I had an interesting etiquette conundrum on a recent trip away, and although the problem was solved, it did make me wonder about the etiquette of waiting in line when it comes to saving spots for people to cut ahead.
In April, I visited San Francisco for 3 days, and hoped to visit Alcatraz, but was unaware that it was so popular you needed to book days, if not weeks, in advance. However, my hostel told me that every morning they sell 50-100 tickets for the first ferry leaving on the day, so if I was willing to get up early, I could still possibly get a ticket. The office opens at 7:30, but people have been known to wait as early as 5 to get in.
Since it wasn’t a weekend, I decided not to be there quite that early, and made it to the ticket office for 6:15, where there were maybe 8 people ahead of me. I was told I could only buy one ticket, and to make sure I had photo ID so I could prove I was buying it for myself.
The issue I had however, was within the next 45 minutes, the 8 people ahead of me (and those lining up behind) started calling people, or just greeting new arrivals, who would go to the very front of the queue to wait with their party. I don’t begrudge someone holding a spot for one person, but a party of 2 at the very front of the queue ended up swelling to a party of 9 as friends arrived throughout the waiting time! By 7am, there were over 25 people ahead of me. I was still pretty sure I could get a ticket given how many I was told could be sold, but the queue had been lining up behind me as well, and I can’t imagine someone who arrived at 6:30, who counted the people ahead and thought themself safe, was too happy to see themselves go from 25th in the queue to 50th. The employee at the back of the queue warning people about buying one ticket and having ID, never said anything, and neither did anyone in the queue.
Thankfully, the problem resolved itself, when at 7 am the employees started handing out tokens that we needed to exchange for tickets, guaranteeing everyone in line a place, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the ticket limit had run out for those who had counted the line, thought themselves safe, only to have someone who showed up at 6:55 rather than 6:30 get in because they jumped the queue?
Is there a limit on how many spots you are allowed to save in a waiting line? Especially if what you’re waiting for is limited in number? And do you have an obligation to tell people how many people will be arriving so they have a more reasonable idea of how far down the line you really are? 0531-18