/ Shopping, Travel & Leisure

Fed up waiting? Join the queue!

Cartoon of a queue

Every day I wait in queues. On the way to work, I stand in a bus queue. Shopping for dinner, I end up in a supermarket queue. You can’t even escape queues when you’re on holiday…

Which? Travel’s latest investigation takes a look at airport queues. When online check-in was introduced some years ago, it was supposed to put an end to the days when the first experience of your holiday was a massive queue at the airport. But check-in queues are still with us – and a third of Which? members list them as one of the most frustrating aspects of air travel.

The benefits of bag drop?

Even if you have checked in online and just have a suitcase to drop off, you can’t avoid waiting in line at the airport. Our recent survey found that queues at the bag drop desk can be just as infuriating as the one at check-in, with average waiting times being as long as 21 minutes for an EasyJet flight at Manchester Terminal 1.

Our survey also revealed Stansted airport consistently had the longest waits for check-in and bag drop, with an average wait of 20min and 16min respectively. Have a look at the average slowest and fastest waiting times in our graphic:

Airport queues Which? research

On the way home from a holiday in Greece a couple of months ago, I spent over two hours in queues. The first – to check in for my flight – snaked around the whole check-in area of the airport, as well as outside. After about an hour and 20 minutes I made it to the desk, only to be given a boarding pass and instruction to join yet another queue to drop off my bag.

Fortunately, that one moved a bit quicker, but I still had to wait for around 30 minutes before handing over my luggage. Then it was off to stand in the queue to go through security. Hot, a bit bothered, it wasn’t the best end to what had otherwise been a fantastic week away.

Straight queue or snake queue?

According to the expert we spoke to for our investigation (who advised the government on how to reduce immigration queues prior to the London Olympics), you can reduce wait times by being in the right type of queue.

Picture yourself in a supermarket. If you’re in a straight-line queue, you’ll apparently get through the check-out quicker. That’s because customers don’t waste time like they may do in a ‘snake’ queue, where people follow each other around a line that doubles-back on itself. In the separate straight queues you don’t walk around, or look up and down to see where the next available till is. And the straight system self regulates because customers join the shortest queue.

That may be the theory, but it doesn’t always work for me. More often than not, I find myself in the straight supermarket queue behind the person with hours to spare. They are chatting to friends on the phone, taking their time packing their bags… and all the while I’m noticing other shoppers on their way back home, while I’m going nowhere!

I much prefer being in a ‘snake’ queue. As long as everyone is on the ball, no one at the head of the queue dilly dallies too much. Even better if there’s a supervisor at the front, directing people to appropriate counters. Which type of queue works best for you? Do you find airport queues are just as bad as they’ve always been?


Agree about airport queues, online checkin has not change anything takes just as long to drop luggage off. However I have noticed queues being managed a couple of time to speed things up but have also noticed on a couple of occasions that the airport checkin queue was shorter than the luggage drop off queue.

Also agree that snaking queues, while looking daunting, are fairer.

Of course up here in the North a queue is a chance to have a chat with whoever is nearby.


I cannot think of anything more annoying than queuing. It always seems such an unnecessary waste of time.

Some years ago, Tesco advertised that they would open more tills if two or more people were waiting in front of you. They rarely did this at the local store and if I had been able to reach the signs advertising this service I would have torn them down.


After a flight delay of 5 hours at LGW for BA flight to Amsterdam, I became rather load and accused them of lying to us all: I was told to be quiet, they did not want a riot – so I said I would organise one withing the hour, if we did not departs shortly – within about 20 minutes we were boarding!

Albe back says:
17 August 2013

Clicked on the link about Greek holidays. Which is well respected – even by me a born skeptic – but that article was a load of tosh.

It highlights a very low risk of abnormal disruption, based upon a few demonstrations in Athens and some short term banking issues in Cyprus? Sure the countries have problems, which one doesn’t? Strikes there are at times just like there have been virtually every year by French Air Traffic Controllers, farmers etc.

Although the words tend to play it down, the headline sets the image. I guess “Which for international visitors to the UK” (if there was one) would not recommend a visit to the UK given all the riots and demonstrations over the years in specific locations, floods, droughts, high winds,Lions Mane jelly fish of the west coast, racial hatred and europhobic nature of a few, risk of catching mad cow disease, failing NHS……………however not been near or seen one of those with any abnormal adverse effect for years and that will apply to the vast majority. Some still however will suffer and undoubtedly there are problems and that must make a visitor to the UK wary, like some Americans were a few years ago. It’s just the same in Greece where news gets coloured by a few incidents and scaremongering headlines. Nearly all the demos and rioting are around Syntagma square in Athens, and there are problems elsewhere but generally only those in tourist areas of made by the tourists !!

Different standards abound and culture is different, heat waves do occur etc.; but that part of life.

Even the financial advice in the article was wrong, IMHO, a small amount of cash is the wrong method. Whilst ATMs are widespread they are not as reliable as in the UK and IF there is a serious banking crisis (never in the UK eh? we don’t ever see queues at banks – sorry short memory) then they would no doubt close for time as happened in Cyprus. Cash then would be king for a time so at least a reserve of cash would be very useful, just as it would if you lost your cards!!


When standing in a queue, it is always worth an “Excuse me, could you ask for another checkout to be opened please?”
It usually works in supermarkets.


I have not had much luck with this in Tesco, but there is a very helpful lady who will often open up a checkout when we are expected to use the self-service machines late in the evening. She gets effusive thanks from me and others who look dismayed at the confounded machines. 🙂

But I agree that polite requests are often very effective.

easyJet No1 fan says:
17 August 2013

We are long-term customers of easyJet, so, having embraced online check-in long ago, as recommended by the airline, we were keen for the latest easyJet Luton airport Bag Drop system to work as promised. However, on two flights this year, we have found ourselves in the longest queues we have ever experienced! Are we the stupid ones for tolerating this, especially as there were openable desks not in use at the time? We already arrive at the airport earlier than the recommended time, so this is simply an abuse of customer relations.
If easyJet cannot resolve this major issue, we, and probably many others, will surely have to look at alternative operators when making our holiday and family visiting plans.

Malc.Moore says:
17 August 2013

Is your nearest Town or City Post-office Understaffed?. I think Adam Crozier is sabotaging our Post-office service by Under-staffing levels.One goes in at lunch time during lunch break hardly any staff they on their lunch-break too Ridiculous while Friday afternoon only 2 persons serving when a lot of people have finished work for the day.My worst experience was a Friday Afternoon at Stretford Mall; Stretford post-office in W.H.SMITH Manchester just before Christmas just 1 person serving.The
post-office union has to realize the 9 til 5 days have gone its a public service and should be staffed at times when a lot in manufacturing&office staff are free.Adam Crozier is so obsessed with Profit he is driving customers away so he can Privatize then small Towns and Villages will have no Post-office
at all.We have millions of Unemployed overpaid bosses like Adam Crozier should be sacked.