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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.

{ 118 comments… add one }
  • Yasuragi December 26, 2012, 5:33 am

    The Putting-A-Bag-In-The-Empty-Seat-Next-To-Me is a classic passive aggressive move to prevent someone from sitting next to you. Same goes for the Sitting-In-The-Aisle-Seat-To-Block-Off-The-Middle-And-Window-Seat-So-I-Can-Have-A-Row-To-Myself.

    If I am on an uncrowded bus or train with no available storage I will put my bag on the seat next to me if the floor isn’t an option. But as soon as there is a stop the bag goes right back on my lap until new passengers have all chosen their seats and we’re moving again.

    Thank goodness OP let us know she is a graduate student, attending college, with notes and a laptop. Otherwise we may not have known that she is More Equal Than Others and entitled to being entitled.

  • SophieDarling December 26, 2012, 5:36 am

    I disagree with some of this – I put my things on the seat next to me if the items are very heavy and it will cause me strain to lift the packages again. If someone wishes to take a seat next to me, I’m happy to put my things at my feet, but I see no point making my life harder if there’s A) already plenty of room on the bus for other people to sit and B) no people currently jostling for the seat.

    I personally think that guy was being at least passive-aggressive, especially since he quit the scene before either passenger could defend themselves. Also, I think his overarching statement was rude. Whether the poster was right or wrong in spreading out her things, he did not make the situation any better. What a bad thing to teach your child.

    I’m of the opinion that if you want something like that, you ask politely. Good manners goes both ways – I’ll be happy to hear someone out if they verbalise what they want. I won’t respond to people standing around, giving me a silent, pointed look unless I’m actually doing something heinous, like unwittingly standing on their child.

    Actually, on the subject of ‘one point of view’, you’re right. We don’t know the whole story. But that applies to every entry on this site – no story can be told from an entirely neutral point of view. I actually figured that was an unwritten disclaimer for this site – “Warning: submitters may be biased, bitter or blinded by righteous indignation/loyalty. Please take all stories with a grain of salt.”

    In short – good etiquette come from a variety of factors, but good communication is one of them.

  • T December 26, 2012, 7:40 am

    OP was being inconsiderate (should have made seat available as soon as people started to board) & New guy was rude.

  • Spuck December 26, 2012, 8:19 am

    I have to respectively disagree about the OP being passive aggressive. Ultimately she wen’t to move the backpack. Nothing else matters. The guy spoke up where he shouldn’t have and that was passive aggressive. Arguing over the speed of someone going to perform a polite or expected task it hut nit picking. As long as it didn’t take her more than a minute to move the back pack she is fine.

  • Angel December 26, 2012, 8:25 am

    If there are plenty of empty seats available, I see no issue with using a seat for your purse or backpack. However I agree with the admin that I would have been shifting my belongings when the bus came to a stop. However I am only 5’1″ and take up little if any space. I can sort of sympathize with the OP as a tall person–those seats are very small and sometimes the only way you can be comfortable is to stretch out a bit–and if it’s not crowded, why not? The whole problem could have been avoided if she would have simply asked the guy if he wanted the seat next to her. It’s incredibly awkward to just stand there waiting for someone to move. He paid for his bus ticket just like the OP did. Avoid the awkwardness by asking the right questions.

  • The Elf December 26, 2012, 8:30 am

    As a frequent user of public transportation, I’m an unrepentent backpack-on-seat user. HOWEVER, whenever you do this is in on you to pick up your pack quickly when it appears that your seat will be used. At about 1/2 to 2/3 seats taken, I assume mine will be next and automatically pick it up. If it’s rush hour on the Metro, I can safely assume that if I’m lucky enough to get an empty seat it won’t be empty for long and don’t even bother putting the backpack in it. It is also on you to quickly grab your things to free up the seat. You should be able to do it in one swift motion. If you can’t do that, then don’t put it there in the first place.

    So, yeah, the OP was rude in essentially taking two seats. But the man was also rude in being so pointed about it when the OP was obviously moving her backpack and he passed empty seats to get to hers and didn’t even take it! It would be different if she didn’t make any attempt to clear the seat. So I’m giving the OP the benefit of the doubt here. She should have been swifter, but she wasn’t doing anything outrageously wrong.

    Admin, do you commonly take public transportation?

    • admin December 26, 2012, 9:29 am

      I rode the DC Metro train into work every day for years. Took a bus everyday to go to college classes. Used the Amtrak train to visit a friend several states away. On all those methods of public transportation, I carried either a backpack or a briefcase.

  • Shoegal December 26, 2012, 8:43 am

    I don’t agree This young girl wasn’t unwilling to move her things or take up seats just so no one will sit next to her. Why not use the space if it is available and be comforable if it is possible? It is ridiculous to me to think of the OP all srunched up with her backpack at her feet if it wasn’t necessary. And I think the man attacked first. The OP was willing to give up the seats next to her and move all of her stuff – there was no need to make that comment. I don’t think I would have been able to get out the words “would you like these seats? . . . I’ll be happy to move my stuff” with my jaw hanging open before he moved on to be rude to the other passengers who didn’t jump up to move their things. What was wrong with the man inquiring if he could sit there in a politely?

