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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.

  • Jen December 26, 2012, 6:43 pm

    I also disagree with the admin. I’ve seen stuff stolen on buses and trains all the time, so if I can avoid placing my bag where I can’t see it, I will. The OP was moving her stuff as soon as requested, so there was nothing passive aggressive here. I ride the bus all the time and people put their bags next to them, then move them for other people. I know that putting the bag in your lap causes extra back strain, so I don’t see a problem with waiting until the seat is needed at all.

  • Serena December 26, 2012, 6:46 pm

    Seriously? All of this over a backpack in a seat on a bus? We have a saying for that in my family: pole-vaulting over mouse droppings.

  • Rap December 26, 2012, 6:54 pm

    No, if the dad said ” College *girls* need to be more considerate of others” then he was clearly including the OP in his assessment. If she was moving her stuff to accomadate others, regardless of whether the other girl wasn’t, Dad was rude to act as though she wasn’t moving her things.

  • SS December 26, 2012, 6:55 pm

    I use public transit every day in a large city. I see daily selfishness of using extra seats for bags, purses, etc that can easily sit on a lap while people are forced to stand due to a lack of seats. Even if there are still 5 or 6 seats available, it is selfishness to keep your belongings on the side seat. You are basically saying that YOU shouldn’t have to share seats unless forced to…. everyone else should have to share theirs first. A person getting onto the public transit should not have to enlist your cooperation in order to be allowed to sit down. The seat is not yours to control the access to. I never ask someone to move their belongings because I am afraid that if they are aggressive/rude enough to ignore the basic courtesy in the first place (and ignore all the constant announcements that TELL them not to put their items on the seat next to them) then it might not be safe to engage them. You say that YOU are willing to move your belongings, but there are cases where a person become extremely belligerent when asked to move belongings and I’m not willing to take the risk.

  • Kate December 26, 2012, 8:59 pm

    Wow, I disagree completely! In the interests of not repeating what others have said about sitting bags next to oneself, which, where I live is standard operating procedure, I will forge on. Our honored Admin’s last statement seems to me to state that the OP deserves EHell for wondering why the man specifically wanted the seat she was using when there were plenty of other seats empty. Well I guess I belong in EHell too! As far as I am concerned, and from what I have seen of other commuters, you take what seat you can get. As long as you are not disabled, you are not entitled to a specific seat. If there is any empty seat at the front, you sit in the front, if there is a side seat free, you take it and are grateful you got a seat! Trying to get a specific seat and asking someone else to move themselves or their belongings is the height of EHell, to me and from what I can tell, where I live. I have never been asked to move my belongings when there are free seats available, and when people come on the bus I automatically move my backpack to my lap. In addition, if this man was wanting to sit next to this boy, I think that is kind of rude too. I don’t see why this man couldn’t have sat across the aisle from this young boy, it is not as though he was an infant or likely to be kidnapped sitting across the aisle. Never, in all the time I have been riding public transportation, have I seen a person with a child ask someone to move so they can sit together, the sole exceptions being infant carseats or strollers. I believe the man in this scenario belongs in EHell, and the OP in EHeaven!

  • Kate December 26, 2012, 9:00 pm

    I wanted to add to my previous comment that of course the disabled, pregnant, and elderly should get seats, but that only the disabled should get specific seats. And by law where I live they do, the seats closest to the front of the bus.

  • Chris December 26, 2012, 9:41 pm

    I agree 100% with your original comment, Admin. In fact, I was afraid to read it at first thinking you would give the OP a complete pass. Father and young son, bus filling up, no action until it became visible that someone might actually need a seat they paid for and dragging out the packing up. It was incredibly rude of her and I hope she at least considers it next time. Or will she write in again in a few years to let you know how frustrating and rude it was that no one offered to change their seats so she and her young child could sit together.

  • Kendra December 26, 2012, 9:50 pm

    With all due respect, Admin, I’m not sure we’re reading the same submission. In your comments, you said you assumed that “this was a Greyhound bus”. Why do you assume that? From the OP’s description, it sounds like a regular city bus with the typical forward facing seats of two seats-aisle-two seats. Then in your comment #40, “On a tight, six seat per row bus (3 seats, aisle, 3 seats)” I’m having a hard time picturing this. How can you have three seats in a row on a city bus and still have room to fit your whole rear end in one seat? But using this math you then went on to say “four seats out of six are being held not by people but by backpacks.” How did each girl go from using one seat next to them for their backpack to each using two seats for their backpacks?

    I’m also a little confused on how you “buy two seats” on a city bus. I’m sure you could pay the busdriver the bus fare twice, but you don’t get a ticket. And when, the bus gets crowded, you can and likely will be asked to move your stuff from the seat you “bought”, and no one will care when you try to explain that you overpaid your fare so your stuff could have it’s own seat. And yes, I’ve seen bus drivers intervene sometimes when the bus is really crowded, someone gets on who really needs a seat (disabled, elderly, pregnant) and the only seat left is the one your stuff is in. Unlike an airplane or a theater, you don’t buy a seat on a bus, you buy the right to ride on the bus, seat not guaranteed. So, since you aren’t actually buying a seat, double paying your fare seems kind of……….silly?

    As far as people making assumptions, yes, the whole submission is an assumption. The OP had her backpack on the seat next to her, some guy stops and stares at her, then makes nasty comment and moves on. She is ASSUMING that he was annoyed that she didn’t move fast enough. But since he didn’t use his words like a grownup, she really doesn’t know. CattToo may have it right that he expected her to give up her seat, and was annoyed when she didn’t. For all the OP or WE know, he could have just as easily been annoyed that she didn’t start tap dancing and whistling Dixie when he stopped and stared at her.

