One Ticket, Two Seats

by admin on December 26, 2012

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.

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