How to get rid of long airport lines

By | July 23rd, 2007

You don’t have to set foot in an airport terminal to know how challenging air travel has become this summer. Just turn on your radio, TV, or click on your favorite blog. Describing the hardships of flying is easy. Solving them is difficult, if not impossible. But one company has come up with a clever solution that deserves attention.

It’s a startup called QLess that has developed interactive, virtual queue management service that promises to “return the time lost while waiting in line to its rightful owners.”

Alex Backer, one of the company’s founders, sent me a note a few days ago saying that the application, which uses cell phones to notify people when it’s their turn in line, could easily be used to eliminate long waits at the airport.

Here’s how it would work, according to QLess:

Let’s say a family of four is flying from Denver to Chicago. When they arrive at Denver International Airport, they go straight to the electronic-ticket kiosk to print their boarding passes and check their luggage. Having two small, rambunctious children, Dad is always eager to skip the traditional check-in lines.

This time, while checking in, there is a new option on the kiosk screen, asking Dad if he would he would like to avoid standing in line to get through airport security. Intrigued, he selects “yes”, and sees a screen explaining that this airline now offers QLess, which will hold his spot in the security line.


He is prompted to type in his cell phone number on the touch screen, and does. The kiosk explains that there is currently about a 30-minute wait to get through security, and that he will receive a phone call about 5 minutes prior to the time that he should head to the security gate.

The family finishes checking in, then proceeds to TCBY, where the kids get some ice cream, while Mom heads to the book store to grab something to read on the flight. About 20 minutes into the ice cream, Dad’s phone rings and lets him know that he should plan to arrive at the special “QLess” security gate in about 5 minutes. Mom pays for her book, and the family happily strolls to the security gate.

They proceed directly to the checkpoint, where a security agent asks to see their photo ids and boarding passes. The agent checks the ids, and sees Dad’s name at the top of his computer terminal, which is running the QLess web UI. He checks Dad off the list, and verifies that his boarding pass is in order.

The family walks through the metal detector, and then it’s on to Chicago.

What a great idea.

But it’s probably easier said than done. A similar kind of virtual queue management system has been tried at two theme parks in Orlando — Disney and Universal — and received mixed reviews. Universal got rid of its system not so long ago, but Disney kept its system, called Fastpass.

QLess is different, because it uses a cell phone. And that’s terrific — as long as you travel with a cell phone (most people do).

I think QLess has a lot of potential, and at a time when airline passengers are waiting in long lines, it’s an idea that carriers might want to consider.

It could make flying a more sane experience.