While I don’t often go to the movies anymore now that I have young kids, a previous post (and its comments) about theater behavior got me thinking about the many, many movies I attended in my younger years and a situation that arose often that aggravated me.
Being a “follow the rules” person, I knew, even as a teen, that if I was seeing a very popular movie on a weekend night I needed to arrive extra early to make sure I could procure seats together with my friends. Often I would arrive 30 minutes before showtime and pick the “perfect” spot with my movie mates before the theater filled up. Inevitably, a group of 2 or 3 people would walk in at the end of the previews and see a nearly-full theater. The problem arose when they’d notice 3 empty seats in my row (not together as groups would keep a seat between them as “buffers”), and ask everyone in the row to move over so they could slide in on the end. Because I hate confrontation I’d always comply and end up behind a very tall person or in a suspiciously stained/broken seat, and end up straining my neck to see around them for the movie or hearing my chair squeak with every shift of body weight.
What should be the etiquette when something like this happens? Technically there are 3 open seats and 3 people who need them. To deny their request would seem really rude and petty. But at the same time why should I, who arrived significantly early to obtain a “good” seat, have to be inconvenienced for their lack of proper planning and arriving 30 seconds before (or sometimes right after) the start of a movie? 0115-15
Note to readers, I needed to reread the second paragraph a few times before I realized the writer is describing a situation where a theater row has several unclaimed seats that are scattered in the row as opposed to being clustered together. The late arrivals are requesting people move towards the middle of the row to consolidate all the empty seats into a few on the end of the row.
The answer is simple. Repeat after me, “I’m sorry but I cannot accommodate that request. You are free to use this empty seat though.” It has always been my understanding that if you arrive late to the theater, you take whatever seats you can find even if that means your party is split among several rows. One of the benefits of arriving early is that you do not have to resort to that but can choose to seat yourselves as a group.
Thankfully, American theaters are finally selling tickets for specific seats so this may be less of a problem.
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I’ve always just let people walk past me into the middle row of seats. No one has ever asked me or anyone I’ve been to the movies with to slide down. And I’m from NYC, so it’s not like we’re a shy group.
I am also in NYC. A few years ago I went to a movie and the theater had the aisle right up the middle, not on the sides, so there were no middle seats except the very back row.
I prefer to be dead center, and my husband and I arrived early, so we took the two center seats in the last row. The theater started filling up.
Just as previews were starting a man and his companions stood right in front of me and announced loudly “if you all shift over two seats we can sit together.” I felt my husband to one side and a stranger to the other side shift uncomfortably in their seats, as they reluctantly were about to rise. I looked that man dead in the eye and said “if you turn around there are three seats together in the front row.” No way was I giving up what I considered the best seats in the house when this group had options to break apart in the back (or quite frankly sxattered through the middle) or sit together up front.
The couple next to me quietly thanked me later, as did my husband. The man meanwhile did find seats but made loud passive aggressive comments throughout previews and after the film, directed towards me, since I thwarted his plan to have us all shift.
I am from NYC and have had the same experience as you. This asking others to move issue must be a non New York problem.
I think the issue here was asking people to move so that two (separate) empty seats would become two seats together. It wasn’t about just walking around them.
Theatres request people go to the center of the row and fill in all seats to alleviate this issue and it is a good practice. Theatres are tiered now and I’m pretty short (5’0″) and have not haven’t had any issues with stadium seating and large people in front of me in ages. Just put your group in the center and stop using buffer seats. Be considerate of other people who may wish to sit together.
If you come late, you take the seats that are empty. You don’t ask other people, who came early to get the seats they wanted, to move so you can have a certain seat.
Not all theaters are tiered – the vast majority are still the original configuration.
Just because you have not had an issue does not mean someone else will. And the opposite situation can occur: moving my DH down means that someone who chose a seat in the row in back of us so that they are not behind my 6’8″ DH means that now they are. So it affects 2 people.
Being considerate also means that you get to the theater on time to get seats together, not ask other people to accommodate your lateness.
I sit at the end of the row next to the aisle on purpose, and I won’t move into the center. Many people do that for various reasons, and it might mean the difference between going to the theater or staying home. So, no, I won’t move to accommodate a group, and I wouldn’t appreciate an usher telling me to do so. I think if you arrive after the theater has filled to near capacity you should just be grateful that there might be enough seats, scattered around, that your group can see the show after all, not expect to be able to sit together as well.
