On my way back through Gatwick airport from Malta I was delayed at customs.  Not because I was carrying anything illegal, or because I had done anything wrong, but because of a wrong decision.   

You see, I had two options in regards to the queue to clear passport control.  There was one queue which was for those who had electronic passports, so the ones with the little security sign on the front.  And there was another for everyone else.

I originally stood in the everyone else queue then thought, no, the electronic passport queue  must be quicker so I changed.  Big mistake.  What I had not seen was that the electronic machines were self service, though admittedly I should have figured this out since that is logical, and that there was only one member of airport staff on hand to help.  In the end the big queue cleared quickly and my passport wouldn’t clear the second barrier, the one that scans your face,  so I had to line up anyway.   

Self service machines

They are designed to be quick but self service just takes longer when there is more than five people in the queue.  This happens at the supermarket all the time.   When they first started using self service machines there was often a sign saying it had to be  ten items or less.  Now it is at user discretion, and I have seen a trolly (albeit a small one) lining up to check their items out. 

The thing is  because every person is not born with an innate skill of knowing how to scan items quickly and sort out problems, every two second someone has to get help from the one member of staff assigned to the ten or so machines.

Public transport

This got me thinking about the eradication of staff at tube stations ticket booths.  Sometimes it is easier to go the machines but there are plenty of times when you need to speak to someone, to explain what you are doing so that you get the right ticket, especially if you are new to the city.  I’ve been to different countries and sometimes you just want that reassurance that you are doing the right thing.   

In Victoria at least there are always long queues for both the ticket window and the self service booth.   Now considering that the man/woman at the booth does things faster as that is their job, even with a few extra machines, it still does not compute that if TFL laid out more machines it would be more efficient.  The every day joe/jo bloggs will naturally take a longer amount of time than the ticket officer who can do it almost on auto pilot.  

Besides, if there is an allowance for that one member of station staff to help out with the self service machines, then why not have that person in the ticket booth instead?  Surely this would make more sense?  I am sure those who can do self service will get on and those who cannot will have options. I mean, did they go to the tourist spots before making this decision?


I am a great fan of most do it yourself machines.   Though it is not always quicker, it does allow me time to pack my shopping or to not have to wait behind someone who is asking a thousand questions.  So my concern is that with the ticket option removed, those people will transfer to self service, and much like the electronic passport queue, something that was supposed to be quick will take a lot longer.

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