  • Suzanne December 26, 2012, 9:06 am

    I have to agree with the original poster. I don’t own a car so get around using public transportation almost exclusively. Where I live (Switzerland) it’s standard operating procedure to put your stuff on the seat next to you if there are available seats.

    The polite thing is to move your stuff when someone wants to sit there. It’s only rude if you don’t move your stuff when someone wants to sit there.

  • Abby December 26, 2012, 9:08 am

    I partially agree with the Admin. I do think there is something passive aggressive about putting your personal items on the seat next to you. Sure, you might be willing to move them, but odds are the person is going to gravitate to an empty seat with nothing on it then wait until the person moves their items, which is obviously the preferred outcome for whoever is using 2 seats.

    I see no harm in using an empty seat when the bus is in motion, but I agree OP should have hustled to move her stuff before anyone else got on the bus. If it got too cumbersome to continually move stuff back and forth, then I guess she should just hold on to it. OP does come off rather entitled here.

    All that being said, I find the guy quite passive aggressive himself. There is nothing more obnoxious then someone saying something confrontational within earshot of the intended target, then walking away before they can say anything back. That is a move that should be limited to 12 year old girls, not taught to kids by adults.

  • Kat December 26, 2012, 9:12 am

    Admin – while the OP MIGHT have been indignant and huffy, I don’t see any reason to assume that was the case. Furthermore, the dad’s assessment (“college girls need to learn to be more considerate of others”) was a generalization, not an accurate statement, and addressed as it was to his son but clearly meant for the OP to hear, was passive aggressive.

    I agree that bags placed on unclaimed seats must be moved as soon as there is an indication the seat is wanted, but I feel like the OP is being characterized unfairly.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith December 26, 2012, 9:30 am

    It’s kind of nit-picky to chastise the OP for not moving her stuff. Yes, only one seat to a customer. No, people do not want to sit right next to one another if there is sufficient room to avoid it. When the conveyance is sufficiently crowded that those seats become needed, that would be the time to move one’s belongings. It is not necessary to part the empty seats from their computers and purses like the Red Sea in order to show which seats are empty. Anyone wanting a particular seat need only stop next to it. Words should be unnecessary. All the sighing done by people moving their things comes under the heading of “it’s early, more coffee would have been awesome, sorry I’m so slow…”. A million small exchanges like this take place everyday without the need for commentary. Why exacerbate the irritation of traveling in cramped quarters with strangers by becoming the “Etiquette Police” on random patrol? No. Not needed or wanted.

  • WeatherGirl December 26, 2012, 9:42 am

    Kinda-off-topic-but-kinda-not: Ms. Jeanne, I don’t drive and often don’t have cab fare, so when I go grocery shopping, I use the bus. I usually have several bags of stuff, which I put on the seat beside me. (Better that then put them in the aisle where someone might trip over them, imo.) I’m willing to hold them in my lap if necessary, but it is kind of a nuisance to move them on and off my lap, and they can be kind of heavy. Am I wrong in just leaving them on the seat?

  • Shalamar December 26, 2012, 9:45 am

    I completely disagree with Admin on this one. It sounds to me like OP was more than willing to move her backpack when it became necessary, but until that happened, she was going to stay comfortable. I’ve done that myself, and I don’t see what’s wrong with it. I also don’t see anything that indicates OP has an “attitude of entitlement”.

  • Elizabeth December 26, 2012, 9:46 am

    Both involved are behaving passive aggressively. And I agree, just because others are doing it does not make it acceptable.

  • Huh December 26, 2012, 9:56 am

    OK, so the OP and the other girl shouldn’t have had their stuff on the seat when people might want to sit there. But I hate the kind of aggressive “public shaming” the father did in this and find it rude and distasteful, even when you are in the right. I’ve witnessed people doing this, and I always thought lesser of them than the person who was doing the “thoughtless” thing. (9 times out of 10, its someone just not thinking, not doing something to be rude.) I noticed the two older men that came up after rude father asked politely if those seats were taken and the girls moved the bags.

  • Robert December 26, 2012, 10:03 am

    I really don’t see any problem with using available space on public transportation, whether everyone is doing it or just the OP. I kind of like the people who put a backpack on a seat or take the isle seat leaving the window seat empty…I think of these people as the people who are saving my seat for me. Of course I have no problem saying, “Can you please move this?” or “Can I please get by you?”.

    Here is my idea of how the OP’s situation should have gone.

    Man and son get on bus. They see seats in the same row being taken up by the belongings of two fellow passengers.

    Man: Excuse me, we would like to use these seats. Could you please move your belongings?
    OP and other person: Of course, one moment please (moves belongings).

