Convention Survival: The Psychology of Queuing (OR, How to Make Standing in Line Easier)

comic con May 22, 2018

Queues! Lines! Whatever you call them, they are a part of life, and a big part of conventions.

Whether it’s getting tickets online in a virtual queue, waiting outside a convention hall in the snow just to get in (I’m looking at you PAX East), standing in line to get that epic photoshoot, or just waiting to go for a wee, conventions mean queues.

theme park ride

So do midnight console launches, tickets for gigs or events, and going to theme parks.


They don’t have to be terrible. I promise.


I’ll be referencing ‘The Psychology of Waiting Lines’ by David Maister, as well as my own experience throughout this piece. 


So it’s convention/launch/gig/theme park day! WOO YEAH!

You reach the entrance and the line is already snaking around the block. The gates aren’t open. Anticipation is building. And you are at the back of the queue.


This one is going to take some time to get to the front of.


There is nothing you can do about it. You are now at the mercy of the Queue Gods (or the people working the entrance plus the other people in line).


Some people will start to get anxious, tense, angry… Others will be accepting. And others still will make the most of it.


What can you do – and what can organisers do – to minimize the impact on attendees?




You WILL have to queue. Accept it. Sure it might be waaaay longer than expected but the line will be there. So get ready.


Go for a pee before you join it. Get a bottle of water, snacks, things to keep you occupied – especially if you have kids with you.


Stock up on timefilling apps – the likes of Headsup, or even a simple faceswap can keep you busy for a while.



Over to David Maister  – ‘Occupied Time Feels Shorter Than Unoccupied Time’.


Essentially you need a distraction from the passage of time. Unless you practice meditation or mindfulness, standing still doing nothing can feel agonizing. Tick tock, watching the hands of the clock drag themselves around the face and you look away, it must have been ten minutes right? THREE? WHAT THE HELL?


So get a distraction.


Business knows this – mirrors next to lifts and elevators, hold music, ever wondered why it takes so long to walk to the baggage carousel at the airport? Houston airport cut baggage wait complaints to almost zero by increasing the distance between the arrival gate and the baggage carousel by 7 minutes.


Books, games, podcasts, music – something fun, funny, engaging.


2) Get Started


Is there something you can do in line while you wait? Music festivals often give out (or sell) the programme of events to people in the queue to get in.


They can start planning their day or weekend, looking up acts, seeing where the clashes are.


Lots of cons offer an app, so you can start doing the same.


convention queue crowd




Back to David – ‘People want to get started’.


As Perry Kuklin, Director of Marketing and Business Development for Lavi Industries ( a provider of crowd control solutions) states, “The start of a transaction is the end of the wait – This can be as simple as filling out paperwork before reaching the counter, looking at a menu while waiting, etc.”


If you’re in line for a photo op start thinking about what pose you want to do, or what you want to say to the celeb. This also feeds into point 1.


3) Keep calm


There’s nothing you can do, and this loss of control can cause anxiety. Will I get in? Will they run out of consoles at the launch event? Wil the ride break down before I can get on it? (Derren Brown’s Ghost Train at Thorpe Park I am looking at you with cold, dead, eyes at this point). Is my ticket valid? Is the plane overbooked?  




What does anxiety do?


David’s got the answer – ‘Anxiety makes waits seem longer’.


‘The other line always moves faster and I have made a mistake joining this one.’


The sooner you accept that you have very little impact on the situation other than making it better for yourself, the sooner you can relax and enjoy it.


You WILL get on the flight. You WILL get into the con. Your ticket IS valid. And organizers would do well to remind attendees of these facts to take some of that anxiety away.


foreplay lollipop queue

Side note – theme parks and sex metaphors. At a theme park the queue is an integral part of the experience and anecdotal evidence suggests that people with fast passes often report having a less intense experience.


They have not had the foreplay and leapt straight to the sex.


Especially in modern parks with theming, whether the ride is completely hidden from view such as Thirteen at Alton Towers, or whether you’re queuing in an intricately themed experience, such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Islands of Adventure – it’s all part of the foreplay.


It allows anticipation and excitement to build, a whole bunch of hormones to course through your system as the foreplay stimulates your senses before the full on riding action.


Enjoy it! But do your preparation first – and just like sex, have a wee first (unless well, I’m not going to finish that sentence, what you get up to in your own homes is no business of mine).


4) Accept that the time given may be inaccurate


Any line wait time is a best guess. Plenty of factors can affect it in any situation.


Mechanical failure. Illness. Someone needing a break. A poor estimate. The given time is just a suggestion.




David’s our man again here – Uncertain Waits Are Longer than Known, Finite Waits’


This is where managing the crowd’s expectations is more important than anything you can do.


mickey mouse disneyland queue

Disney, arguably the masters of crowd management, always overestimate the queue time in their lines – that way when you reach the front you are happy and excited that it took 10 minutes less than expected.


Managing expectation honestly  – to a certain extent – is key to keeping a queue line happy and so many events forget this. A little bit of information can make all the difference.


5) Bring a friend along or chat with the people in line


OTHER PEOPLE? Yep. You never know who you might meet and depending on what you’re queuing for you may well have plenty in common, so have an easy run at building some rapport.


For example, I was in line to meet Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario, at MCM London Comic Con and the guys next to me had brought some N64 games to be signed. I asked about the games, we chatted, and now one of the guys I met is writing health content for the blog.



Over to David Maister once more – ‘Solo Waits Feel Longer than Group Waits’

happy group conversation


A sense of community builds amongst a group of people sharing an experience so use that – even if it’s to have a moan about how long you’ve been waiting.


Then strike up a conversation, ask about rides at the park, or where they’re travelling to, or who they want to see at the convention. You already have a way in.


Next time you’re in line, try some of these out and take a look around you…


Who’s having a good time and who’s miserable? Which do you want to be?

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