How Wait Times Have Changed Since COVID-19

Blog post author
Ross Malpass
June 23, 2021

COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on countless lives. It has touched virtually every aspect of how the average person lives today. It also has a profound effect on businesses as well. Companies have been forced to be creative about serving customers so that everyone is as safe as possible while companies also provide necessary goods and services.

The waiting room and waiting for business services, in general, have changed since the pandemic began in early 2020. These changes have been for the better in some situations, while others are simply the “new normal” today.

Why Have Wait Times Changed?

Waiting in line is often a necessary annoyance. However, because COVID-19 has forced clients and customers to socially distance themselves, waiting in a line that is packed closely together is no longer a real option. This reality has changed wait times for many types of businesses.

Lower Capacity

Some businesses have been forced to close for some time. As things open back up, many areas are still requiring that companies operate with lower capacity. That lowered capacity also generally means that there are not as many staff people available to assist customers, either.

The result is actually somewhat complicated. You might think that lowered capacity would lead to fewer wait times. However, because of decreased staff and increased safety precautions, waiting times have often increased, despite the fact that the number of people actually being served is less as well.

Increased Safety Precautions

Safety precautions that have become necessary because of COVID-19 include things like hand washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing. Customers have seen plexiglass appearing around virtually every customer service representative who interacts with the public as well. In some cases, staff members stay home and provide virtual services rather than meeting clients in person.

While the increased safety precautions have been helpful to stop the spread of COVID-19, they have also created an interesting change in waiting times for clients. In some cases, they have had little effect. In other situations, the reliance on technology to serve customers has actually helped decrease wait time. Some businesses have seen increased wait times as they try to space out appointments to reduce the number of customers in a specific location at one time.

Increased Reliance on Technology

Changes in technology have been beneficial to decreasing waiting times in many situations. Clients can now interact with their favorite companies in ways that they had not used before. Virtual appointments, online ordering, and other uses of technology have streamlined customer service to provide faster, more efficient services.

In some lines of business, such as in the restaurant industry, companies have had to completely close down for some time. In those situations, owners have had to get creative about how they can keep their doors open. With delivery and pick-up, business operations may have slowed, but it may actually decrease waiting times for customers who want to place orders for pick up or delivery.

Some of the Biggest Changes Spurred by COVID-19

Hospital and Health Care Waiting Rooms

Most healthcare facilities have a waiting area where both the healthy and the ill will wait together, often in very close quarters. They generally touch the same items and sit close enough that an air-borne illness like COVID-19 could spread fairly easily—especially when the patient waits for any significant amount of time with others present.

Hospital administration and healthcare professionals are realizing that this structure is not a good idea for many types of illnesses, including COVID-19. As a result, many healthcare facilities are making a change so that clients can wait for their appointments in different ways. They might wait to be called while they are in the car, or they may switch entirely to virtual visits. Alternatively, clients might check in online and only come in for their appointment (and to a designated area) once they are notified through a mobile device.

Virtual waiting rooms are becoming a huge part of the healthcare industry, especially as healthcare professionals realize the benefits of keeping patients apart to keep them safe. In some situations, the physical waiting room may be drastically changed—and altogether eliminated.

The result is often decreased waiting times. For example, NYU Longone Health in New York City has seen a 23% drop in pre-exam waiting times. Overall, the wait time has decreased about 15% as well.

Retail: How Customers Shop and Obtain Goods

Customers are shopping online more than they did pre-pandemic. A survey conducted by McKinsey & Company indicated that roughly 30% to 49% of people were planning to do their grocery shopping online.

These changes mean more picking up in person but ordering online (buy online, pick up in-store). When customers make these types of orders, there is very little wait time. They simply come into the store when they are notified that their order is ready, load it up, and leave. Wait times, and the time that the customer has to spend in the store, significantly decrease.

Service-Based Companies

Scheduling appointments ahead of going in for services from a barber, restaurant, and a wide variety of other service-based businesses are becoming increasingly common as well. If done correctly, clients can significantly cut down on the waiting time that they have to do in the physical location.

A Case Study: Disneyland Ride Wait Times

Disneyland Resort has been shut down for nearly a year. However, they opened back up roughly two months ago with severe capacity limitations. Officially, the parks were operating at 25% capacity, but the true capacity limitations according to employees were set at about 10% as Disney still worked through the best ways to bring customers safely back into the park. The number of cast members was also generally decreased to match the limited number of customers.

Restrictions that visitors can expect include things like:

  • Social distancing requirements
  • Indoor show restrictions
  • Limitations on indoor attractions
  • One party per ride
  • Limitations on indoor dining

The result is that even though there are far fewer people in the parks, the wait times are actually increasing.

After Disneyland opened, wait times were reviewed roughly every week or two. Wait times included:

April 30, 2021: 13 minutes

May 7, 2021: 16 minutes

May 14, 2021: 23 minutes

May 21, 2021: 27 minutes

These times show an increase of 14 minutes or 108% just from the end of April 2021 to nearly the end of May 2021.

Disney’s California Adventure includes a similar pattern, but it is somewhat increased.

April 30, 2021: 12 minutes

May 7, 2021: 14 minutes

May 14, 2021: 22 minutes

May 21, 2021: 41 minutes

They saw an increase of 29 minutes or 158% over a period of just a few weeks.

These wait times are still lower than they were two years ago, pre-pandemic. However, the difference is not really that significant. For some of the more popular rides, the wait times are even more substantial. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, for example, is seeing an increase of 227%. Space Mountain’s increase is 126%. The Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is seeing an increase of 325%.

So why are the wait times increasing so much when there are far fewer people in the park? The answer is not entirely clear. However, it is notable that Disney is not using Fast Passes at all right now. These passes allow some uses to “skip the line” and move ahead of those who do not have these passes. Because many indoor attractions are not functioning right now, the other factor may be that some people are going on rides that otherwise would have been inside watching shows or dining.

The other factor is that few of these rides are using technology to “check-in” or wait in line. Instead, just two of Disney’s lesser-used rides—Rise of the Resistance (at Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and Indiana Jones Adventure—are suing a virtual boarding system. In fact, the virtual boarding queue is required for these rides. Some experiences, including Savi’s Workshop – Handbuilt Lightsabers, Oga’s Cantina, and Droid Depot, are all suggesting that visitors make reservations for these activities as well.

It is unclear whether Disney will use virtual queuing for other rides. However, if experience from retail and restaurant businesses tells Disney anything, it is that technology can often cut down on wait times and increase customer satisfaction levels. Even if wait times cannot be avoided, having specific check-in times or appointments can be very helpful to encourage customers to return to the park safely while also decreasing their wait time.

Using Ombori to Decrease Customer Wait Time

Ombori helps companies incorporate technology to decrease customer wait times and increase customer satisfaction. Whether your company needs to develop a virtual queue or incorporate creative ways to address high wait times, Ombori can help. Learn more by contacting our team today.


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