    The beauty of my scenario is that neither the man nor the OP are required to be mind readers.

  • Katie December 26, 2012, 10:03 am

    I think that the man was being absolutely ridiculous, and for some reason wanted to make a point (and how exactly did he know that the OP was a ‘college girl’ anyway?… people other than students have rucksacks and laptops!). She said that he passed several empty seats first. EVERYONE where I live (in the UK) puts their bag on the adjacent seat *if there is room*. To suggest buying an extra set for a bag (that you’re willing to move if necessary) is completely absurd. Seeing as there were plenty of other seats available, I think that the man had some kind of chip on his shoulder about ‘college girls’.

    As a frequent commuter, I deliberately avoid asking people with loaded backpacks/children/unwieldy paperwork to move their bags if I can sit somewhere else. Why not make people’s lives easier if you can? Why not be accommodating rather than awkward?! I honestly don’t get it.

    I’m aware that this isn’t going to be a popular viewpoint, but honestly, if this is the worst that the man experiences on public transport, then IMO he is fortunate! Of course, it’s exceptionally rude to NOT move your bag and make people stand (and believe me, I see plenty of this when I’m commuting), but if there were other seats available, I don’t see the problem. One day the man might be the one with the backpack!

  • Bill December 26, 2012, 10:11 am

    Admin is being too nit picky here. Maybe she should have moved her things before people boarded but her automatic reaction upon seeing the man standing there was to make room. I think that’s what’s important. It’s ridiculous to expect someone to spend the whole ride cramped and uncomfortable when there is plenty of room to spread your legs. Use the space when it is available and surrender it when it becomes apparent others need it. That’s precisely what the OP did. I think she dodged a bullet not having so sit next to that judgmental man for the rest of the ride.

  • Angela December 26, 2012, 10:30 am

    If the bus had been full, the OP would be rude but she pointed out that he had passed several empty seats.
    If there are empty seats and one has a backpack, especially a full one, it is better to put it on the seat as it will not trip or get in others’ path. Simply putting a backpack on a seat is not unreasonable until the bus or whatever fills up.
    I fail to see why the man could not ask the OP if he could have the seat, rather than make a passive-aggressive comment about “college girls”. She may have moved more slowly than etiquette dictates, but his comment was offensive.

  • WildIrishRose December 26, 2012, 10:31 am

    I ride an express bus to and from work. The only time I ever put things on the seat next to me is after the very last pickup stop, when all passengers have boarded and taken seats. Otherwise, I keep my stuff on my lap. I try very hard not to carry more stuff than I can manage in my own space. OP should have cleared the seat as soon as the bus stopped to take on more passengers, and the man in question should have just found a seat without being a jerk about it.

  • Rap December 26, 2012, 10:37 am

    Sorry, but the only way I find it rude if if the seated passenger refused to move their bag or wasn’t making any effort to move their bag. Yes, the seated passengar could have said “you do want this seat?” but the standing passengar could also have said “are both of these seats in use” and not “College girls are selfish”.

  • startruck December 26, 2012, 10:39 am

    i kinda dont see the big deal with taking up both seats if no one else is trying to sit in them, but i do agree that she should have begun moving her things when the bus stopped. if you pay for a seat, who wants to spend any amount of time waiting for someone to clear their things out of your seat before they can sit down. and i dont really think the guy was being rude by what he said. maybe this girl should learn to be more considerate. whats wrong with saying that? some people cant handle being told they are wrong

  • yankeegal77 December 26, 2012, 10:45 am

    I take MetroNorth every day and I keep my backpack/purse/other bags on my lap or the floor even when there is an empty seat next to me. While it might seem that putting it on the seat, with the intent to move it is fairly innocuous, I find it rude.

    The train is often crowded, especially in the morning. Having to stop and ask someone to move their purse/briefcase/jacket holds the line up. Others would like to sit down, too, and not be jostled with train movement. It’s bad enough on the weekdays; I won’t even go into the etiquette nightmare of the weekend people who don’t regularly commute and understand why taking up five seats for two people is not okay. Fortunately, conductors are usually very good about enforcing the one-seat-per-ticket rule.

    There have been several occasions where there have been people with their items taking up not one or two, but THREE seats with their items. One man had an empty lap, a briefcase on one seat and a small Starbucks bag on a seat across from him. When I said “Excuse me” and gestured toward the small paper bag, he actually pouted as he had to pick it up so I could sit.

    In this case, OP, I think the man was rude and PA, but it would have been a good idea to either keep your items on your lap or to better communicate your intention to move your items by asking if he would like your seat. I do not move my items to the next seat until we have hit the last stop and no one else will be boarding.

