Cutting in line

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Cutting in line, also known as line/queue jumping, butting, barging, budding, budging, skipping, ditching, breaking, shorting, or pushing in is the act of entering a queue or line at any position other than the end. The act, which may be taboo in some instances, stands in stark contrast to the normal policy of first come, first served that governs most queue areas.


A negative response from the rear of the line is expected when someone has cut in line up ahead. According to one study, a person cutting in line has a 54% chance that others in the line will object. With two people cutting in line, there is a 91.3% chance that someone will object. The proportion of people objecting from anywhere behind the cutter is 73.3%, with the person immediately behind the point of intrusion objecting most frequently.[1]

Nevertheless, there rarely is any physical retribution if social pressure fails,[2] although it has been reported that an 18-year-old National Serviceman in Malaysia was bludgeoned to death after he attempted to jump the queue at a food counter.[3]

Covert cutting[edit]

In lieu of following the procedure mentioned above, some will "cut in line" by joining up with family members or friends already standing in line. This action is usually more acceptable, but can still be considered "cutting." Many times, this action is purely out of convenience, when one member of the group "saves a place" for the other members, especially when the wait is lengthy. However, this is not always the case. It is more acceptable when the two people are simply together to conduct one transaction, however if both people plan to conduct one transaction each, it is particularly disrespectful (especially in queues with slow cycle times due to high individual transaction times).

In busy areas where time is of the essence, such as in airports, one can sometimes observe "queue drift," where an impatient person treats the line as though it were a slow-moving race, using every movement of the line to cut in front of others in an effort to achieve the pole position. This is enabled by a funnel effect, where there are a large number of people trying to enter the same narrow entrance at the same time and where no formal queue is in place. This can often be seen at the bottom of ski lifts, especially where there are more entry gates (for checking lift passes) than seats on each lift. Queue drifters are usually less obvious than more overt line cutters; while they are annoying to those who notice them, they usually manage to avoid detection.

Other forms of cutting[edit]

Some consider leaving a line and returning to the same point later a form of cutting. An example might be a person waiting in line for an amusement park ride who realizes that he or she would like to leave behind an item (such as a coat or beverage) with someone else. Should the person leave the line, relieve himself of such an item, and return to his place, some might consider the act cutting (even if it were known that the person was in the line previously).

Another action typically considered "cutting" is very common in areas with formally established queueing areas (such as amusement parks): when the line area is nearly empty, some guests will still walk through the series of steel railings to proceed to the end of the line, while others will slip under or step over the railings rather than walk through the entire network. If a person is not bypassing the rails, but rather is walking through the path to the line, and another person does bypass them (and, in doing so, reach the line before the other), it is sometimes considered cutting even though it did not actually take place in the line itself.

Cutting is also present on roadways, especially restricted access highways, where traffic queues build up at merge locations. Drivers who bypass traffic by waiting until the last possible moment before merging are sometimes considered to be "cutters," and are frequent instigators of road rage. This behavior is not usually illegal in the US, unless the driver crosses a solid white line or uses dangerous merging techniques.[4] In Germany, using the merging lane until the last moment is required by law.

Sanctioned line cutting[edit]

In some instances cutting in line is sanctioned by the authority overseeing the queue. For example, amusement park operators such as Six Flags have programs whereby patrons can pay for the privilege of cutting the line for an attraction by arriving at a pre-designated time.[5] At airports it is customary for efficiency reasons to allow pregnant women, adults accompanying small children, the elderly and the physically disabled to board an airplane first, regardless of their seat, class or assignment. However, the priority afforded wheelchair-using passengers has reportedly given rise to a practice in the United States, whereby some passengers who do not normally use a wheelchair request one, in order to pass through security checks quickly and to be among the first to board an aircraft. At the conclusion of the flight these passengers exit the aircraft on foot, instead of waiting for their pre-ordered wheelchairs and thus being among the last to disembark. The neologism miracle flight has been coined to describe this behavior, as the passengers "need" a wheelchair to board the aircraft, but are "miraculously" able to disembark on foot.[6]

National attitudes[edit]

In former Communist countries, where waiting in long queues was a near-daily occurrence for some, especially at times of rationing, the act of waiting in line and the code of conduct associated with it is much more institutionalized and regimented to this day (See Consumer supply in the Soviet Union in the 1980s). In Russia, for example, the art of queuing is finely-honed: it is acceptable for a person to leave the queue to use the bathroom (or similar brief diversion) and then return to their original place without having to ask permission. It is also common for a person to be allowed to jump to the front of the queue in special cases, like the need to purchase a ticket for an imminently departing train. This can also be seen in Cuba, including notably at the Coppelia ice cream stores, and in Spain where an arriving patron asks "¿Quién es el último?" (Who is last?) and is then behind that person in the queue, which is not always a physical line, but a jumble of people aiming for the same objective.

Legislators in the US state of Washington passed a bill that makes cutting in line to catch a ferry illegal. Cutters can be fined $101 and forced to return to the end of the line.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cutting in Line". Tasty Research. 2006-09-21. Retrieved 2007-05-15. 
  2. ^ Clive McFarlane (2007-04-16). "Line jumping – next time maybe a bribe". Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Retrieved 2007-05-15. 
  3. ^ "Murder at National Service camp". The Malaysian Insider. 2013-09-24. Retrieved 2013-09-24. 
  4. ^ Mike Lindblom (2005-03-02). "Hey, no cutting in line!". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-06-13. 
  5. ^ Six Flags guests get out of line,
  6. ^ Sarah Maslin Nir (2012-10-03). "Rolling Past a Line, Often by Exploiting a Rule". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  7. ^ William Yardley (2007-04-11). "No Cutting in Line for Puget Sound Ferries, Under Penalty of Law". The New York Times. p. A-13. Retrieved 2007-05-15. 

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