Your Ticket, Please

by admin on April 5, 2010

(Background story) My boyfriend (let’s call him D) and I spent spring break in Vienna and were taking an overnight train back to Florence (we were in a study abroad program there). Train rules regarding seating on Italian-Austrian trains are different than American ones. The overall rule is that if there’s a free seat, then you take it (regardless if a seat number has been assigned to your ticket). This is what the conductor told us when our seat numbers were taken, and we had to sit apart. Nothing to do but go with the flow.

Thankfully on the way back, we managed to find two vacant seats, so D and I were able to sit next to each other. There are six seats in each compartment, and the other four were occupied by an Austrian family (who were really nice and spoke great English). So with a full compartment, our journey began. (End background)

It’s about 2 am and 5 hours into the trip when the train picks up another group of passengers. At this time, our entire compartment was asleep when we were suddenly awakened to the sound of our door being yanked open. A guy in his early 20s said something in German, and the woman next to me responded. Not knowing any German, I sat there confused but watched as the two started arguing back and forth.

After a few minutes, the guy is fed up and asked if any of us spoke English. D said yes, and the guy pointed to a seat occupied by the Austrian Family’s daughter. He said that #53 was his seat and waved his ticket at us. D said sorry and told the guy to find a spare seat. The guy repeated that #53 was his seat. D started to explain that on this train you grab a free seat, but the guy just kept repeating that #53 was his seat. The ticket said so.

At this point, the Austrian Family and myself are getting irritated. It’s 2 in the morning, we’re tired and want to sleep. Finally, I told the guy to find a conductor to help him with his seating issue. To our relief, the guy takes my advice and heads off. However, after a few minutes, he comes back with the conductor in tow, and the whole “#53 is my seat” starts up again. The conductor tells him the same thing D tried to tell him, but the guy just wouldn’t listen.

The conductor offered to help find him another seat, but the guy continued to sound like a broken record. He even flipped on the compartment light to show the conductor his ticket. He had the nerve to flick on a blinding light in a dark compartment full of tired passengers! I was angry enough to throw him off the train at this point, and based on the expressions of the Austrian Family, they were thinking the same thing. The conductor noticed our looks of anger, flicked off the light and steered the #53 passenger away. My thanks to the conductor because we didn’t see #53 passenger again for the rest of the trip. 0330-10

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

geekgirl April 5, 2010 at 7:20 am

I have to say, I do feel some sympathy for the guy trying to get his seat. If you book a ticket, and you’re assigned a seat, it’s fair to feel that should be your seat, instead of having to search through a whole train for an empty seat at 2am in the morning.

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Shoebox April 5, 2010 at 7:28 am

So… they print your assigned seat on the ticket, then just sort of ignore it? Without explaining same until you’re actually on the train, at 2am?

I’m having a bit of trouble blaming #53 here for the problem. Yes, he probably should’ve dropped the argument sooner, but chances are he was also tired, cranky, and subsequently unable to focus on anything but finding his seat and getting some sleep.

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Mom2PBJ April 5, 2010 at 7:35 am

If his ticket said #53, then the person in that seat should have given it up. There is no reason that someone should be made to hunt down an empty seat if he is entitled to the seat that his ticket says he is.

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Sylvie April 5, 2010 at 9:44 am

It was a while ago, but when I travelled Europe – trains in Italy were different than trains anywhere else in *Europe* (let alone America!). And it seemed much to the disgust of anyone but the Italians. In the six weeks I traveled Italy – trains were off schedule (early or late), failed to show, seat numbers irrelavant & often oversold, customer service was poor …. complaints were spat at and we were generally dismissed as annoying tourists. Why print a schedule, if you’re not going to follow it? Seat numbers give the impression a seat is available & reserved – otherwise it’s called general admission.

