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One Ticket, Two Seats

I am a 22 year old graduate student. A few weeks ago, I was taking a bus from my college to the airport to fly home for break. This bus is a regional commuters bus, connecting several small towns (including the one my college is in) to a bigger city. It starts from my town, and makes several stops on the way. When I got on, it was about half full, and I sat down halfway back. The seats are fairly small and close together, so since there was plenty of room, I put my backpack on the seat next to me (as did nearly everyone else). As we made a few stops, a few more people got on. At max it was three quarters full.

The last stop, a man got on with a young boy. He went down the aisle and stopped next to my row. Across from me, there was another girl who looked to be about my age sitting, also with her backpack on the seat. When he stopped, I guessed he wanted to sit there, so I began moving my backpack. It took a few seconds, as it was stuffed with my laptop, notes, and a few pairs of clothes. As I got it halfway on my lap, he turned to his son and said, “College girls need to learn to be more considerate of others.” Then he walked past. I stopped, and the girl and I looked at each other with our jaws hanging open. How rude! Two elderly men were behind him, and they asked if anyone was sitting there. We shook it off, finished hauling the bag, and had a pleasant rest of the trip. But I couldn’t stop thinking how rude he had been.

First, he must have passed 3 or 4 empty seats before getting to us, so it certainly wasn’t like it was standing room only and we were needlessly taking up space. As soon as he looked like he wanted this one though, I moved it. Though I have to note, he never said or asked anything, just stopped and looked at us. The seats are fairly small, and being a tall girl at 5’10, I don’t see the need to unnecessarily squish yourself in a ball until you know space is needed. I ride the bus fairly frequently with all the breaks, and everyone puts their bag/purse/coat/newspaper next to them if it’s not busy. Am I in the wrong on this? 1221-12

Assuming this was a Greyhound bus, you and another college girl effectively took over the equivalent of an entire row of four seats by commandeering it with your backpacks.  Two people taking up the space intended for four people.  If 3/4 of the bus as full by the time Dad and son boarded, again assuming it was a 50-seat Greyhound bus, you and the other girl’s backpacks were taking up 1/6th of the available, remaining seats on the bus.

I really don’t care if others were doing this and if this is common practice for bus travel.     You are using a logic fallacy known as “argumentum ad populum” which asserts that since the majority of people chooses a particular course of action, the argument must be true or the course of action must be followed or the decision must be the right choice. You want two seats?  You buy two seats.  Otherwise you hustle to clear the second seat the minute new passengers come aboard or make it quite clear your second seat is available.

Would it have been so difficult to look Dad in the eye and ask, “Would you and your son like these two seats next to me?”, instead of assuming Dad could read your mind and intentions to make room?   From his perspective, you could have looked like you were ignoring him to fiddle with your laptop and backpack.   And since we only have your version, for all I know you could have sighed copiously in indignation while you were getting your pack moved.   Your lack of alacrity in moving the pack, your defense of using more than one seat, your assumption that Dad should have chosen one of the other remaining 1/4th of seats and the quick indignation you took at his accurate assessment tells me you have an attitude of entitlement.

Bottom line: You have no entitlement to a second unpaid seat for your backpack.  At the moment the bus pulled into a new stop, you should have had that second seat already cleared so that you did not put new passengers into the incredibly awkward position of feeling like they are inconveniencing you by taking a seat they paid for.

12/27 Addendum:   For two years Yale University doctoral candidate Esther Kim rode the Greyhound bus  across the US documenting the rules of social disengagement passengers utilize to cope with travel in a confined space.   Her research is due to be published in the journal, Symbolic Interaction, but you can read her preliminary results here.   Most notably she writes we distance ourselves from others by putting on a “calculated social performance” that lets strangers in a shared public space know that we don’t want to be bothered.    Once passengers acquired a seat they began their performance to dissuade potential row partners. They avoided eye contact, stretched their legs to cover the open space, placed a bag on the empty seat, sat on the aisle and blast earphones, pretended to sleep, looked at the window blankly.   In Kim’s experience, a person would rather sit on the floor of a Greyhound station than ask someone to remove a bag on a seat.  (Emphasis mine)

For those commenters who agreed that the bus configuration appears to be a standard 4 seat per row (2 seats, aisle, 2 seats) with 13 rows, if you do the math the OP provided, this means that at the point when Dad and son boarded the bus, it was 3/4 full meaning there were approximately only 12 empty seats left on the bus.  That’s less than one seat per row yet the OP and the other college student are in a row with TWO empty seats together.   Her row is the first row on the bus with the possibility of father and son actually sitting together (see my diagram in the comments section).   And they are both utilizing their backpacks as part of their “social performance” to dissuade anyone from sitting next to either of them.   Dad’s “faux pas” was having the audacity to expose their little performance.