    Where did “circumstances of the passengers to the front of the bus that she believes had a duty to yield their seats before she needed to” come from. She never said that she expected other passengers to yield their seats, just that he had passed several empty seats that he could have sat in before he got to her row, so she didn’t understand why he was acting like she had the only seat left on the bus, that doesn’t make her entitled.

    Sorry, Admin, I feel you jumped on the OP way too early and way too hard for her perceived entitlement. Your comments just don’t seem to fit with the situation or the submission (the way I’m reading it).

    @yankeegall77, wow, your comment really hit a button with me
    “If people want more room and an empty lap, either prioritize what to bring or better yet, take a car. ”
    That is an awfully bold statement. Many people don’t or can’t drive. So what are they to do then? I had a long period in my life where I couldn’t afford a car. My son was very young, so we would ride the bus to his school then I would take another bus to get to work. There were many times we were loaded down with his school projects, my work, his backpack, my purse. So what were we supposed to leave behind? We tried not to spread out, but sometimes we couldn’t help it. Luckily, the bus to his school wasn’t a heavily used route and the bus was rarely even half full, so we did have some room.

    I was also confused by this comment “There have been times where I’ve been completely loaded down; I try to either make the train early to accommodate my items” In my experience on the bus, getting to the bus stop early just meant that you had longer to wait for the bus to arrive, it didn’t help you have more room for your stuff.

    OP, I don’t see where you did anything wrong. You don’t really know what that man’s comment was really about and to whom it was really directed. Just chalk it up to “you meet all kinds on the bus” and go on with your day. Remind me to tell you of the time some guy almost puked on me on the bus. The busdriver had to physically pull him out of the seat and kick him off the bus.

  • girl_with_all_the_yarn December 26, 2012, 10:13 pm

    I spend about 2-3 hours every day on public transportation because I live an hour away from work and take the commuter train. Thusly, I have come up with a rule of thumb.

    If you have a very large bag, are traveling alone, and the train is less than half full, feel free to set your bag on the empty seat next to you. At every stop take a look around to be sure there aren’t a pile of people coming (I say this because on my super early, 5am commuter train there will often only be one or two people boarding at a time and plenty of single seats). As soon as the train or bus hits the halfway full mark or a large group of any clustering (meaning single riders, pairs, or the whole thing is one group, doesn’t matter) gets on, put your bag at your feet or your lap. And alway always always keep your belongings contained. If you can’t pick it all up in one fell swoop, you’re doing it wrong.

    OP, while I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with using an open seat for your bag, you needed to realize that you were really pushing it by waiting that long to get your bag out of the seat. It’s a matter of timing. If the bus was really empty, no one would have noticed or cared. But the seat real estate is closing up fast and you’re taking up valuable sitting space.

  • Stephanie December 26, 2012, 11:43 pm

    Where are you, admin, that buses have three seats on each side of the aisle? Every bus I’ve been on only has two seats per side, making the purported “seat-hogging” behavior far less egregious.

    • admin December 27, 2012, 2:36 am

      The newer Greyhound bus models have 4 seats across a row. Older ones or those used on shorter trips have the six seaters. I think a lot of commenters are not reading the OP’s story with comprehension. She states that she seatd herself halfway down the bus and by the time Dad boards, the bus is now 3/4 full. The OP complains that Dad had a choice of “3 or 4” seats BEFORE getting to her row so, if this was a standard 13 row, 4 seats across bus, this is what thelikely scenario was (“X” indicating a passenger and “__” an empty seat:

      X _X
      XX X_
      XX XX
      XX XX
      _X XX
      XX _X
      _X X_ OP, her packback and other college student and her packback in this row, halfway down the bus

      Logistically there is no row Dad and son can sit together until they reach the OP.

      Further, the OP states that the bus was 3/4 full at the time of the incident. If it is a standard 52 seat, 13 row bus, then that means there were approximately 12 seats unoccupied, less than one per row. Yet the OP and the other college student are in a row where there are actually TWO empty seats that a father and son could sit together.

      So, the seat hogging is pretty egregious, in my opinion.

  • Cat Whisperer December 27, 2012, 12:26 am

    Just a kind of side comment about this issue: putting items on a seat next to you on any bus, train, or airplane is a potential safety hazard as well as an etiquette issue.

    Specifically on a bus: if the driver has to make an emergency stop, or in the event of a crash, that backpack on the seat beside you is going to become a projectile that could do great injury to anyone who gets hit by it. The heavier the backpack, the greater the risk.

    Also, if the bus has to be evacuated quickly after an emergency stop or a crash, the unsecured backpack could impede people trying to get out if it lands in the aisle or blocks a row of seats.

    Yes, an accident is an unlikely possibility. But accidents do happen. Aside from the discourtesy of taking up space that may be needed by other passengers who board later, it’s just a lot safer to stow your backpack under a seat or in a luggage rack meant for bags than to leave it lying on a seat.

    (FWIW, the safety aspect applies to automobiles, too. This is something I never thought about until a friend of mine was in a car accident and a book that had been lying on a back seat went flying and hit her while the car was spinning out of control. Anything that’s loose in a vehicle becomes a projectile when there’s a sudden stop or an accident.)