Me, too. There is a really good chance (okay, to be honest, it’s inevitable!) that I will have to use the restroom at some point during the movie. I can’t go 2+ hours! I would not be giving up my aisle seat.
Me too. I might have to get up twice during most movies, and if it is one of those three hour movies, possibly more than that. Someone’s inability to plan if they want their group to sit together is not something that I have to work around, I already did my planning, it is something they need to solve for themselves.
My understanding of that was not that her group was using “buffer” seats, but that there were buffer seats between the various unrelated groups sitting in the row – ie, if her group was Group A, there might be a buffer seat between them and Group B, and then another between Group B and Group C.
Your logic presupposes that each showing of a movie will be full, which is hardly likely to be the case unless it’s a new release and a peak time for attendance. To me, leaving buffer seats in a theater is no worse than 2 people sitting at a table for four in a food court or one passenger choosing an aisle seat instead of a window seat on an aircraft with open seating. If someone is willing to arrive early to get seated, then how is it considerate of latecomers to ask other patrons to move? Presumably they had the same or a similar opportunity to arrive a bit early or on time and didn’t manage it. Those already seated shouldn’t be on the receiving end of any pretense on the part of later arrivals to having an entitlement to their place.
Stacey, the idea of a movie not being shown in full is unusual to me! Where is it that you’re from? That’s not common practice in the UK.
I agree in the general sense, but I can’t really get behind the idea of ‘buffer’ seats at popular showings. When you know the movie your going to is likely to fill up, unless there is something wrong with seat, just sit next to the other group. That seat is likely going to be taken eventually, and your saving everyone the inconvenience of having to get a person to that seat.
I don’t think that people always leave buffer seats on purpose. I think a lot of the time, it’s just human nature to leave some space between you and other people. You see it in the men’s room at urinals, and in restaurants where you seat yourself. If the space is there, we’ll leave it. We think it’s a bit odd when, where there’s room so spread out, someone sits right next to us. Not that it’s wrong exactly, just odd.
Weird. In all the times I’ve gone to movies I’ve never seen people ask a whole row to move over to clear a group of seats.
I agree with Admin but I just want to offer this counter: is it possible those people thought they were being nice, having everyone slide down rather than crawling over fifteen people’s knees to an empty seat in the center?
It’s possible, but my feeling is that if you arrive at the last minute to a crowded movie without assigned seats, you’ll have to choose from what’s left. I go to the movies by myself quite often, and many times I’ve been asked to move because I’m “by myself, and it doesn’t matter where I sit”. Yes, someone said that. My thought is…you won’t die if you can’t sit together for 2 hours. Just find a seat and sit in it.
I completely agree with Admin on this. It harkens back to “lack of planning on your part does not equate to an emergency (or even an issue) on my part.” There are seats available, those folks can sit, they just can’t sit next to each other.
I do think there are times folks should move such as if there are 6 seats and two groups of 3 both enter the row at the same time, fill in, no buffers, or if its an event where there are ushers requesting folks “move all the way in” as people are finding seats. But in a general opening seating plan, you can just usually just sit where you prefer if its available.
First, I’ve never had anyone ask me to move, and I go to the movies fairly often. I have moved down one seat so that a couple who came in could have two seats together. They didn’t ask, I did it because it was easy and it was my choice. If there had been a very tall person in front of the seat I would move to, I wouldn’t offer. Even with stadium seating there are still situation where you could end up behind someone who blocked your view. I’ve had that happen, and fortunately, there were enough empty seats left so that I could move. I do tend to get into the theater just before the movie starts, I figure that I have to take whatever seat is left. It doesn’t hurt me if I can’t sit next to my friend during the movie.
It wasn’t my intention for this to be a reply to Willynilly.
My local movie theatre switched to assigned seating several months ago and, oddly, this seems to have resulted in *fewer* cases of “buffer seats.”
When the new Beauty & the Beast was released, I purchased tickets online for a showing the next day. There were no scattered single seats, and the few that were still available were all in two’s and three’s! I was able to get two seats together for a nearly sold-out showing. Loved it.
This is because they often use software that won’t let you leave a single empty space.
My local baseball stadium and concert venue are the same way.
If you try to leave a single buffer seat, you’ll get an error that says it isn’t allowed.
