Avoid Waiting: Tricks for Beating the Lines

Tricks and tips could save you time at the store, airport and in traffic.

ByABC News via logo
November 6, 2009, 6:19 PM

Nov. 7, 2009— -- A world without lines would be total chaos. Think of those Black Friday scenes where people push and shove to get to the front. But standing in line, waiting behind slow pokes, feeling like it's getting later and later…ugh.

So what if you could outsmart a line? And we're not talking about cutting. "GMA Weekend" decided to experiment with three of the longest types of lines to see if it's possible to tactically outmaneuver the masses to shorten the wait.

Checkout Challenge: Express Vs. Regular Lane

We started at the grocery store, where I met up with Dan Meyer, a Santa Cruz, Calif. math teacher who also works part time with Google. To answer his students' frequent cries of "when are we ever going to use that in real life?" during his math classes, Meyer decided to research serious mathematical issues like which grocery store checkout line is faster, the express lane or the regular lane. His theory is that it's not how many items are in the carts in front of you, but how many people are in line in front of you.

To help illustrate the point, I laid out two lines of shopping baskets in front of Meyer. One represented the express line. There were three baskets, and each had only a few items. Then there was a line where one person had a cart that was overflowing with groceries. Most of us never want to get behind the guy with a full cart. But what did Meyer's research show?

Meyer pointed to the overflowing cart. "This is the safest bet here, because all three of these ones here [representing the express line] have to have all the pleasantries in the transaction, the 'hi, how are you?,' which takes 48 seconds on average per person. Each one of these items takes only 2.8 seconds on average to scan, so you'd rather have 17 more items in line than one more person," he explained.

It was time to put this theory to the test. With 12 items each, we lined up. Meyer was in the regular line behind four people, each with full carts. I lined up behind seven people in the express lane.

Meyer's theory is based on scrutiny of cash register records that show the amount of items per transaction and the time each transaction took. He realized that seven out of 10 times, it's faster to pick the shorter line regardless of how many items the people in front of you have in their carts.