  • Mer December 27, 2012, 1:59 am

    I’m also with those who mostly agrees with admin. I see nothing wrong using free seat next to you if there is plenty of space left. Outside rush hours some of the routes I take might only have few passengers and well, around here it’s borderline rude to sit next to someone when there are reachable free pair of seats. Nobody expects old grannies to walk to the back of the bus if only there are free pair of seats but if you are a lone passenger in the bus and stranger sits next to you, it is seen rather scary and aggressive act. (And because of that, it usually really is so as considerate people avoid to do that so it lefts said action to drunkards and other not so composed people.)

    That being said, after there is certain level of filled seats, it will be socially acceptable to sit next to someone. After that, if you are using the seat next to you for a bag, I personally think that you should remove the bag immediately when buss pulls to stop from which it takes more passengers. When all of those are seated, I would say that it is okay to put your bag again next to you, but same action should be repeated on next stop. Before this level is reached, I feel it is not mandatory to remove your bag as it wont be acceptable to sit next to you anyway. However it’s kind of fine line and acting sooner than later is always better here.

    I feel for those who at this time of year travel with bags. Buss floors are sloshing with water as passengers carry a lot of snow in their feet which of course will melt on the floor. Paper bags would be unusable after short time on such floor as the bottom would broke after getting wet and textile bags of most sort would get so wet that also things inside might be ruined. So I rather stand than force anyone with several bags (which can’t fit in lap) to put them on the floor. Of course I have this option as my health allows it, but I know that standing over half an hour in moving buss might be very difficult for someone, so not expecting anyone else to do it.

  • Mer December 27, 2012, 2:12 am

    @Cat Whisperer: That is very true and should be done when possible, but at least here those options are only available for buss and train routes between cities. Local buses don’t have luggage racks and often seats are attached so that there is no space under them.

    And about those who take the seat near aisle and left the window seat “free”, I just usually assume that they have trouble to squeeze there due to health issues. As often they are older people, they might have trouble with joints and so on. It is sometimes difficult for me to squeeze there if the space is very confined.

  • Jen December 27, 2012, 6:03 am

    I think what is commonly done here does matter, though, because if you freak out at someone over something that is commonly done, you ARE in the wrong. Sure, people may commonly do things that you think are rude, but that doesn’t mean it’s much, much ruder to call someone selfish over something that is standard practice on most buses.

  • SS December 27, 2012, 8:47 am

    Oh… and I would like to address one other comment the poster made, complaining that the people passed several empty seats. When I get on the bus with a lot of people getting on behind me at the same time, I immediately head toward the back. It is far more polite to take the seats furthest in so that everyone can get seated faster. It annoys the heck out of me to have to stand and wait for each person in front of me to stop, turn around, unload, then sit while I’m standing behind them waiting to get past in order to get seated. Since each person boarding tends to do this with the first seat that they see, it’s dangerous because the bus driver starts driving right away so everyone who has just gotten on is stuck trying to stand and hang on and balance while waiting for everyone in front of them to get settled into their seats. By immediately moving to the back, that allows everyone getting on at the same time behind me to get seated faster and safer.

  • OP December 27, 2012, 8:53 am

    OP here. To admin I just wanted to say I apologize if you got a tone of entitlement from this story, I certainly did not mean it to come across that way. I in no way feel like I was entitled to a second seat, I was just putting my bag there while it was unoccupied. I was more than happy to move it if it looked crowded. I said the part about the empty seats to show that it was not too crowded, I did not assume or expect the man should sit in one of them over this one. Reading through the comments I can see I probably should have moved it before they even boarded, but at the time the bus did look pretty empty to me.

    I can’t say what the man was thinking, but I am very sure I was not huffing or eye rolling or anything like that when moving the bag. I also didn’t know the girl across from me, but would have moved to sit next to her if he wanted two seats together for him and his son. I in no way meant that “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.” Since I’m not a mind reader, I don’t know if that’s what he wanted, but like I said, I would have been happy to move if he made any indication he wanted it. This whole exchange took maybe 15 seconds, so it was over quickly.

    Also, quick thing about the bus. It’s not really a Greyhound style bus. Seating wise somewhat, but otherwise it is very much like a local city bus that runs the exact same route multiple times a day. There are no overhead luggage racks. You cannot buy tickets online or in advance, you just show up at the bus stop and pay the fare ($3) as you board the bus. I’m pretty sure the driver would laugh me off sidewalk if I said I wanted to pay an extra fare for my bag.

  • Rap December 27, 2012, 9:34 am

    I’m sorry, how is it “seat hogging” if the OP was moving her stuff?

    I think that’s my disconnect here on calling out the OP for being a rude little seat hogger, selfishly stealing someone’s paid for seat. The OP saw someone coming who might need a seat and began moving her stuff, and since she wasn’t moving fast enough for the person who never actually asked for the seat, she deserves to burn in Etiquette Hell and must accept a very rude rebuke from some guy who made a crack about her gender?

    “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.”

    Admin, I’m sorry – I’ve read thru the thread and I don’t see anyone saying their backpack having a special seat is more important than a child sitting with their father. Could this bus goer have moved her backpack a bit sooner? Maybe… but I don’t think she deserved to be called rude by the dad with the kid, and I really don’t see where she was being an egregious seat hog… and I am not seeing anyone suggesting the backpack deserved the seat more than the new passengers.

  • Bint December 27, 2012, 10:55 am

    Did everyone miss the bit where even had Dad not been there, there were *two elderly men* waiting behind him for seats, who had to ask the girls if those seats were taken? Yet she doesn’t complain about them walking past all the empty ones, funnily enough.