    If people want more room and an empty lap, either prioritize what to bring or better yet, take a car. There have been times where I’ve been completely loaded down; I try to either make the train early to accommodate my items, or I’ll stand if there’s not a lot of room or any of the wheelchair accessible/luggage-friendly seating left. (These seats are used for both, and of courage I would move should I need to in order to accommodate a wheelchair. :))

  • Anonymous December 26, 2012, 10:47 am

    I agree with the OP. The bus wasn’t crowded, the man and his son could have sat elsewhere, but she moved her things when they approached her. The man was rude, passive-aggressive, and nit-picky to SEE the OP moving her stuff, but still make a comment about how “college need to learn to bae more considerate of others.” Umm, just “college girls?” Not “college boys?” Also, at that age, it’s more like “men and women,” because colleges/universities don’t act in loco parentis, and also, at that level, everything from sports teams, to residence halls, to public bathrooms, are labelled “men” and “women” as opposed to “boys” and “girls,” like in K-12. Another thing–some items, such as laptops and musical instruments, are really too fragile and expensive to be put on the floor. Some items may warrant purchasing an extra seat, if overhead space is at a premium, but some, maybe not. For example–a cello, tuba, gets its own seat every time. Guitar? Get there early to stake out overhead space. Clarinet or oboe? Fits in a backpack, but it can be a tight squeeze. Laptop? Also iffy. Flute? Fits in a backpack with room to spare. Pair of skis or snowboard? Again, arrive early to figure it out. My point is, the accoutrements of people’s lives can be oddly sized or shaped, and sometimes, accommodations have to be made, that aren’t as cut-and-dried as “buy an extra seat,” or “don’t travel.”

    Finally, I don’t think the OP said she was a graduate student going home from her university for break, in order to make it clear that she’s “more equal than others,” or “entitled to being entitled.” No, I think she said it just to provide some context–she probably didn’t have a ton of money to spend on an extra seat, because university is really expensive. She was also probably attempting to get some studying done on the bus, in the interest of spending her break time with her family and friends, rather than her laptop and books. If she was immersed in studying, she might not have noticed the man and his son approaching her, and it might have taken her a few minutes to move her belongings. Also, I think the “student” thing is relevant because, if the OP lived in the graduate students’ housing at her university, there’s a chance that said housing could have been closed over Christmas, so she had no choice about travelling. She and the other girl probably weren’t showing off their “elevated university student status” either; it was probably obvious if they were studying on the bus, or possibly wearing their university sweatshirts–I used to do that when travelling back and forth, not to “show off,” but so that, if I ever got lost or in trouble somehow, and couldn’t speak for myself (I suffer from panic attacks), then someone would be able to help me get back to Blahblah University. So, although these things may identify people as a part of a certain group, they aren’t inherently rude.

  • egl December 26, 2012, 10:49 am

    @Yasuragi -Sitting in the aisle seat isn’t always a passive aggressive attempt to stop people using the seat next to you. I will frequently do this, even on a relatively empty bus, if I need to keep an eye out for my stop. I’m short, so seeing over the seats is impossible, and seeing round the seats on the window side is also impossible if anyone in front of me is leaning towards the window.

    In my area, no one seems to move things before anyone asks, if there are still plenty of open seats, but most people will keep their hand on their items when the bus stops. This allows them to move them quickly if some one wants the seat.

  • Wendy B December 26, 2012, 10:50 am

    Question #1: Why does the admin assume this is a “Greyhound” bus? In my experience, most public transportation buses have two small seats on either side of the aisle. Two. I’ve also had opportunity to ride the DC Metro subway and those seats also are two on either side of the aisle. I’m not sure what the difference is, but nowhere did the OP say anything about a Grayhound bus.

    Question #2: no one has adequately explained how putting your purse/backpack/etc. on the empty seat beside you when most of the bus is empty is passive aggressive. When I was in college, I did it all the time. I’ve seen commuters on other buses/subway trains do the same. When the bus started to get full, I moved it onto my lap. Simple logic.

    The OP did what most people do, and was moving her bag, as is polite. Yes, perhaps she could have said, “Would you like to sit here?” but by him stopping there she assumed that was what he wanted. HE was the rude one, not her.

  • L December 26, 2012, 10:54 am

    I ride the Atlanta train every morning. Whether or not they have bags, many people sit in the outside seat and block additional passengers from getting a seat at all. I know that some people think I’m young and should just stand (prejudice against the young, but that’s another conversation), but I did pay to be on the train just the same as they did. What’s really appalling to me is when elderly people or others who very likely have a bigger need to sit down aren’t offered a seat- even an EMPTY seat that’s being blocked. So far, I’ve been too shy to stick up for myself, so I stand and try to make the best of it. Honestly, now that I realize that the prevailing attitude of these people is that they’re More Equal Than Others, I think I will start saying something that is polite but direct.

    The problem with Marta is that it does attract shady types, and I *have* felt in danger before (the most notable instances are a passenger who followed me to several different train cars and another who became aggressive when I did not give him money). I’m not afraid of a little eye rolling, but I am afraid that someone might have an extreme reaction to my request for the empty seat.

