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We've really been waiting for this

We've really been waiting for this

February 10th, 2018 by Chicago Tribune in Opinion Columns

Veteran travelers know the drill: Arrive hours early at the airport, scramble to the security checkpoint, mutter prayers that the line doesn't snake down the terminal concourse and disappear into the ether. Of all the lines that Americans endure—at theaters, restaurants, ballparks—the airport security checkpoint line stirs the greatest dread. Because miscalculating can mean missing a flight, setting in motion a domino effect of travel disaster.

That's why we perked up when we read about a tech company called iinside and its quest to electronically deliver up-to-the-minute security-line wait times before travelers depart for the airport.

How it works (nontechnical version): Object detection sensors and other high-tech hardware at security checkpoints help determine the number of passengers in the line and their rate of movement. That yields the estimated wait time. Travelers can see this info at the airport or on a mobile travel app offered by TripIt. The iinside system recently launched at four U.S. airports—Austin, Texas; Orlando, Fla.; Denver; and Phoenix.

This app and its competitors should thrill those who loathe lines in all their soul-sapping incarnations. Now, we wish that other businesses that play the waiting game with customers would follow this lead.

Say, at line-heavy driver's license facilities? Or grocery stores with slo-mo lines? Amazon recently opened a cashierless high-tech grocery store in Seattle, to whisk customers along.

As is, the wait-averse arrive promptly at the doctor's office only to marinate in the lounge because the doctor is running late. Why not an app that tells patients before they leave home if the doc is behind schedule? We know doctors can be delayed by emergencies and other unexpected events. An app could warn patients via texts so they don't waste time and build blood pressure while trapped in the waiting area. The doctor's time is valuable, but so is the patient's.

We believe that it is the duty of businesses that serve the public to minimize lines of any sort. Theaters with tiny restrooms, large audience capacities and short intermissions, we're grimacing at you. At the ballpark, the beer line should be longer than the restroom line. And you, customer service: If our call is so important to you, why do you cast us into holding hell for 15 minutes? (Tip of the hat to automated systems that warn, "Estimated wait time, 7 minutes.")

Industries and services that end the waiting game won't just please customers—they can help boost the economy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Larson estimates that people can spend a year or two of their lives lingering in lines. Imagine the lost productivity, as Americans spend an estimated 37 billion hours every year waiting.

Some long lines generate excitement, like those for a roller coaster ride, or your favorite restaurant, or the latest iPhone. But a world without lines? That would be—wait for it—nirvana.

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