    If the bus had so many free seats before her, and she was so fast moving, why did they have to ask? Something doesn’t add up here.

  • Library Diva December 27, 2012, 11:43 am

    I’d vote that neither side covered themselves in glory here. OP should have been more aware of her surroundings. It’s fine to turn the vacant seat next to you into your own personal desk when there’s only a handful of other people on the bus, but you have to be aware of how the bus is filling up and vacate your “office” accordingly. However, the father was unnecessarily harsh in his phrasing. A simple “Could you please move your bag so my son and I can sit down” would have sufficed just fine. I agree with the commentor who said that he probably made the nasty remark because he found college girls an easy target for his frustration, after walking past other, possibly more belligerent-looking people who were also taking up a seat with their possessions.

  • Jared Bascomb December 27, 2012, 11:54 am

    Admin – Exactly where did the OP state that she was riding a Greyhound bus? She specifically stated that it was a regional commuter bus (ie, intercity). Where I live, those buses are somewhat cushier than standard city buses but are still only two seats on either side of the aisle.
    Also, why do Dad and son have to sit next to each other? I’ve seen such pairs sitting across the aisle from each other, and in fact, Junior thinks it’s a thrill to be riding “by himself”.
    I’m with the majority of the commenters: on all the various forms of public transit I’ve been on all around Europe and the urban US, you move your bags when the transit becomes crowded or when an older, disabled, or pregnant person needs the seat. OP did nothing wrong.

  • Cat Whisperer December 27, 2012, 12:02 pm

    Reading through the comments, it seems that a lot of people believe that it’s acceptable to make a subjective judgement on whether it’s okay to leave their backpack. The reasoning seems to be: even though I only paid for one seat, it’s okay to use more than one as long as nobody else needs the extra seat(s) I’m using.

    The problem with that kind of reasoning is that it gets you into into making value judgements: at what point does your convenience override the right of someone else to choose the seat your backpack is occupying? If you decide that it’s sometimes okay to not move your backpack, when does it become not okay?

    When there are no other empty seats on the bus except the seat where your backpack is? Most people will accept that it’s discourteous to not move your backpack at that point.

    If the entire bus is empty and every other seat is available, is it rude of the other person to expect you to move your backpack so you can sit beside them? Most people would say it’s rude, they’ve got the whole rest of the bus to choose from, why must they displace your backpack?

    But things are rarely ever that clear. What if the reality is that you’ve put your backpack on the seat beside you because you know the bus goes through a neighborhood where the people who will be getting on make you uneasy because they aren’t of the same race, or economic status, or ethnicity as you are, and you don’t want one of them sitting next to you? What if the reality is that very young school kids will be getting on at later stops, and you don’t like “Romper Room” going on next to you, so you don’t want a kid sitting next to you unless there is absolutely no other seat on the bus available?

    What if the bus is entirely empty except for you, but you’re sitting right behind the bus driver, and the person who is getting on the bus is blind or in some other way handicapped, and needs to sit in that row too so the driver can tell him/her what the stops are or otherwise provide assistance?

    And when you get down to the point where the bus is filling up, and other people are also using their backpacks or briefcases to keep the seats next to them empty, how do you decide which person has to put their backpack away first and let someone have the seat next to them? Are you more worthy of an extra (unpaid) seat because you’re studying for a big test in your Ethics 101 class than the middle-aged woman reading a romance novel? What about the little old lady with arthritis who wants to keep her row clear because she has trouble getting up? Should she give up her (unpaid) extra seat because it inconveniences her less than it would inconvenience you?

    At some point, once you start making value judgements about your inconvenience relative to someone else’s need for the seat next to you, things really start getting murky. And very clearly, there comes a point where your judgement that it’s okay for you to keep a seat you haven’t paid for crosses over from “okay” to “not okay.” And very clearly, not everyone is going to agree on what point that is.

    …So isn’t it better, all things considered, to just avoid getting tangled up in value judgements and stick with the one thing that IS crystal-clear: you paid for one seat on the bus. So you’re only entitled to use one seat. So you should hold your backpack (or briefcase, or grocery bag, or stuffed animal, or whatever) on your lap, or stow it under the seat, or place it in the rack where it’s supposed to be. And not have to get into the shades-of-gray area of deciding when your convenience overrides someone else’s right to a seat you haven’t paid for.

    All of the objections people have made to keeping their backpack on their lap or stowing it properly are specious, IMO. The floor of the bus gets wet in the winter? Fine, keep the backpack on your lap. Or pack a small towel in the backpack so you can wipe it dry. Holding the backpack makes you uncomfortable? Well, sometimes we have to endure a little discomfort in the name of good manners.

    The point is, you do the right thing (using just the seat you paid for) because it’s the right thing. When you read the submissions people make on this website, it’s pretty evident that most of the problems that people run into are because someone considered their convenience, or self-interest, was more important than other people’s.

    Figure out what the right thing to do is, and then do it. If you stick to that, you’re pretty certain to never end up on the wrong side of etiquette.

  • Michelle December 27, 2012, 12:33 pm

    If OP did not purchase the seat, then it is not hers to offer (as in “Would you like to sit here?). It is the other passenger’s to take.