  • CatToo December 26, 2012, 10:56 am

    I agree with others that the bag on the seat isn’t the problem – and I thoroughly disagree that the LW had it so spread out that the man might have thought she was just fiddling with it. She said it took a *few seconds* to move it – not a minute, or anything that might appear to be an extended length of time.

    The place where I see the issue is that the type of commuter buses that the OP is mentioning are usually laid out so that the seats are forward facing, 4 across, 2 on each side of the aisle (note: “Looked across” at the other college student). If this is the case on the bus the LW is speaking of: At a point when the bus is 3/4 full, you are starting to look at if not already at a situation in which the man and his companion likely could not sit together because the rest of the bus had spread out. Of course there is no guaranteed right to sit together, but it is generally acknowledged as a kindness to allow 2 people who are together to be able to sit next to each other. I think it’s likely that the man thought the 2 college students were together and rather than sitting together were taking up seats on each side of the aisle, thereby leaving no “set” of seats for the man and his companion.

    However, regardless of whether or not they knew each other, neither one of them made a move or an offer to consolidate their seats so the man and the boy could sit together. That’s a harder thing to ask for than “pardon me, could you move that bag please”, given the lack of a “right” to sit together. He probably moved on in search of a pair of open seats, seeing that the LW was only opening the seat up and not attempting to help them sit together.

    The man’s comment was definitely a manipulative way of expressing his frustration over something he didn’t have a right to ask for, and an attempt to shame the LW and the other college student. However – these were not the only 2 people on the bus putting bags etc. on seats. What they were, as some of the youngest, was likely the “easiest” targets. LW’s side of the street isn’t as clean as it could be, but the guy was way out of line.

  • Ashley December 26, 2012, 11:22 am

    I know we have only heard one side of the story, but it does sound like she attempted to move as quickly as she could to make space for the man and her son.
    I know putting bags on seats can be seen as passive aggressive by some, but I have NEVER been on any sort of public transport where someone wasn’t willing to move their bag as soon as they saw the seat was needed.

  • Lychii December 26, 2012, 11:23 am

    I have to disagree with Admin, OP did absolutely nothing wrong.

    I ride the bus a lot, usually 1-2 hour bus rides, and don’t see how OP was in the wrong. When I get on a full bus and want to sit in a occupied-by-bag seat, I ask for it. So does everyone else. This isn’t a big deal.

    The guy threw a passive-aggressive remark that was rude and unprovoked. That’s all.

  • Lerah99 December 26, 2012, 11:31 am

    As a large woman (over 300lbs), I solve this issue by buying 2 tickets on buses, trains, airplanes, even in movie theaters. Then both my extra girth and my purse have the 2nd seat to ensure the comfort of myself and other passengers.

    If you are tall, overweight, have extra baggage, or just don’t want to sit next to someone: buy a 2nd seat. The problem is immediately solved. Then when someone makes a passive agressive comment about your belongings taking up an extra seat you can just state, “Actually, I always buy to tickets to ensure I can keep my laptop on the seat next to me.”

  • AthenaC December 26, 2012, 11:43 am

    Many good points; I think CatToo phrased it the best. I am really not sure why our esteemed admin made such … interesting assumptions.

    At my old job I used to take the Chicago-area Metra train from ‘burbs to city and back again. Nearly everybody had a bag of some sort on the seat next to them, whether it was a backpack for school or for work. When you have a set amount of items you have to bring with you, there is a limit to how much you can prioritize what you bring. However, I never witnessed the sort of conflict the OP experienced. Why? Well, like Robert pointed out, no one was expected to be mindreaders. A commuter would approach a seat occupied by a backpack, get the attention of the backpack’s owner, say, “May I?” or something similar, to which the backpack’s owner would reply, “But of course, my good sir / ma’am!” or something similar. Backpack was moved, commuter was seated, and all was right with the world.

    As we all teach our children, asking nicely and directly is the way to get what you want.

  • naomi December 26, 2012, 12:08 pm

    i think the op did nothing wrong, if the bus had only a couple of empty seats then maybe she could have moved the bag when the bus stopped but as the chap walked past empty seats he had no right to complain about her or her bag placement

  • Carrie December 26, 2012, 12:14 pm

    I spend a good ten or so hours on mass transit each week, and this is par for the course. If the train or bus is fairly empty, it’s perfectly fine to leave your bag on the seat. If the train is starting to fill up, then you move your bag. Some people will move them halfway if it looks like others want to sit down, and once they do make a move to claim the seat, the bag moves the rest of the way. Not a problem. If trains are running close together or it’s late, it’s possible no one will take the seat at all. Seat hogging DOES become a problem when people stare at their phones or the floor in acts of plausible deniability or make faces and sighs when they need to move.

    And I don’t see this too often, but if someone wants to sit next to their traveling partner, usually the onus is on them to ask. When it comes to parents and their kids, unless the child is young, usually they’re sitting across from one another, and no one makes a fuss. Or the kid is on the parent’s lap, and again, no fuss.

