As the 2012 Olympics draw near, and amidst reports of rampant border control queues at Heathrow Airport, I can’t help but imagine the systemic chaos that will likely ensue over the next few months. It will culminate on August 13, the day after the Olympics closing ceremony, when Heathrow will experience its largest volume of passengers–ever. Authorities insist that the airport is prepared, but I’d be willing to bet that Murphy’s Law will have a hand to play.

I commend Heathrow for the amount of resources they’re calling upon to address the problem, to reduce wait times and process travelers. But from a purely operational perspective, there are only so many passport counters, there are only so many planes that can physically take off, there are bottlenecks in any system, and when pushed hard enough there will be queues. And in all likelihood, chaos too.

Go virtual

There may not be a way to avoid queues; any system no matter how well designed, has bottlenecks. But there is another way to address the chaos. Go virtual.

Assume for a moment that–despite the best of intentions and a highly organized, efficient, and drama-free day of operations–queues form of two to four hours. Heathrow is processing travelers through security and border control as fast as possible, a bottleneck manifests, and passengers become irritated (at best) as the queue grows.

Control and Content

Instead of forcing those travelers to endure hours upon hours on their feet, allow them to wait virtually. Instead of the hordes in queue, it could be a very orderly, civilized waiting area where people can sit, read, converse, relax–until their turn approaches. Instead of chaos and anger, there could be a sense of control and content.

Sometimes the most effective solution to a problem is not to attack it with brute force, but to address it in other ways. If we can’t beat the queues at Heathrow or other airports into submission, then why not find a way to make them tolerable, or even enjoyable?

Do you have another example of a queuing nightmare that may have been unavoidable, but where having the freedom to not stand in line might have rescued the experience for you? If so, I’d love to hear about it.