  • Mgirl December 27, 2012, 1:08 pm

    I’d like to point out that, IMHO, there are indeed times when bus riders should be allowed to use seats for bags, packages, etc. I’m thinking specifically of low-income people in urban areas (at least, those in the US) who take buses for grocery and other kinds of shopping because a) they can’t afford a car and b) in many cases the only areas where they can afford to live are “food deserts” where access to quality, nutritious food is severely limited. In these cases, people might be forced to take the bus for over an hour while trying to transport multiple bags. City buses usually don’t have overhead racks, and with buses constantly making stops bags placed on the floor can easily tip over (if there’s even any room down there).

    In cases like these, I think it’s the polite thing to do, if you’re able-bodied and not also encumbered, to stand or look for another seat rather than insist on someone move all their bags from seat to lap. Having to rely on buses to accomplish your shopping needs can’t be pleasant, so why not make someone’s life just a little bit easier? It’s very privileged if you’re in better circumstances to insist that an over-burdened person move for you.

    Oh, and as other people have commented on when to move your bags: my rule of thumb for bag on seat vs. bag on lap is that once every row has at least one person sitting in it, it’s time to move your stuff. Any fewer people than that and your bag is OK to occupy the seat next to you 🙂

  • CatToo December 27, 2012, 1:16 pm

    admin wrote: “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.”

    I take no issue with the idea that the OP needed to have moved his/her stuff more quickly and have been more considerate about trying to help this man find a solution rather than fobbing it off on him to see if he could get lucky elsewhere. The problems I have with your original response to this post, are that A) I feel that you were overly harsh in your condemnation of her, making your own assumptions about what the LW may or may not have been doing and exaggerating an effect that was not necessarily in play, and speaking from that point of view; and B) You could easily have addressed the fact that yes – he was out of line for HOW he addressed it with her, and validated that what he said was particularly rude in the context he said it in *no matter* that he had a valid basis for his frustration. You might have even addressed why he felt so frustrated as to feel that it was his only option for addressing the situation he saw. The lack of those things hindered rather than helped the underlying understanding of the etiquette situation in my opinion.

    Personally, I still feel that it is also likely that he spoke specifically to the two of them because they were the “easiest” or “weakest” targets on the bus, people that he could “safely” get away with speaking to in such a way. I would have liked to see some addressing of that, even while making it clear that the OP was still out of line for their judgment about when their bag needed to be moved.

    fwiw, I ride the NYC subway and bus on a daily basis, and while I do see both the avoidance behaviors you describe and the sometime lack of willingness to ask for accommodation, I see far more instances of people asking for things to be moved and responses of those things being moved. This includes scooting over in the seat, closing legs together so that there is access to as seat, and bags moved and even children held on laps. I see these things every day, and I see offers to help people sit together, to allow an elderly/pregnant/particularly tired looking person a seat, etc.

    So while I acknowledge the behavior that the writer you speak of found in her study does exist, I quibble with her conclusion that it is a universal or majority function. What I would not quibble with is that I am seeing it occur more frequently, in the same way that I am more regularly seeing cars park to take up one spot that is in reality two spots, to prevent their vehicles from being damaged by other cars which are also being street-parked.

  • The Elf December 27, 2012, 1:28 pm

    SS, while I agree that no one should put their stuff on the other seat while people are standing (I always remove mine when the train car/bus is 1/2-2/3 full), I think you’d be surprised how few other-seat-users would respond aggressively if asked to move. I think most are like me, and see no harm in the practice so long as there are lots of other seats available. If you want that seat for whatever reason, please just ask. Ideally, I would have pre-emptively moved it, but just in case I’m slow on the uptake, there’s no need to sit elsewhere! Please ask.

    In my many, many years of public transportation, I’ve asked people to move their belongings (or move so I can get to the window seat) many times. I have never encountered a refusal. Maybe I’m just lucky.

  • The Elf December 27, 2012, 1:31 pm

    Girl with all the yarn, I completely agree. This is mostly a matter of timing, and that’s where the OP failed.

  • Katie December 27, 2012, 1:53 pm

    Just wanted to add (in repsonse to admin): I don’t see any comments suggesting that the child and the dad should have been separated to allow the backpack to remain on the seat?? Or have I missed something here?

    And I certainly don’t see any suggestion in the tone that the OP thought she was superior because she’s a grad student… her comment seemed just to be setting up some context (e.g. ‘I am a paralegal working in London, UK’, or ‘I am a waitress at a small rural cafe’, etc- all of which are pretty usual ways of starting stories on here).

  • StephC December 27, 2012, 2:47 pm

    @SS, totally agreed with everything you said 100%.

  • Ellen December 27, 2012, 5:35 pm

    I don’t disagree with Admin on the seat-hogging issue, but I do feel that OP could easily have redeemed herself from Ehell with a simple gracious comment:

    “Excuse me, I hadn’t noticed we were so full. Would you like to sit here?”

  • Amanda H. December 27, 2012, 9:23 pm

    In the OP’s defense, I read the comment about the father passing 3 or 4 empty seats as a remark about how he didn’t make a comment about rudeness about them, but the “college girls” (one of whom, at least, was already moving her bag before he made the comment) were fair game. Not that the OP felt entitled to the seat and felt that the father should have occupied the other seats first, but that it looked like he was singling her and the other girl out specifically for his passive-agressive complaint. I saw no indication of OP feeling entitled to the seat, myself.

    I can see how moving a backpack can take more than just a few seconds without needing to be repacked as well, as OP didn’t say she had to repack it, only that it was stuffed full of laptop, notes (presumably in notebooks or binders), and clothes. Depending on the backpack size and just how much paper goods are in it, that can be a very heavy, bulky backpack to move. Yes, OP should have been a bit more aware of people getting on the bus and already prepped herself for moving the bag before the father even stopped by the seat, especially if her row was the first feasible place for father and son to sit together (even if there’s an aisle between them), but I’m in the camp that agrees that the father should have asked politely. “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” as the saying goes.