This software can be very frustrating too!
When I took my family to see the Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular (once in a lifetime event, as I’m from Australia), there were several groups of front row mezzanine seats available, but as they were in blocks of 6, I couldn’t book 5 in a row for my family, as it would leave a single seat empty.
Instead, we had to book 10 rows further back.
Luckily we still had a good view (once the girl in front took her pom pom hat off).
This can feel very confusing. In auditoriums for other events (church service, some concerts etc…), it’s not uncommon for people to be asked to “move to the middle” or “move to the front”. You also have the whole “saving a row for my friends/ parents/ family/ colleagues” crowd where coats, notebooks and other paraphernalia are used as false tokens of occupancy.
Admin is right, though. In the absence of assigned seats, first come/ first served should apply. And if seats are “saved” wholesale at other events for which no apparent occupant exists and where seating is at a premium, you are within your rights to use those seats, as well. (Not, obviously, rows reserved for performers, guests of honor etc… just when one person and a few coats are trying to hold an entire row or three for their late arrivals.)
I agree if someone were to arrive early to reserve a handful of seats using coats for people who aren’t even there yet. But how do you differentiate between that and, say, a mom who’s trying to hold her husband and children’s seats while the husband takes the kids to the restroom before the show starts? It’d look the same, but in the latter case, the other seat occupants are already there, just using the facilities. Should they have to lose their seats because they dared to heed their bladders?
However, I think if someone is reserving seats for parties not yet present and the show is about to start with no sign of the missing people, the seats should be fair game. There was a problem with that at an on-campus theater that was showing Frozen sometime after it had already done its run in regular cinema. I took my middle daughter to go see it, as I hadn’t seen it yet, and we thought our middle daughter would appreciate it most. Hubby had already seen it at a different event, and had planned a different excursion for himself and our other two children. We arrived early enough, though seeing as it was a very popular movie the line was already long. By the time we got to the ticket booth, they told us that seats were running low and that we should take the first available spaces we could find.
We entered the theater itself only to discover that there were several places throughout the room where one person had reserved anywhere from two to ten extra seats, using coats, all for parties not yet arrived. They claimed they had already bought the tickets (though how they were to get them to the rest of their group while actually in the theater, I didn’t know) and the missing people were “on their way.” Meanwhile there were several other people, my daughter and myself included, left standing because thanks to these reserved seats, there was literally nowhere else to sit.
Luckily I spotted a family that was friends with us who had already gotten enough seats for their family. They volunteered to have their little two-year-old sit on a parent’s lap for the show, and I could have his seat (and my daughter, who was five at the time, could sit on my lap). Theater employees also came in and announced that there was no saving seats, and anyone who was saving seats would have to relinquish the empties to the other people still stuck standing. Some people protested, but the employees overruled them and made sure people got seated.
All in all, it was a bit of a mess, and the showing started 15-20 minutes late because of trying to get seating arrangements squared away. My daughter and I enjoyed the movie at least, and it wasn’t too much of a hassle to have her in my lap the whole time.
The one time I remember being asked to move down, the two seats were taken. My niece need to go to the bathroom and the mom sitting next to us with her two kids also needed to go. So we swapped she took my niece (who was old enough to go on her own but they were checking tickets in the theater and I was worried she would misplace it). The adult couple rudely told me tough they can sit somewhere else an employee told them to sit separate or leave.
I agree that context is key. If you were to try to commandeer seats that were being saved while someone went to the restroom or was in the line at concession, that would be an egregious breach. Most blatant seat savers, however, are “saving” for large, late arriving parties that couldn’t be bothered to show up early. Ushers can help with these cases, too. But if I, personally, were to see ten empty seats and a scattering of bobs and bits, and if the rest of the seats were filled, I’d be inclined to “help myself”. Excessive “saving” of seats is reminiscent of people “saving” a place in line. One or two people who join a party ahead of you obviously indicates that someone was parking a car or had something to sort out. If five or more people join the concession or ticket line ahead of you on the supposed strength of a “save” by a friend, you might be a little miffed. I know I would be, and would object.
Amanda H. – You and your friend were entitled to a refund for the seats you paid for but didn’t get (the ones your children should have been sitting in, instead of your laps). I hope you did get reimbursed.