  • BellyJean December 26, 2012, 12:19 pm

    I normally agree with the Etiquette Maven – but this is where I unequivocally do not.

    Neither of the girls were being rude. They put their bags on the seats beside them temporarily. And upon indication, the OP began moving her things. The OP didn’t mention with what speed she was moving. Could she have moved faster? No idea -we’d need to know how quickly she moved in the first place. Had he been polite and followed any sort of etiquette, he could have politely said, “Is this seat saved? Could I possibly sit there? Is there any way that the two of you ladies could sit together, so that I may sit with this young man here?”

    Not one of those things was mentioned. And what blows my mind is how the Etiquette Maven didn’t even comment on the rudeness of the gentlemen, and how it’s ok to be vocally self-righteous, and to teach this to the next generation. In previous posts, the Etiquette Maven has at least commented on such actions, saying that that in and of itself is bad etiquette and passive aggressive.

    • admin December 26, 2012, 6:45 pm

      Ehell is all about how YOU need to behave since you are the only one you can change. We cannot change the behavior of others. The OP asked for my opinion on the situation and I gave it. I addressed her behavior as she is the one asking for advice. Had the father chimed in, I would have addressed his behavior specifically. Dad could have said those things but he didn’t. The OP’s attitude of “Why did he want my seat when there so many others he could have?” just reeks of preserving one’s self interests to the exclusion of others.

  • Bint December 26, 2012, 12:33 pm

    Are you sure that man could see your seat had a bag on when he went past the others?

    Are you sure he didn’t think they were free from that angle, either side of an aisle, meaning he could be close to his child on a bus 3/4 full?

    And don’t you think you should be READY with that seat free when a bus becomes 3/4 full and more people are getting on, rather than force someone else to ask you for it when you haven’t paid for it in the first place? He has a young child with him, the bus is moving off and both girls have their packs on seats? And there are ‘two elderly men’ behind him! Your pack should have been off that seat before he got near you.

    What he said was rude but your outrage is OTT and in your case he was right. You do need to be more considerate than you were here.

    Please note I use public transport every day and had to haul a huge, heavy backpack for a 14 hour bus, train and boat ride every single time I went home from university. I don’t care if you have a laptop and clothes in there (what else would be in there?).

  • SJ December 26, 2012, 12:42 pm

    Sorry, you’re bag doesn’t need a seat. No one should have to ask you to move your inanimate object so that a human being can have a seat they paid for.

    I also dislike this practice in airports, waiting rooms, etc.

  • Lizbeth December 26, 2012, 12:52 pm

    This weirdly struck a chord with me – I am a 22 year old postgraduate student who had to travel a long distance on public transport to get home for the holidays with a fair amount of luggage. I am also 5’10 so fitting into seats with little leg space can be quite uncomfortable, and with a bulky backpack to store either on a lap or on the floor, even more so. So for me, storing a bag on a seat is no more than making myself comfortable for the journey but I also have no problem with moving my bag as soon as I see more people getting onto the bus (or train). I think when anyone sees this as a PA way of telling people not to take the seat next to them they are probably reading a little to much into it and seem to want to find a negative response anywhere and give themselves the moral high ground.

    As far as I see it, the main problem here is the rudeness of the man who walks past a few empty seats but wants to emphasise that college girls need to be more considerate. I am in agreement with Anonymous (18) here.

    Oh and to Yasuragi, “Thank goodness OP let us know she is a graduate student, attending college, with notes and a laptop. Otherwise we may not have known that she is More Equal Than Others and entitled to being entitled.” this comment reminds me of an earlier EH story (I forget which) where the OP takes a car to a garage with Cuban owners and people being out-of-proportion upset about this little detail. It adds a little background to the story, and all stories need description to make them interesting and to give them context.

    • admin December 26, 2012, 6:39 pm

      There is a lot of commentary (and assumptions) about the availability of the 1/4 of empty seats the Dad could have chosen before he came upon the OP halfway down the bus. When you board a bus or train, you immediately begin assessing the situation as to the best place to sit, assuming there are empty seats to be had. Dad had his young son with him so two seats together was a must. Scanning the bus, he may have seen that all of the empty seats left in the front of the bus were single seats next to passengers who were not in a position to either move from their seats to a new one or were traveling in pairs or groups. On a tight, six seat per row bus (3 seats, aisle, 3 seats) I can easily see how one seat in three may be empty but getting people to move from them so he and his son can sit together would be unfeasible. So he comes to the row where four seats out of six are being held not by people but by backpacks.

      The OP gives absolutely no hint whatsoever that the girl on the other end of the row made any attempt to move her pack. For all we know, Dad may have been directing his comment to her.

      The OP makes no mention, and I don’t see how she would know, the circumstances of the passengers to the front of the bus that she believes had a duty to yield their seats before she needed to. The essence of entitlement is the belief that you are owed something, in this case, the right to retain her extra seat over the preferences of others.