    In short, I think that both sides have room for improvement, OP in her awareness and speed with moving her bags, and the father with how he handles himself on mostly-full transit with his son in tow.

    On a final note, I do wonder what passengers are to do with large bags when the bus doesn’t have convenient luggage racks? I took a series of passenger buses two states over a few months ago, riding a total of six different coaches on the two-way trip, and at most only half of them actually had luggage racks above the seats. Also, OP mentioned that she was riding the bus from her school to the airport, which depending on the distance may have only been a city transit bus…and far less than half of the city transit buses I’ve ridden have luggage racks. What to do in those situations when there’s no conveniant overhead space and the floors are covered in muddy slush because it’s winter? I really do want to know.

  • Cat Whisperer December 27, 2012, 9:41 pm

    @Jen said:

    “…I think what is commonly done here does matter, though, because if you freak out at someone over something that is commonly done, you ARE in the wrong….”

    …So that means that if you were riding on a bus and the “commonly done” thing was for people of different races to be required to ride on different parts of the bus, it would be in the wrong for someone to “freak out” over that? That it would be okay if people of one race had to crowd into the back of the bus, and even have to stand when there were seats available in the front of the bus, because the “commonly done” thing was to require people of their race to not sit in the section reserved for people of other race? The person who got freaked out over that would be in the wrong?

    ….That if the “commonly done” thing was to assume that a young woman who went into certain kinds of businesses (a bar, for example) without a male escort was a hooker, and she was fair game for any male to harrass or demean, it would be wrong for someone to get in a tizzy about the assumption?

    …That if the “commonly done” thing was to require people of a specific religious belief to wear something like, say, a Star of David pinned to their clothes so they could be singled out for different treatment than other people, someone who said “hey, that’s just wrong,” is out of line?

    Jen, things that are morally or ethically wrong are wrong without regard for whether everyone is doing it or everyone agrees that it’s wrong. When you decide that your convenience gives you the right to prevent or discourage someone from taking a seat beside you on the bus that you didn’t pay for, that is just WRONG. You are putting yourself in the position of deciding that you have a right to put your needs/wants/convenience above someone else’s right to get what they paid for: the right to choose any seat on the bus that isn’t occupied by another fare-paying person.

    If you take the viewpoint that you have the right to prevent someone from taking a seat that you haven’t paid for because there are other seats available, isn’t that presumptuous of you? What gives a person the right to exercise proprietary power over something they haven’t paid for? And where do you the draw the line? For example, what if everyone else on the bus objects to the appearance of someone who wants to get on the bus? Does “majority rule” mean that the bus driver has to tell that person they can’t get on the bus? By your statement, it would be okay for that to happen as long as everyone went along with it, and the person who objected to it would be the person who is in the wrong.

    Doesn’t that seem even a little teeny bit unfair, or wrong, to you?

    Things that are wrong, are wrong in and of themselves. The fact that a zillion people go along with something that’s wrong doesn’t make it right. That’s a basic and central tenet of moral and ethical thinking. And it is possible for a practice to be prevalent and customary and still be absolutely wrong. Thank God for people like Rosa Parks who decide to go against custom and prevalent practice and “freak out” over something that’s wrong, and decide to make a scene because they think it’s just time someone did something about a customary practice that happens to be wrong.

  • Kate December 28, 2012, 4:39 am

    I get that it’s annoying when there are other empty seats and someone sits right next to you, but it’s PUBLIC transport. You have to deal with other people who have just as much right to choose a seat as you do. Unless you’re buying a ticket for your bag, it doesn’t get a seat (unless of course there are, like, four people on a 50 seater bus).
    I do sympathise with you on the height issue. I’m a tall woman too – a bit over 5’11. When I travel, I usually keep my bag on my lap because there is no room at my feet. Again, however, the fact that public transport seating is designed for people half our height doesn’t give us the right to infringe on others’ space.

  • The Elf December 28, 2012, 7:04 am

    Did you really just compare a backpack on the seat with institutional racism and sexual harrassment? Really?

  • The Elf December 28, 2012, 7:06 am

    …And the Holocaust? The Holocaust?!


    You don’t think that’s a little like comparing apples and oranges? It’s a backpack on a seat.

  • Jen December 28, 2012, 7:47 am

    Wow. I wasn’t referring to moral or ethically wrong, we’re talking about putting your stuff on the seat next to you on the bus. Which lots of people, especially little old ladies, tend to do on the bus. Heck, I’ve stood on the bus so a little old lady doesn’t have to hold her bag, because I’m a healthy adult where a lady with a cane probably needs the seat.

    So if someone yelled at that little old lady for putting her stuff on the seat, I’d be really angry.

  • --Lia December 28, 2012, 11:01 am

    I’m glad for Cat Whisper’s and Jen’s back and forth discussion because it helps me clarify the issue in my own mind. From what I can tell, the question is whether taking up 2 seats is a moral wrong (akin to race segregation) or an etiquette issue (akin to gentlemen standing when a lady comes into the room). If it’s a moral wrong, it’s wrong whether or not times and manners change. If it’s an etiquette issue, it really does matter what the custom is. (Chopsticks or forks? Fork held in the left all the time or switched from left to right? The right way is the way your dining companions are doing it.) To my way of thinking, the backpack on the bus seat issue is one that does depend on custom, but I said as much earlier and won’t belabor the point. (Has anyone else done a count? I’m fully of the opinion that the majority can be wrong, but in this case I don’t think so. It’s roughly 3:1 in favor of putting the backpack on the spare seat and moving it swiftly when it looks like the seat might be wanted.)

