Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Queues in Britain

During my recent overseas travel, I was stranded at Heathrow airport in London, twice. While we both, Americans and British, share the same language, I learned that we somehow have a different set of habits.

If you have a question or a problem in America, the customer service person will work with you until they resolve the issue. This is true whether at the airport, mall, or over the phone with a company rep. In Britain, the customer service person will engage in what seems to be a common practice of flow control. This basically involves hearing your question then dumbing to another agent or rep. The trick is that in order to talk to the other person, you will have to get in a queue; this is what the Brits call a line. In most cases than not, by the time you get to the agent, he or she will tell you that you did not need to be in that queue and that you actually have to stand in another one. And this goes on and on until you get lucky at some point and catch the correct customer service person or agent.

Here are a few observations that I made.

- British people are so used to forming lines and do not seem to mind it. Actually, most of them, automatically line up in queues as soon as they face a problem. I admire their sense of order.

- You should have seen us Americans at the airport. We were just complaining about this inefficient process. And while saving each other's place in the line, we would send one of us to cut the line and ask the agent at the end of the line if this was the right queue to be in. We got no sympathy from the agent nor the people in queue (obviously).

- As strange as it sounds, this system worked in dispersing large crowds of angry travelers into small queues where they had all the time to think about a million other thing and somehow calm down. The repeated process of dumping people from one line to another eventually tames people and suck all the energy out of them. It also lowers their expectation to the point where any answer from an airport or airline agent would be satisfactory. Just get me out of the queues! I had enough of those hours-long queues.


Amina said...

I wonder if it's a geography thing - smaller country equals more need to make orderly rows out of things.

Anonymous said...

Here our pace of lifestyle is in the fast lane due to great travel distances. In UK travel distances are so small compared to Orange/LA County. It's due to circumstances. Here the time can't be wasted as much already gets wasted on the road due to long distances.