Not coincidentally, this post garnered an inordinate number of first time commenters who all supported the idea that their backpack deserved its own special seat on the bus over the needs of a minor aged child to sit together with his father.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Seiryuu December 31, 2012, 12:20 am

    I think Jared’s comment was what I was under the impression of. You do not demand to sit in a particular spot; you find one that’s open for you unless the ticketing system reserved seats, which I highly doubt.

    If your bags are sitting on the seat next to you on an almost empty bus, there’s no need to raise a fuss when there are many other seats possible. Yes, it is somewhat rude to have your bags on an adjacent seat, but why would it even matter if there were other seats untaken anyway? The man made it sound like either

    a) he wanted to prove something to the boy
    b) he was an SS

  • GG December 31, 2012, 12:52 pm

    I don’t like all of the comments that say that sitting in the aisle seat is a passive aggressive way to sit in a row alone. Sometimes sitting in the aisle is a safety issue. I’m a small woman and I don’t like feeling trapped in the inside of the seat. Especially considering that not everyone taking public transportation is on the up and up. I like having an easy escape route if the passenger sitting next to me says something creepy. I would rather risk being seen as “passive aggressive” than end up being in a position where I don’t feel safe.

  • Wolfgirl January 2, 2013, 9:15 am

    Just to add that a PP was correct, in the UK (and it sounds like in many intercity buses in the US, including the OPS, following the update), you do NOT pay for a seat, you pay a fare to be transported from A to B, and have no ‘right’ to a seat. So there is basically no good way to accomodate extra luggage. I thought the comment about social deprivation forcing some people to use buses for all their grocery shopping etc was also a good point. When at university, I used to have to travel from Holland (where my parents were living then) to Cambridge by public transport, with everything I needed for a 3-month term (including the first time I made that trip, so bedding and kettle included!). It was a genuine nightmare and a physical ordeal to haul that much luggage across 5 seperate forms of transport, including the London underground. Point being, people do not generally haul huge bags around with them for fun, and it they had the option of using another form of transport or taking less stuff, they generally would. Some of the comments here seem a bit short-sighted at best, and quite elitist (“just take the car, duh!”).

    I think the OP should have moved the bag more rapidly, but that the man was also rude, and I was also surprised the Admin’s harsh reaction, then seeming obsession with niggling details of exactly how many spare seat there may or may not have been. Is that really revelvent?

    I will however be more aware of how quickly I move my bag from now on I think!

  • Calli Arcale January 2, 2013, 12:50 pm

    I’ve traveled Greyhound before, and I never put my stuff on the seat next to me. I always treat it like an airplane, which means I stuff my carry-on luggage under the seat in front of me or on the overhead shelf. (Note: Greyhound buses have luggage space underneath, so it’s not like you need to haul your overnight bag onboard.) So I would not have taken the seat with my stuff. It is annoying when a significant fraction of the riders are occupying two seats for no good reason, though I would not have vocalized it as the father did in this story. Keep the peace when you’ll have to be cooped with a possibly crazy person for the next few hours.

  • Harley Granny January 2, 2013, 2:37 pm

    So….Girl gets on a bus with a large backpack…notices that the bus wasn’t crowded so she places the bag on the seat beside her simply giving herself more room…..and she’s passive agressive? (please read up on the definition)
    Next stop….more passengers get on but no where near filling up so she can leave the bag there….good for her. (This also proves that she’s very aware of the situation and is prepared to act accordingly…no sign of PA still)
    Final stop….still more than enough seats….(I’m not even going to address the whole Greyhound configuration scenerio…just too silly for words) Since the OP notices that two passengers have passed already empty seats(again proving that she is still aware) the rude man stops beside the seat that her bag is in and IMMEDIATELY starts to relinquish the seat for him. And she is in the wrong and feeling entitled how again?

    The OP was the one on the bus, she knows what seats were readily available at all times and made her plans accordingly.

    I saw the Man with the young boy was the PA one, he could have politely asked either one of them for these seats.

    Sounds like a lot of people making a big deal out of something so silly.

  • Goldie January 2, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Am I the only one thinking that Dad wanted to sit *together* with his son, and his comment was directed at the two college girls who had the nerve to not sit together in the same aisle, therefore leaving two adjacent seats for himself and his son? Otherwise, his behavior makes no sense – you come to an empty seat, and then WHILE the person sitting next to it is removing her belongings from that empty seat to make room for you, what do you do? you chew her out and move on. Makes no sense to me, unless dad wanted two seats next to each other.

  • The Elf January 2, 2013, 8:00 pm

    While Dad would have reasonable expectation for OP to move the bag (or to have moved it in anticipation of someone needing the seat), he should have no expectation that people should just immediately react to the presence of a parent with a small child and move to another seat. He can, however, ask. It would be absolutely reasonable to ask, and I think most people would agree and move. He could also sit his son across the aisle, where he’d still be able to keep a good eye on him and interact. Those aisles aren’t that wide. Or he can have his son sit in the seat and stand next to him.