      I’m not approving the silly hyperbole some commenters are using that insists that passengers have a right to use extra seats when the bus or train is not crowded. No argument there. But the situation is about an increasingly crowded bus and if you believe you have a right to occupy an unpaid extra seat in that context, you are sorely in need of some time out in Ehell.

  • Tyler December 26, 2012, 12:56 pm

    I absolutely disagree that this student expressed feelings of entitlement. Had she felt entitled, I doubt she would have made an effort to remove her belongings from the seat. She also acknowledged that she only occupies multiple seats when there is room to do so, which isn’t all that selfish. Also, does no one else find it a bit strange that there were plenty of other seats available on the bus, but the man chose a seat that was already occupied (even if unfairly occupied)? I’m flabbergasted that so many people think it so unreasonable for the man to choose one of the remaining empty seats on the bus.

    As for the comment that the young woman’s acknowledgment of being in graduate school was indicative of feelings of superiority, I must say, as a former grad student myself, I was rather offended. The young woman likely provided that information for context to indicate several factors, such as having to take the bus as opposed to a car because of very little funds (most grad students live like paupers), and an intense workload, which would explain why she had so many materials with her on the bus.

    Yes, technically, she was in the wrong: she did only purchase one seat, so she should not have occupied multiple seats, but the facts still remain that the bus was not full, and the man was being passive aggressive. Many are treating this like a deliberate act of viciousness and making rash judgments about the OP’s character when in all reality, this was only a minor etiquette slip that led to no major repercussions.

  • Miss Raven December 26, 2012, 12:58 pm

    I appreciate the things-on-the-floor contingency for being just SO full of etiquette, even going above and beyond when they are alone on public transportation. How is the air up there?

    I take public transportation every day, quite a long way, and I have for nearly a decade. There is absolutely no reason to not be able to place your things on the seat next to you as long as there is no one else requiring that seat. If no one needs the seat, nobody cares. If no one is standing and there are other empty seats and the train car or bus is well below capacity, nobody cares. It is a non-issue.

    Where I live, “wet” is the default several months out of the year, and therefore the floors of trains and buses become slick with filthy boot water. I’m not putting my bags in that unless I absolutely have to, and I sort of resent the gentle insinuation that this somehow makes me, and others, rude.

    Once there is a need for more seats, my things go on the floor in an awful hurry, or, if they will fit, in my lap. The instant another needs the seat, it is theirs. But in the meantime, I again must reiterate: Nobody cares.

    Please note that this is not a justification for leaving ones things all over the place when the train gets crowded. There is a special place in [e-]Hell for people who take up more than one seat on crowded public transport, headphones in, staring out the window to avoid accidental eye contact with weary standers. I see it a few times a week and it makes my blood boil. But when the train is empty, I ask you. Who cares?

  • Margo December 26, 2012, 1:09 pm

    I agree with CatToo – I think that the man may have made the assumption that the two women were travelling together. However, I do not think that OP was rude or inconsiderate – she was happy to move her stuff, and started to move it without / before being asked. We don’t know whether what the man actually wanted was to sit in the spare seat, or for OP to move to free up a pair of seats, but he was very rude in making his comment, and he could, and should, have asked politely for whatever it was he did want.

    I think it is very rude to take up or block empty seats on a busy bus or train, or to make a fuss if asked to move baggage, but it is dependent on circumstances. It’s not rude where there are plenty of available seats.
    I also disagree that taking the aisle seat when the window seat is available is necessarily passive agressive-it can be sensible if going only a short distance – it may be much simpler to get up once to let someone pass when they get on, than to try to get out past someone (you can’t tell in advance how quick they will be, when you need to get out. Also, sitting on the aisle means that when someone does want the seat you can make a decision as to whether you feel comfortable being ‘trapped’ by that individual, or whether you feel safer or more comfortable letting them pass you and remaining on the outsidesest of the pair. If you simply move over to the window seat as soon as the bus/train stops you can’t then exercise any choice about that.

    So, in my view, OP was absolutly fine in her behavior and the man who got on was very rude.

  • Spuck December 26, 2012, 1:28 pm

    When it comes down to public transportation there are myriad of possibilities as to why people act the way they act. The point is to ignore your mental intrigue and just speak up. If someone is blocking a chair with their bag, ask them to move. If they are blocking the inner seat, ask if they can move over or allow you to move in. If your are being blocked form an exit and can’t slip by them, 9/10’s of the time an excuse me will work and if that doesn’t a simple tap on the shoulder to get their attention is perfectly acceptable. If you don’t make a fuss about it, chances are everyone will get to their destination without the trip being memorable. Which is always the best way to travel.

  • --Lia December 26, 2012, 1:40 pm

    If the man passed empty seats in order to complain that he wanted to sit in the particular seat that had a backpack on it, he was rude. If the man declined to say “may I sit here please” and instead opted for a snide comment directed to the air, he was rude. If he’d said “may I sit here please,” the OP could have said “sure, just one more sec” while she was moving the rest of her stuff. Since the proper response to rudeness is politeness, the OP, by saying nothing, did the right thing. Also notice, she ended up giving the seat to elderly men. Elderly men take precedence over young men and children who don’t need assistance walking. The OP did the right thing all around.

