SDCC: The Art of Waiting in Line

Conventions Entertainment Featured
Part of being a noob at SDCC was learning what they meant by “Line Capped”.

Waiting in lines. According to Luke Ward of The Fact Site, “The average person throughout their lifetime spends five years waiting in lines and queues where roughly six months of that is waiting at traffic lights.”

I get the feeling San Diego Comic Con regulars could easily add another several months to that lifetime total.

When I got home from SDCC, many of my friends asked, “So how was it?”


“Lots of people.”

“I exercised every brain cell I had trying to strategize how to get around with a minimum of time in line.”

I was reminded time and time again of how I planned my trip to Walt Disney World in 2009. In fact, it’s more similar than one might realize. When it comes to San Diego Comic Con, with how spread out it is, there is a similar size. Consider the attractions that are occurring all day, such as the rides, and the attractions that only occur once a day, such as the Main Street Electrical Parade. SDCC was similar: some of the lines you could plan around for their shortest waits (such as for SDCC souvenirs, comic book writers, and other vendors). However, for the one-time events such as the Marvel announcements panel, you have to exercise a whole other level of planning.

In the interest of full disclosure, since I was on a press pass, there were many things I got to do that didn’t involve waiting in line. However, to do those fun things that weren’t on my press-obligations schedule, there were lines. Long lines.

I spent about five hours total in lines, between the panels and special events I experienced. So let me share with you some observations and experiences from my time waiting in lines at San Diego Comic Con:

Cut in Line and the Bouncers Will Release Their Wrath on You!

No special entrances into San Diego Convention Center for press, I’m afraid. This is also not the time to try to jump in line. The bouncers will teach everyone else a lesson with you. Photo credit: Patricia Vollmer

Line management at SDCC is serious business. I don’t know the details (which is by design, so that bad guys can’t overcome it), but safety and security are a big deal. I know that the San Diego Police Department was out in droves and thousands are people are hired to help manage the lines.

There are legitimate bouncers. Massive individuals. Scores of them. They were at the convention center entrances and exits, and were also helping with the more popular panels and exhibit hall attractions. I wish I had taken the time to get to know them, considering how long I was standing next to some of them. They were definitely friendly so long as you complied with their instructions.

But don’t comply, and it’s a different story. A group of us from GeekDad and GeekMom were waiting in line to enter on Friday and some folks tried to cut in the line in front of us. They were forcibly moved to the end of the line, to the cheers of the hundreds of witnesses.

I wish I could have conveyed this better, but that really tall gentleman was the bouncer for the CBS All-Access Star Trek Universe Experience in the exhibit hall. He must have been nearly 7′ tall! Photo credit: Patricia Vollmer

SDCC Has Line Waiting Down to an Art Form

The lines for the more popular events were well communicated. In the name of fire safety, there were rarely single long lines, with the event planners favoring smaller segments throughout the hallways. The fronts and ends of these segments were well communicated, with people stationed at each end holding signs.

My first long line experience was for the SpongeBob SquarePants Birthday Bash panel on Thursday. The panel took place in the convention center Room 6A (which was a mistake, let me tell you, a mistake, that should have been a Hall H event). Looking for the end of the line into that panel, I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he’s dragging his little brother Randy to the end of the Santa Claus line at Higbee’s. I found the end of the line: outside under a tent right on the water. I couldn’t complain about the view, at least.

The end of the line for the SpongeBob SquarePants Birthday Bash panel. At least there was an nice event tent set up to keep us in the shade. Photo credit: Patricia Vollmer
At least the view was nice while waiting in line for the SpongeBob SquarePants panel. Photo credit: Patricia Vollmer

Line Capping Is a Thing… It’s Frustrating, But Necessary

Several times in the first couple days at SDCC, I attempted to buy some souvenirs for my husband and sons. The first line I remember experiencing the “Line Cap” was at a booth where I wanted to pick up the Family Guy SDCC exclusive t-shirts for my sons.

I saw the sign signifying the end of the line. I bounced on over there, but the line attendant stopped me and explained that the line was “capped” until it shortened a considerable length.

<In my whiniest voice possible> Whhhhhyyyyyyyyyy??????

Fire code. And perhaps also safety from a bad person wanting to hurt a large group of people. All of these efforts are attempts to keep from having masses of people all in one place.

How long will it be before you uncap the line?

