Coffee with Ali: Airport Queues

The skies are open, Covid restrictions are lifted and travelling is back! Hooray! That excitement however is all but forgotten when turning up at the airport to fly away on a well deserved vacation and witnessing utter chaos. Lines of people snaking around the airport terminal, in some cases starting from outside the building itself. Queues at check in, security, passport control, baggage everywhere, kids crying, passengers sleeping on the floor, faces of utter frustration due to flight cancellations, delays or even missing their flights. Even though travelling was always hectic, it certainly was not this stressful before the pandemic. For once the rose tinted glasses are showing the truth as the number of flights and passengers still have not reached pre-pandemic volumes.

So what happened? Reading plentiful of articles, it is the age old problem of not enough resource. During the pandemic, people were let go, now they are re-hiring but supply is low and security clearance takes time to obtain to mobilise those resources, up to 6 months in fact. In the UK, it is compounded further with Brexit with the supply pool of resource even smaller. I have travelled for work and pleasure for over ten years, even during the pandemic, but my last few trips have been excruciating with multiple cancellations and waiting time in queues measured in hours not minutes.

As I waited in a queue that appeared to start from the beginning of time itself, I reflected on the journey myself and other passengers have. Arriving, parking, checking in, security, shopping, boarding and finally hitting the sky. The journey continues on the other side; landing, passport control, baggage collection, maybe having someone welcome you in arrivals hall, you maybe even lucky to have a hug waiting for you and then finally, leaving the terminal. For sure each airport and airline is different, also which class you travel on has some additions or non applicable steps, however on the whole, the journey is conceptually the same for the most of us. It is also conceptually the same for every business scenario. For every project implementation, sales contract signed, recruitment hire, even down to transactional level processes there is a journey When that journey does not have enough resource to facilitate it, cracks will no doubt appear. Delays, dissatisfaction, frustration which all ultimately lead to loss of revenue. This cannot be the “new” normal and even through the phrase “It is what it is” is allowed in life, in this case, I do not believe it should be. There are ways to mitigate.


Being an unashamed people watcher, it was fascinating watching fellow passengers walk past to get to the start of the queue. There were faces of puzzlement, disbelief that the queue cannot be that long, looks of concern, some were laughing, hysterical smiles for sure. Some even had eyes of pure anger. All of these emotions although easily triggered can in the same vein be easily controlled. Quite simply, informing passengers how long the wait will be, is really all that is needed. If the knowledge was there to inform how long it will take for them to pass security, passengers know immediately the impact to them personally. The same in business, keeping stakeholders informed and up to date, reduces noise immediately and the next course of action.

Automation and Technology

Technology should not only enable a process but aid in efficiency. Why is that we still have a manual check in with a person? Why do we still need to take out laptops and a clear bag of fluids with each passenger spending precious minutes to do so during security screening. When I’m assuming we have technology now that should be able to scan easily inside a bag. Similarly, we should be looking at steps in our business processes that can be automated to reduce the need of multiple resources. Each manual step should be questioned. Of course it costs and analysis are required, however we have all had those conversations up the chain fighting for resource vs automation.

Out of the Box Thinking

Some airports took the cleaners whom had security clearance and had them trained to support the growing security lines. Granted the place looked disgusting with trash everywhere but it was an alternative short term solution while waiting for resource to come in. When I was still waiting in my queue, I thought how much sales the shops and restaurants have lost due to passengers not having enough time nor being in the mood to shop. Especially since 100s of passengers waiting in a line doing nothing. Online shopping with ready to collect should be readily accessible, even make it easy with retail agents who don’t need security clearance to facilitate. Heck even a shopping cart going back and forth would generate money. Fluidity and the non-obvious is essential in delivering.

Unified Approach

One of my biggest observations was that each step of the passenger journey is performed in silos. Even when executing any of the above, you may only alleviate a bottle neck in one step of the journey, only to then cause a bigger bottle neck at the next step. I always wondered why the check in and security process could not be done at once. At the point of check in all the key personal data is essentially booked into a system. With that data; screening and passport checks being performed at once isn’t that implausible to be a reality. Perhaps it is science fiction at this moment of time, however the point here though is each area is working independently with multiple handshakes. I truly believe working together in a non-siloed unified approach would certainly create space, inform and more critically reduce time.

When I finally saw the entrance to the security gates, checking the time, I was relieved I still had some time. Sharing my experience with friends and colleagues who were all facing the same delays, I became firm in the belief that even though we are doing it, we cannot and should not accept it. This is not sustainable financially nor emotionally. In business we tend to look at the direct benefit of doing something. Yet I believe we should be tackling with the mindset of what do we stand to lose, if we do nothing. Happy travels! Peace & Love.

Having over 15 years’ experience in freight forwarding and supply chain management, Ali has led numerous multi-disciplined projects and operations globally. A change management specialist having worked within multiple industry verticals. He is also a coffee-obsessed, solo-travelling introvert.

Ali is also a published author with his latest book; Building Your Bridge: An Introvert’s Art of SuccessA personal journey to help guide professional introverts to realising that as an introvert, the skills and traits for success are already within their grasp. Available now here.