Unfortunately this German traveller may have been trying to proove his point, or this was his final straw after previous annoyances. Unfortunately to the fellow travellers, he came across as rude and obnoxious. It’s too bad the Italian train system can’t abide by the rules that seem to work most other places … but this is one place they seem to resist structure.

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AS April 5, 2010 at 10:14 am

My sympathy is towards #53 passenger too. Given that he preferred English to German, I assume he wasn’t an Austrian either (like you and your boyfriend). Hence he probably had no way of knowing that he’ll have to get onto a train at 2:00AM and search the whole compartment (with sleeping passengers) for an empty seat in spite of having a “confirmed” seat number. Wouldn’t you be cranky too if you were in his boots? I am sure I would be! The confirmed seat system in Austria seems to be a bit skewed up. The confirmed seat system in Austria seems to be a bit skewed up. We can’t change a system, but we can at least empathize with a person who is distressed by it. The conductor probably is used to such things happening, and hopefully helped the young man out.

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Christine April 5, 2010 at 11:40 am

#53 stopped being sympathetic the second time he was told to find an empty seat. Yes, he was confused and tired and annoyed, but it was his responsibility to deal with it politely. If he didn’t like the answer the passengers were giving him, he should have gone to the conductor immediately instead of badgering them and hoping to wear them down. Then, when the conductor told him the same thing, that should absolutely have been the end of it, but he just kept badgering! Whether you agree with the ticketing system or not, you follow the rules like everyone else has to. There was no excuse for him to be so obnoxious and rude.

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Ang April 5, 2010 at 11:57 am

I live in Italy and the ‘just grab an empty seat’ is not a rule that’s used here, when you have a ticket with the seat number on it. Especially not on overnight trains.
I don’t know about Austrian trains, but I think the conductor came up with this.
I feel for the #53 passenger.

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Allison April 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Regardless of the situation the passenger needed to take it up with the conductor and not push the issue with the other passengers. Whenever I’ve had a seating issue with anything I take it up with an employee not the people in my seat. The situation gets resolved faster and I don’t get in an argument with anyone. It wasn’t the Autrain family’s or OP’s fault, they were following intructions from the conductor. This issue was caused by the train’s “policies” and not by the passengers.

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Vrinda April 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

The conductor explained to the letter-writer and her boyfriend about the seat numbers having no meaning before they boarded, so didn’t the conductor explain that to #53 before he boarded?

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Pat in Toulouse April 5, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I’m German, from Munich, and have travelled many, many times in Germany, Austria and Italy. I now live in France. In all these countries, when you have a seat number, the seat is yours. Especially on a night train! When you don’t have a seat number, you take any available seat. The German passenger was right to insist, it was his seat. If what you described were indeed the way it works on this particular train, the conductor did a poor job of finding a solution if he walked back to the compartment with the guy instead of finding him another seat immediately.

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Dani April 5, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Okay, so somebody may have been in his seat–but I think he probably should’ve taken it up with the conductor instead of trying to have a throwdown in a carful of sleeping people. If I was at a sporting event and someone was in my seat, I would probably tell an usher instead of trying to evict the folks myself. And this isn’t with people SLEEPING!

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Been There, Done That April 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I rode on an Italian train, years ago. They had oversold. We had first class tickets, but there were no seats left in first class, so we decided to try second class. However, while there *were* seats available in second class, we were NOT allowed to sit there, because they were for second class, and we had first class tickets! We wound up sitting on our suitcases, in the hallway, the whole way. Also, we were not the only ones.

The final straw was when the dining cart pushed through (forcing us all to scramble out of the way). We wanted to get some food, but were told, no, it was only available to people who had seats in first class. We showed our tickets. “Yes, that’s nice, but you don’t have *seats*, do you?” So, no food OR seats for us.

I was never so glad to get off a train.

