor Tripathi’s class on Production and Operations Management, over thirty years back. “Single queue multiple server,” I was hearing him say, “is the most efficient form of queueing, that optimises wait time for the customer and idle time for the server.”

But man keeps pushing the envelope. New discoveries are being made every day. Little would Professor Tripathi have known, that even before he retired from WIMWI, there would be an even more efficient way of queueing; of people showing up late and cutting the queue.

Soon, the only two people standing behind me were two greying ladies, who looked like they were foreigners. I looked at them pityingly. It was clear they did not have the benefit of good education. Of modern theories of queueing. They may have good communication skills, good interpersonal skills, respect for people, but theories of queueing? With such a gap in their knowledge, how could they hope to get ahead? At least in queues in India.

As I continued to be the last but two in the queue, having moved barely a few inches from the time I had entered, I realised that I will miss my flight if I did not clear security in the next five minutes. Being a quick learner, as I have perhaps mentioned earlier, I stepped on the accelerator, alternating between playing the ‘victim’ card and bulldozing my way through the few uneducated souls who dared to object, scythed through the queue, and reached the Security Check point. I had a flight to catch, after all.

Not to be left behind in demonstrating their speed of learning, the Delhi airport authorities decided to resolve the issue of delays in the Security Check queue by creating a separate fast track queue for important persons, entitled to be ahead of the hoi polloi, who cannot be bothered about niceties like queues and waiting-for-your-turn, who do not bother to reach in time, knowing they can take advantage of the apathy of the common people and their diffidence in taking a principled stand, even for their own benefit, by playing the ‘victim’ card, or bulldozing the off person who dares to object.

It is remarkable what can be achieved with a little effort, some imagination and a lot of resolve. In as short a period of time as a week. The Security Check queue presented a transformed look yesterday, which, again, was a Sunday. The regular queue was clear as a crisp February day in Gurgaon. One could see miles out to the security personnel swatting flies as they waited for the next passenger to show up.

Meanwhile, all passengers stood in the fast track queue, along with everyone else who was flying out from Delhi at that time, beneficiaries of Delhi airport authorities alacrity in implementing a solution, continuously moving ahead of others in the queue, even as the others kept moving ahead of them.


36 thoughts on “Queueing Theory

  1. That was a fun read. It doesn’t happen here but I really wouldn’t know. I get to the airport at least 3 hours ahead of time. I’m paranoid.

      • Thanks for asking Jacqui.
        Like Shakespeare said in Hamlet,
        “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
        Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
        As always, the ones at the bottom of the food chain will be the hardest hit.
        Yeah, many public spaces have shut down. Stores still open here. Public transport working. Perhaps they will be next to shut. I was talking to my sister, who lives in California as I have probably mentioned earlier, yesterday, and she was saying almost similar things, like stores even limiting people to buying only limited numbers of essential items.
        But, at the end of it, the race will survive and thrive. It will be upto us what we make of this wake-up call.
        Best wishes to you and yours 🙂

  2. Great post! The art of queuing properly has been pushed aside by instant gratification. As I always get to the airport 2 hours before I am never late. 🙂 And when someone (not elderly) tries to push past me because they have no conception of time and a grand sense of entitlement, they get a seriously withering look that stops them in their tracks. 😀

  3. This was so well written, with just the right touch of absurdity and a sense of bureaucracy 😁 I can’t stand people cutting me in the queue, especially at the airport. It’s definitely their own fault if they’re late and, as you so well pointed out, everyone has a flight to catch. Even just thinking about it infuriates me! 🤬 Also super annoying when people team up against you! Happened to me last summer at the local swimming pool, a guy swam over me and someone in the next lane, turning the two lanes into three, just because he felt he was entitled to behave as arrogantly as he wished. When I politedly complained later on at the end of the pool, where he was chilling by calling out to friends several lanes away, a random woman started defending him and somehow turned it into my fault!! I haven’t felt like swimming since.

    • Thank you. It is a nightmare. Today morning I blocked a person from cutting the queue to get into the metro. And, guess what, it was apparently my fault. More than that, I am appalled by the reaction of the bystanders who, if not actually supporting the rule-breaker, like in your case, are indifferent at best. I think looking the other way in the face of an indiscretion, is akin to abetment.

  4. I enjoyed this look at the theory of the queue. I think the only place people queuing works is in the UK. Those folks have a sense of propriety that seems to transcend human fragility. I know I’m going to miss my flight would never work here. Someone would say, “You shoulda got here earlier.”

  5. If you can cut into the line using “I’m going to miss my flight”, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to come to the airport more than 15-20 minutes before the flight. Just seems like a waste of time you’ll spend letting others cut into line.

  6. Being British I am of course a very obedient queue-er by nature, which led to much hilarity in India as at ticket counters, shops, temples, anywhere, I waited politely and waited and waited as more and more people went in front of me. My husband (British but more experienced in India, and less patient than me) would get exasperated and make me push forward, or sometimes an Indian person would take pity on me and push me forwards! Mind you I always get to the airport with loads of time so I would definitely have let you and the other person through ahead of me!

    • I can understand. One has to live with the problems associated with our accident of birth. 🙂
      A queue-er might be considered que-er in India.
      But hats off to you for patiently negotiating queues in India.

  7. Scientific and humorous, Ankur. Having visited your country a few times this all sounds very familiar, especially for a white Australian anxious not to offend and inevitably being served last. So much so I was once ‘randomly’ selected from a boarding queue for an additional security check, presumably because of my suspicious behaviour. When asked why I was in their fair city, I said I had been visiting a friend. I then dropped the name of the most important businessman in the city, whom of course I had only met briefly at conference, and offered to call him for verification. The response was instant. I was personally escorted to the boarding gate, bypassing security altogether.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Doug. I suspect your suspicious behaviour was not taking advantage of the privilege accorded to ‘white’ in a ‘non-white’ setting. Be more careful next time you are in India 🙂

    • Shakespeare might have said, “A queue by any other name, would still be a queue.”
      However, if he were American, he might have said, “A line by any other name, would still be a line.”
      And, if Indian, he would probably say, “A queue or a line, call it any noble name, in any noble language, ‘twould make scant difference to this fair race.”

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