We didn’t ask for reimbursement because the children who sat in our laps still watched and enjoyed the movie. It was also only about a dollar per child, as it was an on-campus theater doing a special showing, not a commercial cinema. I’m not about to go pitch a fit over one dollar when my daughter and I still enjoyed the movie.
There was one about Tape in the Seat Saver’s Arsenal, where people would come in early and literally use tape to block off rows for an event such as a school play… So others coming in find the first five rows blocked off and a name markered on the tape and one person manning the area? No. Not unless it’s assigned seats and they PAID for every one of those in advance. In which case, no tape needed.
Most theaters I have ever visited for movies, were wide enough to have two aisles and the center could hold at least six across. If it’s ‘seat yourself’ then any late comers should take what’s there, you do NOT need to move down. If they ask, as admin said ‘I’m sorry I can’t accommodate your request’. You and yours were there before the late ones, they get what’s left. I can see if it is a person with a small child and there are split seats, to let the two sit together, then move down. I appreciate assigned seat ticket selling. Less issues then.
My cousins school now has ushers escort you to a seat when you arrive after several years of parents trying to corner off a prime section for late arrivals. Caused quite a stir the first time but after a few parents got a 8 year old yelling “fill the seats” at them or “MrsX these people don’t know you should fill the seats, has the notice fallen off the door?” people rapidly stopped trying to reserve the seats
Love it, Just Love It!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I remember that story too. It was a dance recital, for kids of all ages from, I guess, preschool (or whatever age kids can start dance lessons), to the end of high school.
http://www.etiquettehell.com/?p=3191 by the way, for anyone who wants to revisit the story.
This was actually my post about my daughter’s dance recital. I’m amazed people remember it 🙂
My daughter was a dancer at that studio for years afterwards and the taping thing never happened again. I like to think that was an etiquette win. My lovely grandmother also had very nice seats every year until she passed away.
Hm, I’m of two minds on this. One the one hand, you got there early so you could sit where you wanted. And it’s kind of rude to come in after the movie has started and either crawl over people or ask them to move. On the other hand, people do tend to leave one seat between unrelated parties open, which in a non crowded theater is fine, but for a full house, that’s a lot of wasted single seats. And then refusing to move may be your right, but it sure leaves for an awkward confrontation with someone you’re going to have to be sitting near for the next 2 hours. I’d probably move, honestly.
These days, I almost always go to the theaters with reserved seating (also – recliners!) specifically to avoid this issue, but I have ALWAYS been of the view that it’s first come, first serve. As someone who goes out of my way to get to the theater early specifically to pick out the seat that I want, I find it particularly galling when people stroll in at the very last second and expect others to accommodate them.
I don’t mind moving one or two seats over if it’s still well before the previews – that’s just everyone trying to organize the best spacial arrangements, and of course not everyone can literally be first on line for a crowded theater – so that’s just being polite. But once the lights have been dimmed? No.
The only people worse than this are the ones who go to a theater with reserved seating and then DON’T SIT IN THEIR RESERVED SEATS. Years ago, before this was the norm, I went to a movie opening night were the theater did reserved seating for those types of events because they knew things could get crazy, and this happened. The fight that broke out ended up being more exciting that the movie ultimately was, but given that all of the participants ended up being tossed out of the theater, I’m not sure it was really worth it.
I agree with others who say leaving “buffer” seats are rude when you know it will be a popular full showing. However, I will not give up a good seat for someone else. My husband is very tall and HATES going to movies with me, as he is normally uncomfortable. So we go early to ensure that he gets an aisle seat so that he has a bit more leg room. Numerous times we get asked to “move in”. The answer is always no. Our two seats are together and at the end, so we are not stopping anyone else from sitting together. There is no need for us to move.
yeah – it’s not just tallness. My dad had bladder cancer a few years ago (recovered fully, thankfully!), but the treatment left him needing to…get up frequently. So he ALWAYS gets the aisle seat.
This is obviously something that is not readily visible by just looking at him. And it’s also something that he shouldn’t have to explain to people. I’m sure there are other similar “invisible” situations and disabilities that would require someone to sit at or near the end of an aisle.
What are ‘buffer seats’? Is this a seat for your coat or purse? This is a public venue, just as on an airplane, you may have to sit next to a stranger, they have every right to that seat just as you do.