Also, the German and Austrian trains were always on time (you could set your clock by them), and never, ever, overbooked. You sat in your assigned seat, or else. So, for this German passenger, not getting his assigned seat, having to look for some empty seat at 2AM, WHICH MIGHT NOT EVEN EXIST if they oversold, and who knows how late the train was, in the first place? It was surely the final straw for him. He has my sympathy. So does the family who surely didn’t want to send the little girl off to look for a seat alone, because #53 was his seat. And the couple who had to go through it all with them. They ALL have my sympathy. I just don’t have any sympathy for the idiot who came up with the idea of overselling assigned-unassigned seating on trains that run whenever.

Yeah, it’s easy to say the German guy should just take another seat and get over it, but if there are no other seats on the train, and he has his assigned seat, it’s 2 in the morning, he’s tired, cranky, and he has to face the possibility of standing in the hallway for the entire trip, yeah, he’s going to be ticked off.

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Pixie April 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I have traveled a lot in Europe and Eastern Europe, the number on the tickets don’t mean anything, that’s just the way it is. This is a case of “When in Rome”, everyone explained to him how the train worked but he continued to pitch a fit. He needs to adapt if he is going to travel.

And no, the person in 53 wasn’t obligated to give up their seat because the seating is not assigned, it is first come, first serve.

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Molly April 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Why should the person already in the seat have to give it up? Yeah, it sucks for the guy with the ticket, no question, but it’s not the other person’s fault – he was following the rules, chose a seat and is presumably asleep now. It has nothing to do with him. Yeah, it sucks for the guy who was “assigned” the seat, but there’s no excuse for having a tantrum like a child no matter how tired and exasperated you are.

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Danielle April 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I was in Italy recently,and i took a number of train trips around the country. The ONLY time I had an assigned place to stay was on an overnight trip where I had booked a sleeping compartment. None of the day trips I took included assigned seats, I remember on trip I took from Rome to Perugia which had two trains full of students on a trip none of whom had numbered seats. I ended up sitting with about 5kids in a 4 person compartment. So not only no numbered tickets but also no rules as to how many people per seat.

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Asharah April 5, 2010 at 6:43 pm

If the train employees choose to seat passengers with no regard to the seat number on the ticket, it is then the employees responsibility to make sure ALL the passengers are aware of this fact and that later arrivals don’t harrass people sitting in “their” seat. ESPECIALLY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! The conductor should keep track of where the free seats are so he can direct people there when they get on and spare the already seated passengers from being bothered.

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PhDeath April 5, 2010 at 6:56 pm

I agree with those saying “53” was out of line. In this case, it sounds as if the seat number doesn’t correspond to an actual seat, but rather to the number of passengers the train can accommodate. Thus, he was “53”: the 53rd ticket sold, rather than the owner of Seat 53.

Regardless, once the conductor intervened, he should have relented and found an alternate seat. I certainly don’t think everyone in the compartment was obligated to move.

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PrincessSimmi April 5, 2010 at 10:19 pm

In Australia, it’s first come first served. If you’re a schoolkid, no seat at all. Elderly and disabled get preference. Apart from that, if you don’t get a seat, suck it up and deal with it.

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Gidran April 7, 2010 at 6:30 am

I don’t know about Italy, but in Austria you pay extra to get a seat assignment. I usually pay the extra so I don’t have to hunt through the train dragging my luggage and disturbing other passengers in search of a seat. If I find someone in my seat, I turf them out pronto. I’ve paid extra for a service and I expect the train company to provide it. There are labels above the seats showing which ones are reserved and from which boarding point. If I’m sitting in a reserved seat and the person who booked it shows up, I vacate the seat and go find a vacant one for myself. The original poster was rude to keep the seat that she had not reserved. The fact that it was 2am just makes it ruder – as well as stealing this man’s seat, she made him trawl through the train in the middle of the night disturbing other travellers in search of a seat, when she could have found an unreserved at the outset of the journey. The conductor was no help to either passenger, I will admit. Usually Austrian and German conductors are sticklers for the rules, and it would have been better for everyone if this conductor had been too.