    If a young man gets on a bus, and if a young woman immediately starts moving her things so he can sit next to her, especially if there are other seats available, it’s possible that it will look like a flirtatious move. Then she can spend the rest of the trip fighting off unwanted attention. I get the idea the young man had a bone to pick with all women that day and took his first opportunity to complain about the first ones he saw. Really, he sounds like the entitled one who expects seats to magically appear and pretty young women to cater to his every desire.

  • Green123 December 26, 2012, 2:14 pm

    I don’t think the OP did anything wrong in this scenario, and am frankly surprised by the Admin’s assertion that she was being ‘entitled’. That would have been the case if she’d refused to move the bag, but she was clearly willing to do so.

  • Kit December 26, 2012, 4:16 pm

    In some trams I have met, especially older people may sit on the aisle seat for the reason that they find it difficult to press themselves between seats. They usually let nimbler people past readily enough, though.

    I agree with CatToo that the man was probably looking for a way for him and the young boy sitting near to each other – a perfectly natural thing to do. He probably would have got those seats, if he had been a bit more patient! Maybe, if he had asked the girls politely if they’d sit together, they would have agreed to it, too. Anyway my experience with such kind of buses is that, if some people are traveling together/are friends, they would sit together from the start – and probably talk all over the bus. 😛

  • Brenda December 26, 2012, 4:17 pm

    I used to take a commuter bus to and from work everyday, and I have to agree with the OP and CatToo, mostly.

    There were overhead bins on the buses, and I would often put my stuff there, but some of the buses had smaller bins than others, so my backpack wouldn’t fit, or I might be carrying in an extra bag containing lunch supplies for several days. I don’t like putting my backpack on the ground or on the floor of a commuter vehicle. Actually, I’d rather put my backpack on leafy ground than on the floor of a transit vehicle. Those floors are really dirty. They are seldom cleaned. So, if a seat was free and my stuff wouldn’t fit in the overhead, it went on the seat next to me.

    As soon as the bus would get about 2/3 full, I would often move my bag onto my lap, and free up the seat. But I also usually sat on the aisle, as I’m on the tall side and the window seats often had less leg room due to the wheelwells, and because I got off at one of the earlier stops on my way to work. I could also lower the seat arm and give myself some extra room.

    And I think CatToo was correct: the man made the assumption that the two women were traveling together, and he felt they should have sat together. A poor assumption that led to rude behavior.

  • Lynne December 26, 2012, 4:36 pm

    @L — erm, I also ride the train in Atlanta on a daily basis, and I have never, nor do I now, interpet people choosing an aisle seat as considering themselves More Equal Than Others.

    The only polite, direct thing I’ve ever had to say is, “Excuse me,” or “Excuse me, please, may I squeeze by you?” if I’m feeling particularly verbose.

    While I can’t guarantee your results, no one on MARTA has ever given me issues for wanting to sit down, and if you go in with the attitude that you just need to step by them, they probably won’t. If you go in with the attitude that they are obviously being over-entitled, then they may sense it — and if they do, could be more likely to respond aggressively in return. Give it a try tomorrow, and let us know how it works! 😉

  • Din December 26, 2012, 5:10 pm

    I completely disagree, Admin. I use subway and/or bus nearly every day, and frequently put my handbag or groceries on the seat next to me. At most this young woman may have been a bit slow in moving her bag once she saw the bus was getting crowded, but she did note that there were plenty of other empty seats. The proper etiquette if you want to sit in a specific seat that someone has occupied with an inanimate object is to use your polite spine and simply say “excuse me”, which alerts the owner of said inanimate object that you would like to sit in its place. If anyone was being passive agressive it was the father/passenger.

  • Michele K. December 26, 2012, 5:31 pm

    I have to go with the majority on this. When I was in school and often took the bus to get around, the normal procedure was to put your backpack/purse, etc. in the seat next to you. If the bus started to get crowded, I expected to give up that seat to someone getting on. I saw this on Greyhound buses, private buses, and city buses. Some buses do not have the room or a secure area (overhead bins, tight underseat stowage) to put stuff. It is easier to put it on the empty seat next to you than try to hold it on your lap.

    Should she have been more ready to move her things? Maybe. Was she being a thief trying to take money from the bus company by using the seat for her things? No.

    The gentlemen who made the P/A comment was rude because of his comments and his actions. He waited until the OP was moving her backpack due to his silent signal of wanting the seat, then he walked off and made a rude comment.

  • Jays December 26, 2012, 5:58 pm

    I also agree with the OP. She was moving the bag … which until that point had not inconvenienced anyone. The guy was rude. Why the nasty comment? Why not just ask? Politeness goes both ways.

    And, really, why assume she was sighing “copiously in indignation?”

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