The benefits of joining the back of the queue


The thing about Heathrow Terminal 3 is that – like any airport – all people want to do is be somewhere else.

Cafe Nero is one of the better options for passing some time. It has six tills split between two halves, which gives you a split second to choose the queue of shortest wait. I choose right, but am soon disconcerted by the lack of clarity. Is it just one queue for three tills or is it three separate queues? There is a corridor of uncertainty, with a long queue on the right, but a tempting shorter queue on the left.

The only choice is to join the longest queue. But that creates a subtle fear that someone could come from behind and join the half-formed queues in front. If I deny myself a shortcut, I need to deny others too!

So I perform an act of self-interest and civic duty all at once. I queue at a diagonal to move the queue away from the right flank – right into the middle where it should be by the natural law of things. Then I nervously wait, using my psychic energy to secretly discourage people from sneaking through on the flanks.

The tension is palpable, heightened by the fact all the queues in front seem to grind to a halt. As Murphy’s Law would have it, the queue on the other side of the cafe is speeding through. For a split second, I contemplate jumping ship and moving to the other side. I would probably get served quicker, but I’m too invested in my own queue¬† – which, if not moving very quickly, is at least bringing a little order into the chaos of Heathrow.¬† Even the people in front seem to be shifting a little to the centre, as if there is an unconscious recognition for the proper, invisible line of our queue. The centre ground is holding. A very small victory in life’s battleground.


Just last week I was queuing in a bank to deposit a cheque. After a several minute wait, disaster struck – a lady appeared from nowhere to pass three people to create a second line. Not only has she jumped the queue, but she stands uncomfortably close – no sense of personal space, no sense for the value of a queue. I’m dumbstruck into silence, and silently brood – ready to sprint to the counter as soon as it is free. The inner queuer in me resents this abrupt challenge. But, alas, with scant regard for social convention – she seems to anticipate her turn and has the audacity to beat me in a walking-sprint. I have to hold back and admit defeat.

But, there is a secret hero behind the counter.

“I’m very sorry madam, but there is just one queue, if you could join the back of the queue over there. Thank you!”

I inwardly smile – there are unheralded heroes in the unlikeliest of places, as long as the bank teller believes in the queue there is still a little hope for civilisation.

One Response to The benefits of joining the back of the queue

  1. Priyadarshan October 12, 2018 at 3:14 pm #

    Very nice, thank you. This story is wording what happened to me so many times!

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