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Baroness April 7, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I’ve traveled on Italian trains a couple of times and each time the seat number didn’t matter. When my assigned seat was taken, the conductor would direct me to another one or I would have to stand in the hallway. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stand for a long period of time.

Gidran, the OP wasn’t the one in #53 seat. It was the Austrian Family’s daughter.

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Flats April 8, 2010 at 10:41 am

You pay more for an allocated seat, not that it means anything in Italy. Catching a train from Germany, through Austria into Italy the seating allocation was taken very seriously in Germany and Austria. You may sit in a vacant seat but if the owner of an allocated ticket shows up you have to vacate. We learned this the hard way as we didn’t have allocated seating (being cheaper) and didn’t have a clue where to sit as people kept kicking us out. We ended up standing the entire journey.

Thinking we had learned our lesson we paid for allocated seating through Italy. Only we find a family of four Italians taking two of our seats and just refusing to move. The conductor made me sit halfway down the carriage with another group of people. It’s just the way Italy runs, they have no concept of organisation and they can treat people as badly as they like because the tourists just keep coming.

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Julia April 9, 2010 at 10:04 am

I agree with Gidran. Being a German myself I would be REALLY upset if I paid extra for my seat and then someone refuses to give to to me. Especially because it means I may be kicked out of my new seat over and over again at 2am. He probably could have been nicer about it but the Austrian family should have known better.

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Bruce April 16, 2010 at 10:47 am

Ha! Sitz fünfunddreißig! Herr 53 is correct. I would have done the same thing. I’ve been assinged a seat, I expect to get it. The Van Trappe family can shove off.

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Lyons April 18, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I lived in Germany for 9 years and traveled by train extensively and I have NEVER heard of what you described…if someone got on a train, regardless of what country, and they had an assigned seat, they had an assigned seat…and you or whomever who was sitting in that seat had to move and find another open seat. Period.

In fact I learned over time to always have reservations and to stick to them and to double check when I got to my seat that overhead to would note that I was to be there (it would have an indicator that that seat was reserved from point A to point B.)

However, if the conductor was telling this traveler that it was first come/first serve and he was out of luck and had to go find another seat, then while annoyed as he would be, I would think he’d have to comply. Sure, he was rude, especially by flicking on the light and all that, but the conductor had final say.

I’ve traveled on the trains in Italy and never had that problem. If anyone came to me and told me that they had my seat reserved and I was traveling without reservations I would simply have moved and not argued about it, but at 2:00 a.m. sure I would have been more than annoyed about it.

I had friends who made reservations for a trip and had reserved sleeper cars and were all settled in and on their way when about 3 hours later they were rousted out of their compartments because someone else was reserved for the space also…well come to find out, DBahn (German train) had made a mistake with my friend’s reservation and printed the wrong DAY on the tickets. They had to disembark from the train in the middle of the night and take a taxi back to Heidelberg. Fortunately they were able to get DBahn to pay the hundreds of euros in taxi fees.

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Lori April 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

To everyone who doesn’t understand how the trains work in Europe – it is true that you just take whatever seat is available on a train. I’ve only ridden English trains (I stayed in England for about a month recently), but the same system happens there. I’m not sure what the point of assigned seating is, honestly, other than a way to not overpopulate the train, I suppose, and ensure that everyone will at least have the ability to sit down. (Which doesn’t happen in England, since every time we took a train in Leeds, we were stuck standing for most of the ride.)

In any case, that’s just the way it works in Europe. So as weird as a lot of you think that is, they probably think we’re weird since we have almost no train service and drive everywhere. It just depends on where you’re from, really. :)

So it’s my opinion that Mr. Number 53 was a bit of a nutter, yes. When in Rome, and all that.

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Ingrid May 10, 2010 at 3:47 am

Lori, it’s not about “how the trains work in Europe”. It’s about how the train works in that particular place. Europe is big and diverse, and assigned seating in trains is among the minor of the huge variations from country to country, company to company or area to area.

