Waiting Time

From Alex Stone:

SOME years ago, executives at a Houston airport faced a troubling customer-relations issue. Passengers were lodging an inordinate number of complaints about the long waits at baggage claim. In response, the executives increased the number of baggage handlers working that shift. The plan worked: the average wait fell to eight minutes, well within industry benchmarks. But the complaints persisted.

Puzzled, the airport executives undertook a more careful, on-site analysis. They found that it took passengers a minute to walk from their arrival gates to baggage claim and seven more minutes to get their bags. Roughly 88 percent of their time, in other words, was spent standing around waiting for their bags.

So the airport decided on a new approach: instead of reducing wait times, it moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the outermost carousel. Passengers now had to walk six times longer to get their bags. Complaints dropped to near zero….

Occupied time (walking to baggage claim) feels shorter than unoccupied time (standing at the carousel).

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  • Pat Pope

    I read this article yesterday and the psychological effects made sense to me. Often when driving, if it looks like there’s a long line of traffic ahead, I’ll divert to a different route with my premise being that if I’m moving, I at least “feel” as though I’m making progress rather than sitting in traffic or at a long light. Depending on the situation, I don’t really think I save that much time, if any, it just feels more productive to keep moving rather than sitting at a standstill or moving at a snail’s pace.

  • Rick

    So for church services, does the time spent driving to and from church impact what people think of “going to church”? Does this help support the need for more church planting?

  • Pat Pope

    I think it depends on one’s experience at the church, Rick. Those who are really plugged in and enjoy their community might not object to a long drive. However, with the changing landscape in religion–with religion just becoming another choice among many (see Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass)–I think that does influence people’s choices about where they worship. A co-worker of mine recently moved and was inquiring about churches closer to where he lives. He likes where he attends now, but doesn’t want to make the commute. Contrast that with when I was growing up 40 years ago, we commuted about 30 minutes to church and only stopped attending that particular church due to a church split. Commute had nothing to do with the decision. I think churches with older congregations though face this as their congregants come out less and less for evening events and may do less driving overall.

  • Rick


    “However, with the changing landscape in religion–with religion just becoming another choice among many (see Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass)–I think that does influence people’s choices about where they worship.”

    That is where I am coming from in my comment. I don’t think it not only impacts where some attend, but also whether some attend at all.

  • T


    I think the more relevant application of this tendency on church services is the amount of time that is perceived as wasted or doing nothing, either just before or during the service. This could apply to how the church handles transitions (going from singing to announcements, or announcements to the message, etc.) but also how often a speaker repeats him or herself or gets off-point, or even how long intentional times of silence are, or some other part of the service that seems to be unimportant or needlessly slow. FWIW, many church growth folks are fully aware of this and other psychological tendencies, and structure services accordingly.

  • Marshall

    As I get older I find that I am significantly more comfortable with down or “wasted ” time, which I think of as “resting”. Centering. I think of that as evidence for a certain kind of spiritual growth.

    “Sometimes I sits and thinks; Sometimes I just sits.”

  • I’d rather spend time waiting any day, if I’m truly unoccupied. I love some free time to read or play an iPhone game. : )

    In the car though, I’ll always take a back road rather than sit at the lights, even if it will take longer.