Flex your brain: How to stop being a line zombie

Not every line is worth waiting in.

I witnessed something at an airport recently that I want to share with you. A moment that made me pity humanity, just a little bit. Not because it was despicable, but it was a manifestation of one of our worst tendencies. Let me explain.

I’m sitting with my wife and young son at an airport terminal gate in San Francisco waiting for our flight to board when I see it: a line. Two in fact. The lines stretch roughly 50 people deep: priority one and priority two. Everyone is waiting politely, one behind the other, but here’s the catch: the plane we'll be flying on hasn’t even landed yet.

That’s right. People are waiting in a line to board the plane before the incoming plane has even landed. I chuckle and cringe as I reflect on how it began—and what this line represents. You see, when we arrived at the gate, I went up to the counter to get a gate-check ticket for our infant son’s stroller and got in line behind a lady who was already waiting near the counter. But, after two minutes of standing there, I asked her if she was actually waiting for the gate attendants.

“No. I’m just a nervous flyer and it makes me feel safer to be standing in line.”

That’s right. She's nervous. She explained to me at reasonable length that she has a real fear of flying and this was her way of controlling some small part of the circumstances. So, I graciously stepped around her, spoke with the agent, grabbed the gate-check ticket, and went back to join my wife and son.

Fast forward 30 minutes and these two lines have formed. They make an announcement that the plane has not landed. Yet, over the course of the next 20 minutes, the line grows even longer—snaking into the distance. The same 50 people in priority one, but priority two’s line has grown to nearly 70 people. Why? FOMO.

"Don't do the same thing as everyone else, just because they might know something you don’t."

The people are standing in line because the person in front of them is standing in line. Everyone here has a ticket. They’ve all heard the multiple addresses that the plane we will be flying out on hasn’t landed yet. But, they crane their necks over the person in front of them to see what it is they are missing out on.

What does the person in front of them know that they don’t? Nothing. This line is all because one lady has a nervous condition. And, they're now part of it. An unwitting army of zombies to one woman’s well-intentioned neuroticism.

As my wife and I sit there, listening to our music and lazily eating our lunch, we marvel as this spectacle unfolds. The announcement is made that the flight is delayed and won’t make it to the gate for another 20 minutes. But, the line continues to grow.

Many of these people have been standing in line for over 50 minutes now, and finally the plane arrives. And deplanes. And gets cleaned. And then, a relieved voice comes over the loudspeaker:

“We will now begin boarding the flight. Anyone who is travelling with a small child or needs extra assistance, you are welcome to board the plane.”

So, we get up from our seats, grab our young son, walk to the front of the line, and board the plane amid impatient stares.

"Use the facts as your friend and find a new way to approach things."

Here’s my plea: please don’t wait in line simply because the person in front of you is waiting in line. Don't ignore all the information and facts and let your fears take over. Don't do the same thing as everyone else, just because they might know something you don’t, even when all the evidence points in the other direction. Don't do it in your job. Or, in your work. Or, in your personal life.

Take a deep breath. You have a ticket. You’re getting on the plane. Don’t let panic overwhelm you. Use the facts as your friend and find a new way to approach things. Don’t wait in line because someone else says you should wait in line. Don’t be a mindless line zombie—flex your brain. Not every line is worth waiting in.

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