Rich people aren’t lining up at airports, Disney World, Tinder, and ski slopes

(CNN) — It was considered unethical, rude, taboo to pass someone waiting patiently in line. Now, companies allow you to pay for the privilege of getting ahead of someone in line.

From mechanical elevators to dating apps, and thanks to relatively new technology, there has been an explosion of options and services that allow the richest people to pay to get there first.

At the airport, travelers with explicit memberships – about $189 a year – are escorted to the front of the lines at U.S. Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints by the company’s “ambassadors” (as the people behind them in line describe them) amid complaints). Clear has grown rapidly to 19 million members, and plans to expand further into hospitality, healthcare, financial services and online shopping.

Dating app Tinder is offering a new subscription for $499 a month with a “Skip the Line” feature, which prioritizes the profile of a person looking for a partner. Snowbird and other ski resorts, in a controversial change, are allowing access to faster lifts to guests who pay more. In December, Killington offered a “four-day fast track” for $199, on top of its normal daily rate of about $165, which sometimes sells out. Universal Studios theme parks offer an unlimited “Express Pass” that starts at $109.99 per person – in addition to the price of admission – allowing you to skip the line on the spot.

And, most worryingly, during the pandemic, wealthy patients paid huge sums of money to jump in line to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

This trend is accelerating as companies recognize that lines – and how much people will pay to avoid them – is a way to make money. And now they have the technology to do it.

CLEAR lets you skip the US Transportation Security Administration line for about $189 per year. (Getty Images)

Smartphones, mobile payments and other technologies that allow people to pay in advance, reserve spots and scan tickets have made it easier for companies to automate and depersonalize lines. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of mobile payments and pickup orders by consumers.

Of course, companies have long segmented customers based on their loyalty or how much they spend, and some of them have always managed to find hidden, informal ways of skipping the line, for example, at the store’s By giving some money to the owner. restaurant. But now, that attitude has become institutionalized.

“What was done before informal It’s now done at the national level, with a local administrator,” said Edward Tanner, a distinguished scholar at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and author of The Efficiency Paradox.

There’s a big difference, Tanner said, between an airline that rewards its frequent flyers, which is a way for companies to value their most profitable customers, and one that offers faster access to elevators for a price. .

“They are no longer prizes for conservation, but pure auctions,” he said.

pay for privileges

Getting paid to skip the line is part of a booming profit industry, as long as you can afford it.

There have always been VIP areas and benefits for the richest customers: seats in theaters, boxes in stadiums and first-class seats on airlines. But apart from perhaps some food and drink and better vision, attendees had similar experiences. He is changing.

The skier who pays to take the most expensive lift line at Snowbird can get many more runs in a day. Rich kids whose parents pay for the “Lightning Line” on the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster at Disney World can skip ahead and head to another attraction. Regular visitors wait in line an average of 88 minutes, longer than the length of the movie “Toy Story” that inspired the tour.

Don Munsil, president of the travel website, said that when Disney first launched an expanded, more expensive line-skip program it faced backlash from repeat guests.

But he said the policy is aimed at first-time visitors, who are more eager to ride the hottest attractions and willing to pay extra fees.

However, this business model is not without disadvantages. The gap between rich and poor has widened in recent decades, and dividing consumers based on their means and how much they can pay to skip a line could create more hostility and resentment.

For example, many skiers protested the ski resorts’ move, calling it “cutting entitlements for the rich”, and 13,000 people signed a petition asking them to close the speed lanes (they did not). Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon complained about Mount Bachelor Pass, saying it would “exacerbate equity issues” and create “a two-tier system of access to public lands based on financial ability.”

Skipping the line raises concerns about fairness and quality of service for those who are unwilling or unable to pay the additional fee.

“We hate waiting. Standing in line and watching people walk past you frustrates you even more,” said Gad Allen, professor of operations, information and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania.

At best, Elon said, companies could use the money of the wealthy who don’t want to wait in lines to improve service for everyone else. But this rarely happens. By eliminating the wealthiest or highest-paying customers from one line, there is little incentive to advocate for better service for everyone else.

Edward Tanner said, “The wealthiest customers are also those who will have the most influence in improving service for all.” “You are eliminating them and therefore disenfranchising the majority.”


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