    Since Dad didn’t ask for the OP to move to an entirely different seat so he and his son could have two seats together, I can only assume that isn’t what he was going on about.

  • Eugenia January 3, 2013, 3:05 pm

    I am going to respectfully disagree with the admin. I think her advice was too harsh.

    It is true that we don’t know how the girl who wrote in acted. Maybe she did sigh, maybe she was rude. But what that man said was extremely rude, and was not necessarily merited – we have no proof that she did any eye rolling or anything other than start to move her backpack.

    I ride buses to different cities all the time, and many times, I’ve put my backpack in the seat next to mine. I have NEVER had someone act like that man. If I see a lot of people getting on the bus, then I will take my backpack off of the seat. Likewise, if someone asks me (provided that there clearly are no empty double spaces left), then I’ll take my backpack down without any fuss, so they have room.

    Also, if people would rather sit on the floor of a bus than ask someone to move their room, then maybe those people need to take a class in how to make polite requests. I’ve been on the other side of this too, and the only time I’ve ever given more than a moment’s thought to asking someone to move their bag is when they were eye-rolling me. Making that request is not a big deal, on either side, as long as everybody involved is acting like an adult.

  • that_one_girl January 6, 2013, 4:13 pm

    Simple solution: If you are going to put anything on the extra seat next to you on the bus, make sure that it takes no more than 30 seconds to move it. There should never be any occasion to need more than a single book and electronic device out at any given time. Take your laptop and the textbook that you are using out of your bag, zip up your bag, and carry on studying. When another passenger needs that seat, you can quickly pull the bag onto your lap (remember, you already zipped it closed, so there will be no random objects flying from said bag) to allow them to sit down.

  • Natalie January 7, 2013, 1:35 am

    In my experience, putting a bag next to you is fine as long as no one needs the seat be it city bus, subway, Greyhound, or Amtrak. Just follow the golden rule – treat others as you would be treated. In this case, expand when you can but if people are coming your way be prepared to move your stuff.

    If the above assumption is correct, how is the OP rude? She had space, and when she had none she was trying to correct the problem. While I can see how not all POVs are available in this story (i.e. sighing when moving stuff vs gathering together with gusto), according to this particular post the only sticking point here was that she didn’t move fast enough for the gentleman and his son. Perhaps he could of said something to ease the situation such as asking if the seats were taken instead of handing out a fairly high-handed proclamation of the OP’s apparent “rudeness”. IMO, that would have been the more courteous way out of the social “predicament” rather than waiting, not saying anything, getting impatient, and then huffily moving on.

    Seriously though, I can’t read minds and I’m assuming most people here can’t either.

  • Sarah January 7, 2013, 7:37 am

    I’m not a first time poster here. I agree with Harley Granny. You can take the extra seat as long as you look up when the bus stops and are prepared to move it right away. The OP was in the fast process of moving her bag for the passenger when he scolded her for not moving it… I don’t get it. Why couldn’t he be polite about it and ask her nicely to move her bag? Or just wait a moment until she’d finished?

  • Yvaine January 8, 2013, 10:41 am

    I’m also going to agree with Harley Granny and with Sarah. This is no big deal at all. Sure, it’s polite to move the bag when people board (which is exactly what this OP did), but if no one does sit next to you, where is the harm in putting stuff on that empty seat for a little added comfort as long as you do move it when the seat is needed? It’s the same as, say, allowing your feet to stretch a little into the below-seat area that goes with the next seat. You don’t do it when someone needs the seat, but between stops when the seat is empty? No one is going to teleport onto the bus and need it before the next stop. I think the man just had it out for “young people these days” and was looking to be offended.

  • livvy17 January 8, 2013, 12:49 pm

    Etiquette states that you should be considerate of others, and shouldn’t put anyone, even strangers in awkward positions. In my opinion, having to ask someone to move their stuff so that I can sit down on the bus is awkward. Even more so if the bus is less crowded, but there’s a particular seat I’d like, but that is covered with someone else’s belongings. (For example on a tour bus, where front window seats are premium.) To argue that another passenger should have to take a different seat (which might be far less desireable in a multitude of ways) just because it’s empty, or because they are too shy to ask someone to stop being selfish, is the essence of entitlement. Just becuase so many people feel entitled in the same way doesn’t make it right. I don’t have a problem with people using the seats for their bags – as long as they make sure that seat is free of bags prior to the next stop.

  • Becky January 26, 2013, 7:06 pm

    I think the admin is being WAY too harsh on the OP. OP, nevermind what she says, what you did is perfectly fine and that man was being rude. There is absolutely no reason why you should have to spend that entire bus ride with your belongings crammed around your feet when there are plenty of other open seats. To be polite, you would move your things when the bus gets more crowded, which you started to do. The only thing i would have done differently to avoid confusion is ask the man “Would you like to sit here?” so it would be more clear that you were clearing the seat for him, but by the same token he should have asked you if he could sit there instead of just assuming that you were ignoring him.