  • Meow December 28, 2012, 11:08 am

    Maybe things aren’t always clear, but the reality of it is if someone asks you to move your bag on an empty bus or subway chances are good you don’t want to be next to that person, unless you’re in a priority seating area. For the record even as a thoughtless teenager I didn’t put my stuff on the seat beside me, I was afraid of nodding off and having my stuff stolen. Anyway, when I was 15 or 16 I was riding home from summer school on a pretty empty subway, there were maybe 3 or 4 other people in the car but at the other end. An older guy gets on and sits down right beside me. I was in one of the forward facing 2 seats beside the window (not priority seating, he would have passed priority to get to where I was). I thought it was strange but didn’t want to be insulting by getting up immediately so I sat there for 2 very uncomfortable stops while he was rubbing his leg against mine. On the second stop as soon as the door opened I jumped up as though I had *almost* missed my stop, intending on just getting on the next subway. He got off the subway as well and that’s when panic set in. Thankfully another train had pulled into the station going the other way so I figured I’d rather look rude like I was trying to get away from him instead of hanging out on an empty platform with him.

    So my reality, if I need to sit (which is rare, I usually try to stand with my back against something, I start getting very panicky when being touched by others on all sides…) I sit in the outside seat if a single one isn’t available. I position my knees facing out more so it’s intentional looking that if someone would like to sit at the window I’ll be more than happy to let them pass, but I do NOT ever want to feel trapped like that. You can think what you want about me, that I’m rude or whatever, but my reality is I don’t want to be in a position where I am trapped.

    Even single seats could be awkard though. The old Toronto subways used to have bench seats (i loved those cars, they were so comfy) and since I lived at the end of the line I loved getting the only single seat per car behind the driver box, it was just a little extra room so I could shove my backback under my arm and cross my legs if I wanted to. As soon as it would start to fill up though I would uncross my legs to not become a tripping hazzard and pull my backback into my lap to assume my morning sleep position. Next thing I know some guy squishes himself in beside me, and I mean squish. I’m an average size girl, he was very slight, I guess I had made myself so small in the seat and he thought he’d share my single seat. That was odd. it didn’t make me feel icky like that other guy did, but after that if I got a single seat I made sure not to make myself too small, because really that was odd.

    Even without the icky story of mine, I don’t see the problem of putting your bag beside you in one of those greyhound type busses. at 5’5″ I find those seats pretty cramped, I can’t imagine what it’s like with 5 more inches of leg like OP. If the bus practically empty I don’t see why you need to make yourself as uncomfortable as possible in the chances the bus would get packed enough on your long trip to necessitate moving your bag. Yes it filled more at each stop, so when it got to 2/3rds full she noticed. The OP states the bag was about halfway on her lap when the man made that comment, he would have seen her moving it. Why is she the villain here when without being asked to she was already clearing room? Is the only way to be in the clear etiquette wise is to make yourself a martyr at every situation? To squish yourself into something so tiny to make sure you are so out of the way you’re practically invisable? She was clearing it. He didn’t even have to ask. She wasn’t giving him attitude/snark/a hard time. He’s the one that made a general sweeping p/a comment about an entire group of people.

  • Kit December 28, 2012, 11:51 am

    @Cat Whisperer about potential safety hazard of bags – I guess people usually wear safety belts through all their bus rides where you live. They don’t where I do 🙁 so I don’t feel that a loose bag is a bigger safety hazard than a loose (and much heavier) human being.

  • Library Diva December 28, 2012, 1:19 pm

    @Cat Whisperer, I see that as a rather gross distortion of what Jen was saying. Taking up an empty seat with a backpack does not rise anywhere near the level of forcing Jews to wear a Star of David, and I can’t believe you’d even compare the two. Your examples differ from the one in the OP in that the “customs” you outlined are designed to cause harm to a person or a group, whereas the “custom” in the OP is merely a matter of slightly selfish convenience. It’s also a temptation that I can’t believe anyone who’s taken public transit regularly has never yielded to. If I’m the sole person in a subway car with a floor covered in slushy, salty melted snow and I’ve got my expensive leather briefcase with me, you’d better believe that sucker’s going on the seat next to me. Sorry, I just can’t see this as much of a moral issue, and I’m frankly surprised that it’s attracted so much passion from both sides.

  • Leslie December 28, 2012, 1:23 pm

    Love seeing this discussed. I travel frequently by public transit- as far as I am concerned I’ve paid for one seat. Of course there are times when my bag is next to me- but if the bus is 3/4 of the way full, it is on my lap or at my feet. I was once taking the train from JFK into NYC and a young man, college student age, was taking up more than his fair share of seats- probably sprawled about 3 across with bags and what not, while many folks were standing. I finally called him out on it and he said that I was rude, that traveling takes a lot out of a person. Well, yes it does- that is why you don’t take up more than your fair share.

  • Snowy December 28, 2012, 5:37 pm

    Am I the only one who thought the father was just talking about the other girl, who didn’t move her bag at all?

    Maybe in part of the States the OP would’ve been considered rude for using the empty seat for her bag, but in most of the States–and much of the world–the OP was *not* rude to do so. She moved her bag *without prompting* as soon as she thought he might want to sit there–something he did not voice–and it was only less than swift because of weight, not because she was spread out.

