Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thailand musings: escalators, escalators, down, down, down...

Traveling to another country always stimulates interesting econ thoughts.  I was in Thailand visiting family over the holidays, so over the next week I will share some of my observations.

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In the Thai airport, I waited through a very long security line that included, among other things, an escalator.

This is basically the worst idea in the world.  You cannot have a line that includes an escalator, because people might do something stupid like go down the escalator before they have anywhere to go at the bottom.  Think about what happens when you get to the bottom of an escalator and have nowhere to step off.  It's not "a little uncomfortable," like squeezing into a crowded elevator.  You have nowhere to go and the floor beneath you is constantly trying to push you forward. You could walk slowly backwards as it goes down, except there are people above you too, and who knows what they're doing.  This can lead to a fairly horrific scene as soon as just one person has fallen down.

Fortunately, the scene at the airport was not that horrific.  Instead, the airport staff threw inefficiency at the problem.  An escalator in a line requires not one but two full-time crowd control employees.  One at the top to safely portion people onto the escalator, and one at the bottom to make sure a space is cleared for those people when they get to the bottom.

I guess that's not such a bad solution.  Labor is cheap in Thailand.  But at times like this, it's good to remember a bit of wisdom from Mitch Hedburg: An escalator can never break, it can only become stairs.

Why didn't they just turn the escalator off?

(Because it's Thailand, of course).

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