Blurred Lines

Everyone hates flying, simply because it’s a miserable experience in just about every way. Everything in the flying ecosystem is mismanaged and seemingly optimized for customer dissatisfaction, from opaque/cartel pricing to inefficient security to disorganized boarding. It is truly unique in the world of business so far as it’s intersection of importance and awfulness.

Of course, all of these problems and frustrations are known to everyone, but what’s the real alternative? Without competing options, industries stagnate and ignore their customer. Just as the taxi commission about that.

But you know all of this already; you probably didn’t click on this post to hear me bitch about flying. No, I actually wanted talk about something else, and that’s lines. And no, not lines in the startup sense or lines in a slang sense, but literal lines. Queues.

While I was frustratedly waiting to board thanks to Delta’s frankly bizarre and disorganized way of doing it, I noticed that for the most part, everyone waiting for the flight queued up nicely when given a structured direction. Everyone eventually sort of shrugged, and realized that they were in it together to some extent. And since the plane was there, waiting, everyone would get on and therefore another two or three minutes spent looking at a phone or impatiently tapping a foot would ultimately be forgotten – just another annoyance in an experience full of them.

It hit me that lines are the ultimate leveler – everyone waits, regardless of who they are. You might be broken up into different lines by zones at the airport or by colors at Whole Foods, but the line is the line. Everyone waits.

This made me think of something I once saw at Six Flags, where you could pay extra to literally always hop to the front of the line. The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that while that kind of upsell has significant utility for the consumer (and thus, revenue for the business), the damage it ultimately does in sum to the unsold customer isn’t really worth it. The utility derived from the subset of people who buy it is never going to even out the negative utility felt by the majority who didn’t buy it and think it’s complete bullshit that the product exists in the first place.

Not every startup is going to have an equivalent of this (and certainly any sports connection I might try to make her would be fairly belabored at best), but it’s an easy lesson: make your product equally accessible and enjoyable for everyone. No one likes to feel left out.

I also just realized that I never talked about the people who ignore the line altogether and try to cut in at the amorphous merge point, tacitly making the argument that they are too good for the line and too special to be treated equally. Unless you’re a cab driver or are in a similar situation with zero expectation of decorum, there’s a pretty clear label for you: asshole. And you’re probably enough of one to buy that upsell package from Six Flags. There’s probably a strong correlation there.


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