There is no way that works in all of Europe. Really.

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NKKingston May 10, 2010 at 6:51 am

I was going to say! On English trains the booking system will be strenuously defended by anyone with an allocated seat (and strenuously denied by anyone who got there first). It’s nothing to do with overpopulating the train, unfortunately, since you can continue to buy tickets long after all the seats are taken. We’re a communter population; standing is expected on most services in big cities or to and from London, and booking a month in advance to ensure cheap tickets and an actual seat is common amongst regular travellers. If you’ve reserved a seat, though, you should get the seat number on the ticket – if there’s no seat number, then you haven’t actually reserved a seat though you may have locked yourself to that specific train – unless they decide to chop your carriage off the train, or cancel the service you were schelduled on, or forgot to print off any seat reservation slips before leaving Edinburgh…

The French have a completely different attitude, and the Germans, and the Italians, and the Spanish, and the Polish, and the Czechs and the Danish and the Swedish and the Dutch and the Greeks… The best bit is border-crossing trains, of course. There’s nothing like every passenger having their own opinion on how something works to stop it working at all.

(but yes, we all think you’re weird for not having a decent rail system! XP )

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livvy May 10, 2010 at 10:51 am

I agree, 53 had a definate right to be mad. Ideally, the conductor, who I would say allowed this situation to happen, should have found him an equivalent seat to perhaps defuse the situation.
Also, no telling what #53 was told/promised by the agent who booked the ticket – perhaps the agent swore that this seat would be his, etc.
In general, if it’s open seating, the ticket should say so. I love the trains in Japan – soooo well organized, and ticketing can be either for open seating (certain cars), or reserved. Completely reliable for times, clean, well organized, etc. If only all train systems were like that.
US rail system would be cool, but unfortunately, the landmass and population of the US, as well as the lack of local public transportation in most areas means that trains don’t make a lot of sense – we use planes and rental vehicles. (Consider that a train trip from New York City to Los Angeles would take about four days – 2451 miles / 3944 kilometers) Generally, a plane ride is only about 6 hours, and costs less than a comperable train ride would take.

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kelly July 11, 2010 at 8:16 am

Lori,
Sorry, but you are wrong.
I am English and have lived and travelled in both the UK and Europe a great deal thoughout my life.
In Europe if a seat is unresearved then anyone can take it. However, seats can be researved and then only the person who has made the reservation can sit in it.
On many trains on the continent (especially the fast trains and the overnight trains) and some in the UK seats have to be reserved, and there is no free seating. Often passengers who have not bothered to reserve seats and just turn up or do not like the seats they have reserved will point blank refuse to move and claim that despite the reservation system it is free seating. If there is a group of people refusing to move the conductor is fairly powerless in reality. This sounds exactly the situation in this case, and the chances are that the passenger who had his seat stolen was refunded the ticket and apologized to greatly by the conductor. The baddies of the piece are the people who refuse to use their own seats and take others they no to be reserved and then refuse to move.

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irish August 14, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I actually think it depends on the train… I travelled in Italy with an interrail pass, and on most trains you have to pay extra to get a reserved seat (not paying extra and finding a seat isn’t an available option) however on one memorable trip I was obliged to pay €15 for a seat reservation (on top of a rail pass that entitled me to theoretically free trains all over Europe) but was told this doesn’t guarantee you a seat! 53 may have been on one of those trains… Here in Ireland when you prebook your seat your name is on the ticket and printed over the seat, so it’s very easy to argue your case when someone is in your seat!

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Khalida January 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Gidran, you’re missing the point entirely
The train operated on a first-come-first-served manner – which was explained to passengers on their entry to the train, and again to the man when he threw a fit
The seat wasn’t reserved; he had no claims to that seat; the OP wasn’t rude; the Austrian family wasn’t rude.
end of story.

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