Jan 7, 2022 - Economy & Business

Tech is finally killing long lines

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Startups and big corporations alike are releasing technology to put long lines online.

Why it matters: Standing in lines has always been a hassle, but the pandemic has made lines longer, slower and even dangerous. Now many of those lines are going virtual.

What's happening: Physical lines are disappearing at theme parks, doctor's offices, clothing stores and elsewhere, replaced by systems that let you book a slot online and then wait to be notified that it's your turn.

Whyline, an Argentinian company that was just acquired by the biometric ID company CLEAR, is an app that lets users do just that — it will keep you up to date on your wait time and let you know when you need to show up.

  • Whyline's list of clients — mostly in Latin America — includes banks, retail stores, the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Los Angeles International Airport.
  • "The same way you make a reservation at a restaurant, Whyline software does the waiting for you in banks, in DMVs, in airports," CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker said on CNBC.

Another app called Safe Queue was born from the pandemic and aims to make in-store shopping safer for customers and workers by spacing out shoppers' visits.

  • The app uses GPS technology to detect when you're within 1,000 feet of a participating store and automatically puts you in a virtual line. Then you can wait in your car or somewhere nearby until it's your turn to shop.

Many health clinics around the country are also putting their COVID test lines online.

  • At my local testing center in Hoboken, New Jersey, patients stand in a quick line to check in and then enter a virtual queue via an app called Solv Health.
  • They can then go back home, run errands or grab a coffee while they wait for a text alerting them to return to the clinic to get tested. (It certainly beats standing out in the cold for hours with lots of people who think they might be infected.)

Universal Orlando, famous for its gargantuan lines, is trying virtual queues too.

  • You can pick a time to visit a ride or an attraction for groups of up to 10 through the virtual line feature in the resort's app.

The big picture: Who doesn't want to avoid standing in line? There are already professional line-sitters like Same Ole Line Dudes, who work in New York City and specialize in such iconic NYC tasks as waiting for standby "Saturday Night Live" tickets.

  • The gig-work app TaskRabbit explicitly offers "line standers," whom you can pay to hold your spot.

The rub: While virtual queuing tech may be gaining ground, lines are still more common than not. And in the age of social distancing, expect wait times to remain high and lines to remain long.

Editor's note: We corrected the name of Universal Orlando to reflect it is not owned by Disney.

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