UPPER EAST SIDE — As huge crowds descended on the closing days of the Alexander McQueen exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art yanked previously promised privileges that had allowed members the right to skip the line.
The audio tour was also unexpectedly and temporarily scrapped Thursday as management struggled to deal with the thousands of people eager to see the renowned show before it ends Sunday.
Members — who pay between $75 and $200 in yearly fees — were irate over the sudden about face by museum staff, who had been actively selling memberships just days ago with the promise it would let visitors skip the wait, which has been as long as 2 ½ hours Thursday.
On Friday, as the massive line snaked out of the building, down Fifth Avenue and into Central Park, museum management reneged on that offer.
"Due to extremely high attendance, we regret that we are no longer able to offer Members priority access to Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty," read a note on the Met's website Friday.
“Its outrageous,” said Kate Duterme, a 36-year-old interior designer from Queens who was at the end of the line that weaved its way through the museum Thursday.
“Had I known there was no membership line I would have arranged my childcare accordingly,” Duterme added, saying she left her 3-month-old baby at home for the first time since her birth in order to see the exhibit.
Making matters worse, she said, museum staff gave mixed messages about the membership rights — after one staffer told her to wait in line, Duterme took her chances and asked security at the front of the line, who let her in without question.
"I don't think anyone knows. There is a disconnect in the communication," she said. "That's what's so unfair — the inconsistency."
A Met spokesman further complicated the confusion on Friday, telling DNAinfo that the decision on whether to allow members to skip the line was being made on a "moment-by-moment basis."
Harold Holzer, vice-president for external affairs, told DNAinfo that members would have to "negotiate" their way into the exhibit if they wanted to skip the line.
He said the museum might be willing to accommodate members "if people come a long way with long standing membership cards and they make the point that they made the trip to New York."
Holzer did not explain who members were supposed to speak to about entry, and declined to say why there was a note on the website explicitly stating otherwise.
He said the museum allowed members to enter the museum at 8:30 a.m Friday, an hour before the general public was allowed access. He said this would continue for Saturday and Sunday, the last two days of the exhibit.
"We have accommodated members today," he added Friday afternoon. "We have honored people with membership cards even though they have waited for half an hour in a separate [outdoor] line."
Holzer said the museum had stopped selling "new memberships in the building with unlimited access to the show."
He said the museum was balancing safety for its patrons with accessibility to the exhibit.
The hugely popular exhibition of the late-British designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide last February, has bombarded the Met with massive crowds. As a result, the museum has extended the exhibit until Aug. 7 and is planning to stay opne until midnight this Saturday and Sunday.
The museum's memberships had been sold at a special desk next to the exhibit entrance to speed up the application process.
Those who bought on-the-spot memberships were issued a temporary card until they received their permanent one a few weeks later.
But the rules changed in the final days of the exhibit, as employees of the Met suddenly started telling members with temporary cards on Thursday that they could no longer skip the line because they didn't have a permanent card.
On Friday, that new rule was extended to all members.
The museum also shut down the exhibit's audio tour, yanking the area that distributed headphones next to the 2nd floor exhibit Thursday afternoon.
At 2 p.m. Thursday, the museum told patrons it was no longer giving the audio tour for the exhibit. The $7 tour, which is $6 for members, gives patrons in-depth commentary on specific design items from the museum's curator, Andrew Bolton, and friends of McQueen such as Sarah Jessica Parker.
“It is incredibly frustrating and really disappointing and totally unfair at the end of the day,” said Belinda Cairelli, a 27-year-old Australian who waited in line Thursday.
“I am in graphic design and fashion. That is my work and my passion,” said Cairelli, on the last stop of a five-month tour of the U.S. She had been anticipating the McQueen exhibition her entire trip and speculated the museum yanked the audio tour because it extends people's time in the exhibit and keeps the lines long.
Cairelli said she got mixed messages as well, when workers hinted that she could rent an audio tour downstairs for the entire museum, and then bring it to the McQueen exhibit.
However, shortly after she returned to the McQueen exhibit, her audio pack stopped working.
“It would have been awesome because you can’t always get to the front and read as much as you can because of all the people,” Cairelli said. “I just kind of walked around and got my eye candy. I bought the book."
At some point on Friday, the Met began offering the audio tour for the McQueen exhibition again.
By Friday afternoon, the lines were wrapped around Fifth Avenue between 80th and 84th streets and wound into Central Park. Arguments broke out between some patrons and security guards, and the atmosphere was chaotic, witnesses said.
"We thought that with our membership pass we can get ahead of the people, but it doesn't work like that today. We still have to do the lines," said Sue, 83, who gave only her first name and traveled with another friend from Long Island.
After half an hour, Sue, who was waiting to see the McQueen exhibit, decided to leave. "Probably we will have lunch and come back. It's another two hour trip," she said.
Caridad Lopez, 63, of the Upper West Side, who was still in line outside the museum after a 45 minute wait on Friday, said she'd never seen anything like it.
"I've been to the Met a hundred times but this is the first time I've had to wait like this," she said.