queuing, cutting in line, and social justice

Page Six ran a story about wealthy Manhattanites who hire “black-market Disney guides” for $130 an hour (or $1,040 for an eight-hour day) to cut in line for the rides at Disney World. The guides are people with disabilities who, according to Disney rules, are allowed to take up to 6 people to the front of the ride lines.

At face value, this may seem like a good trade – people who pay do not have to wait in line. People who do not pay more have to wait. But of course, this is not how we really feel about queuing.

This story became popular because hiring guides with disabilities violates the social justice principle we associate with queues. First come first served, no exceptions! This is especially important since single line FIFO queues, like the ride queues at amusement parks, have the highest expectations of social justice. We are someone less concerned with grocery store lines with multiple servers and multiple lines, where a late-comer to one line can be served before someone who has been waiting longer in another line. We reluctantly accept the Law of Lines.

I blogged about the psychology of queuing long ago based on Dick Larson’s research on the intersection of operations research and psychology [Link]. Dr. Larson and his collaborators found that people are willing to wait longer on average to ensure that no one gets special treatment. Special treatment means that someone violates the first-come-first-serve queuing rule. Multiple servers with a single queue preserve social justice.

In reality, we accept many deviations from FIFO/FCFS queues. For example, frequent fliers can register with the TSA and pay an annual fee to get expedited screening at many hub airports. We accept this. Frequent fliers skipping the security queue is not unlike the wealthy people who purchase a “guide” at Disney to avoid waiting. The difference is that the TSA expedited screening is an official way for cutting in line whereas the Disney guides are working around the way the rules are intended to work (cutting via a technicality).

What are your favorite ways to avoid queuing?


3 responses to “queuing, cutting in line, and social justice

  • prubin73

    So do you consider airline policies on early boarding for “elite” (platinum, gold, slightly tarnished pewter) customers to be “official” as with TSA expedited screening or socially unjust? What about Universal Orlando’s express passes (https://www.universalorlando.com/Theme-Park-Tickets/Universal-Express/Express-Passes.aspx), available for a price premium (no black-market guides required)? (Incidentally, Disney has it’s own FASTPASS system, but FASTPASS is free to all ticket holders.)

    As to how I avoid queues, timing is everything: I try to go wherever and whenever the madding crowd is somewhere else.

  • Laura McLay

    I can see it both ways when it comes to early boarding for ‘elite” passengers – I think that people have by and large accepted that we are boarded according to priority. But Southwest’s popularity for boarding according to FCFS suggests otherwise. I also try to avoid queues with better timing. My childhood family doctor once told my mom to call right after lunch at 1pm to get the fastest response. I find the 1pm trick to work well for many things (but not Disney lines). The only “cost” there is to give up on the convenience of calling whenever I want, which is usually not a big deal if I schedule it on my calendar.

  • Joshua Zucker

    Southwest doesn’t have FCFS any more, though — you can pay to be one of the first handful (15?) to get on the plane.

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