    The girl across the aisle was rude to not immediately clear off the seat next to her as well when the pair stopped.

    The father’s comment was rude and passive-aggressive (more aggressive, less passive). I also wonder if he hadn’t wanted one of the girls to move across the aisle so he and his son could sit side by side, and if so, judging them for not being able to read his mind is also rude.

    This looks like a case where location/culture really plays in. Admin’s experience with public transportation etiquette may say one thing, but for much of the world, it’s something entirely different.

  • Mabel December 28, 2012, 7:20 pm

    girl_with_all_the_yarn’s comment #58 is spot on. You do need to pay attention when other people are getting on and off. Although I think Dad should have kept his mouth shut. Snarky comments rarely help the situation.

    Cat Whisperer’s comment re projectiles is why they tell you to stow ALL YOUR PERSONAL ITEMS on an airplane during takeoff and landing. People get het up over the electronic thing, but I have yet to hear someone besides me point out that the flight attendants are telling you to put EVERYTHING away, including your book, etc. Am I the only person who does this?

    If your flying iPad hits me in the head, I’m keeping it!!!!

  • Mel December 28, 2012, 9:34 pm

    I am surprised that many readers think it is fine to place their bags on a seat that they did not pay for and some even expect other passengers to “ask” them to move.

    The rule is simple: you bought one seat, you use one seat. If you want to use another seat without paying for it, and on top of that you need to be asked to move, then you have serious entitlement issues. Selfish comes to mind.

  • Cat December 28, 2012, 11:00 pm

    I can see no point in making comments to the thin air about other people’s behavior. I would have had no problem if he had asked, “Would you mind moving your back pack so I can sit there?” I would have had a problem if you had refused.

  • Angela December 29, 2012, 10:25 am

    I got the distinct impression that the OP wasn’t complaining about being expected to move her things, but that the man made this snarky comment when she was clearly trying to move her things. That is not supporting “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.”

  • GleanerGirl December 29, 2012, 1:16 pm

    OK, hypothetical situation here:

    Say I have a very heavy load of baggage, and when I get on the bus, I tell the driver that I want a second seat for my stuff, and I pay for that second seat.

    I then proceed to put my stuff on the seat beside me, secure in the knowledge that I did the right thing, by paying for both seats.

    The bus now starts to fill up, and someone comes up to my row, and stops there, looking at my stuff, in a non-verbalized bid to get me to move it. He does not ask about the seat. He simply stares.

    After a while of this, I feel pressured to just give him the seat, even though I did pay for it, and I start gathering the bags and stuff together, at which point, he says, passive-aggressively, to his child that “college-aged girls should learn better manners.”

    Should I just suck it up or would it be OK to tell him that I had, indeed, been moving my stuff to allow him to sit there? Or could I even tell him the truth that I had paid for the second seat?

    Now, before you start saying, “That’s not what the OP’s situation was!”, please be aware that there ARE people who will buy a second bus ticket to accomodate their baggage. If the metro costs a dollar, and a taxi costs 20, and you have to go grocery shopping, and need the space for your bags, it is far more economical to just pay the extra dollar for the extra seat and lack of guilt. Having lived without a car for a long time, and done grocery shopping and bus riding, I can state that this sort of thing DOES happen. And if the bus is crowded, the seat is given to another person, anyway.

  • GleanerGirl December 29, 2012, 1:24 pm

    Meow – well done for getting away from the guy. Read Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear.” Alarm bells all over the place with that creepy guy, and in such a situation, the safest thing to do is to say loudly, in the first place, to BUG OFF! Yes, it is not the best etiquette, but I think even eHelldame would admit that safety trumps etiquette. Too many women have been robbed, raped, and murdered, because they did not want to “seem rude” or “make a scene.” The psychos out there are counting on it.

    Now, I’m not saying you should make a scene all the time. But if the alarm bells are ringing in your head, pay attention to them, and act, even if it means being rude.

  • kingsrings December 29, 2012, 3:33 pm

    I agree with Cat Whisperer on the concept of the seats are for people, not for bags. You may need to carry your bag(s), backpacks, etc. on the bus or train, but that doesn’t mean that they get their own seat. That’s the breaks of taking public transporation.

  • naomi December 30, 2012, 1:15 pm

    just coming back in response to admins comment on “first time posters” i’m a forum member but haven’t felt the need to post here before as nothing has really got my attention as much as the assumption that the OP was being rude.
    in the uk a lot of the single height buses have 2 side on seats behind the driver, a wheelchair/pram are and then several rows of seating with them being
    x x
    xx a xx
    xx i xx
    xx s xx
    xx l xx
    xx e xx
    xx x xx

  • Jared Bascomb December 30, 2012, 5:10 pm

    I think another area where I’m sensing some disconnect in the comments is about the particular type of transit.
    On most trains, Greyhound buses, etc you pay for a seat (generally reserved), thus the “one fare, one seat” rule applies.
    On public transit – including an intercity commuter bus such as the OP was riding- you pay for the ride itself and *not* a seat; seats are first-come, first-serve and there are often plenty of people standing (and on some systems, like the London Tube) crammed cheek to jowl. In those forms of transit, it is perfectly acceptable to set your belongings on an adjacent seat because the “one fare, one seat” rule never applied in the first place. However, once the bus/subway car begins to fill up, etiquette and rider courtesy require you to consolidate yourself and your belongings onto a single seat.