They won’t answer that question. They point to an arbitrary spot and say, “When the line ends up here, I will reopen the line.”

I can’t imagine the planning that had to go into how to cut up the lines appropriately. So many questions percolated in my mind:

How do they predict which lines were going to be crazy long? (Star Wars exclusive Hallmark ornaments, anyone?)?

What if something ended up really popular that wasn’t expected (like the Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers souvenir line I attempted)? Is there a pool of volunteers waiting in case more line attendants are needed?

How do the volunteers handle rowdy guests who don’t listen to their instructions?

I encountered the “line cap” several other times, from the Nickelodeon gift shop to the celebrity autographs to the Star Trek Universe transporter experience. At the latter, when I was told the line was capped, the other guests at the end of the line pleaded my case. After all, I was wearing a red Star Trek: TOS dress! They uncapped the line for me!

Hence the photo at the top of this post. The attendant asked me to hold the sign for the few minutes while she took a bathroom break.

That lucky break—getting into the end of the capped line—turned into a series of good fortune for me, which I’ll discuss in my next post.

Hall H: For the Advanced Line-Waiters

If you’re a loyal GeekMom and GeekDad reader, you probably know that the legendary Hall H is where the big names at SDCC have their panels and make their big announcements.

Being the chicken that I am, I didn’t even attempt a Hall H experience on my first SDCC visit. The Star Trek and Marvel panels would have been my go-to events, but I’m guessing those are the same things the rest of SDCC wants to see as well.

The line setup for those interested in Hall H events is a whole other experience in and of itself. It has its own Twitter feed, in fact! In addition, SDCC publishes rules on how to appropriately wait for Hall H events without being forcibly removed. Like my SpongeBob panel wait, for those who are outside, there are plenty of event tents set up to shade those waiting.

And space for you to “camp.”

Yes, you heard me. If you bring small tents* and sleeping bags with you to wait for Hall H, you can use it.

*Technically, tents are not allowed, and neither is camping, but we saw a number of one-person shelter-looking things. To me, that’s a tent.

Karen, MAJK, and I stopped and chatted with a number of parties waiting on Thursday evening to get into Friday’s Hall H events. Friday’s schedule in Hall H started off with a chat with the Russo Brothers, the directors of The Avengers: Endgame.

The Hall H campsite on Thursday evening, around 6pm. There was plenty of space. I didn’t think this was a bad idea at all—bring a backpacker’s tent and a sleeping bag… and a friend to help you hold your spot, and you are set for all of the Hall H events for a day! Karen and MAJK didn’t agree with me. Photo credit: Patricia Vollmer

I was particularly intrigued by a group of four college-aged students who had portable camp chairs, sleeping bags, and lots of fast food remnants around them. They explained their tactics:

  • One person has to remain at the site at all times.
  • The others can enjoy the con in the meantime.
  • The group had a small room at the Hilton Gaslamp across the street for showering.

Since we encountered the group around dinnertime, we saw all 4 of them in one place.

Maybe in the future I will attempt Hall H. If anyone has any other tips on how to endure the long waits, please let me know!

You Can Meet Some Great People While Waiting in Lines

The last point I want to make is about the great people I met while waiting in these lines. From the woman from the UK who waited over an hour for the Captain Marvel flight jacket from Hero Within to the couple who powered their way through graduate-school-level-line-waiting-skills to get dozens of autographed souvenirs.

While in these lines, the sky’s the limit on what topics we’ll talk about. I met a couple who got to have a “no kids” vacation to SDCC. We compared photos of our kids after I revealed that I was not only without my kids but without my husband as well.

We enjoyed people-watching together. When impressive cosplay would walk by, we would get each others’ attention to admire the fine craftsmanship.

I think the most fruitful conversation I had while waiting in line was from the above-referenced couple who perfected the art of waiting in the right lines at the right times to get signed souvenirs. They explained how SDCC was the place to get autographs since the celebrities didn’t charge for them unless they worked out an autograph fee agreement beforehand… and fans could ALWAYS get celebrity autographs on their SDCC programs for no charge. Being that I paid for my fair share of autographs at other cons over the years, I was pleased to learn this nice autograph policy.

I know there are many who have experienced this many times over, and they’re old hat at waiting in lines and strategizing for the minimum of line-wait times for maximum enjoyment. For me, this was a fascinating experience, and maybe in future years I’ll be able to channel these lessons-learned.

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