Buffer seats refer to empty seat(s) left between two (or more) groups of most likely strangers. For example, two couples, first couple sits in seats 1 and 2, and the second couple sits in seats 4 and 5. Now the seat 3 is buffer seat. It is free for anyone to sit in, but the OP’s problem was when somebody comes in and does not want to take the free seat number 3 but wants for example the first couple to move from seats 1&2 to 2 and 3.
That’s simplistic example, but as often the rows are easily 20 or more seats wide, if there are few “buffer seats”, requesting everybody to move is quite rude just so the latecomers could sit together. Especially, as many posters have pointed out, there might be reasons why people chose the seats they did, such as easy acces to aisle or more legroom, or for example avoiding motion sickenss during 3D showings.
Though I do have to say, that leaving buffer seat just for leaving buffer seat is not good practice in showings that are likely to be very full, in my opinion. We have here usually reserved seatings in movie theatres and theatres usually don’t allow for buying seats that would leave one buffer seat.
The week before an old, downtown “single screen” theater closed, my then girlfriend (a dedicated cinephile) and I saw a movie there. We arrived early and sat squarely in the middle of the middle of the theater. An older couple came in and sat directly in front of us. Not even offset by one seat. I ripped into them as I felt necessary, and being much younger I felt it justified to do so. They left. Nobody else came to see the movie – we were the only two – no wonder the theater closed. (FWIW, the movie was “Backdraft” – a major theatrical release with wide appeal, and not a foreign or “art” film with more limited appeal.)
While we all like to choose our seats ourselves, buffer space is a key part of culture in North America. As a Canadian, I regularly advise immigrants and foreign visitors that one should never stand too close to the person in line ahead of them, and especially not if they are handling their purse/wallet while in a checkout line or in front of an ATM. So when does this fall apart? When there is no choice. When there is no more buffer space, people should sit wherever they can.
And the last thing is that I don’t understand the need for adults to seat next to each other at a theater – especially if they are just friends. While you might want to sit next to your children, or sit together to share popcorn, you are supposed to watch the movie quietly – sitting together isn’t a necessity.
I’m with Admin – take your seat and keep it, but don’t save a whole row or two when you think you might have more people coming. If you are late, well, sorry to be you. Deal with it and be lucky there is a seat for you.
You went nuclear on an older couple who had the audacity to chose to seat themselves in readily available seats of their preference? Seats you had no business having any control over since you had not purchased the right to plant your rear end or any other item in your possession there? And you felt “justified” to go ballistic due to being “younger”? If you wanted a clear view, you should have paid for those seats in front of you.
Of course I felt justified in doing that – otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. Now I wouldn’t do it today, nor would I have even done it a few years later, but my own rudeness was because of my youth, and not simply because I was younger than these two senior citizens. So yes, I admit that what I did was wrong – but it still seemed rude that with so much choice, people would sit so close.
It certainly didn’t look like the theater would have been full (it closed the next week), but even today I would have said something if the situation was repeated. The concept of space buffers is not well understood, but it exists, and if the choice exists, people should maintain those buffers.
What I should have done, is moved and sat right in front of those people – to simply demonstrate that sitting two seats over, or one row forward, would work just as well for them, and better for us.
Maybe I am overly sensitive about this – if I park my car at the mall, far away from any other car, I can be sure that other cars will be clustered around mine when I return. Instead of realizing that there’s a benefit to buffer space, people tend to cluster like this. Even when the cluster is far from optimal.
Yeah, I agree with you, Jeanne. Since the theatre was practically empty, I’d have moved, or, at the very most, asked the older couple nicely to move, so they weren’t sitting right in front of me and the person I came to the movies with, but I wouldn’t yell and scream at them.
I don’t get this, possibly because I’m a European. You buy one ticket, so you pay for one seat. You are entitled to that one seat and you choose it from the seats available (if the venue has assigned seating, you usually also get to choose, so that doesn’t come into it). You are not entitled to the seats next to you, behing you, in front of you or anywhere else other than the one seat you are actually sitting in. Everyone else has the choice of any seat seat in the venue that is not occupied and any spacial relation of that seat to yours is irrelevant. At least that’s how it’s done here.
The size of personal space does vary in different cultures, true. But I don’t think that personal space extends to the kind of spaces you pay for, i.e. entitles you to have to seats for the price of one.
Those of us who like a buffer between us and the rest of the world are not saying that we are entitled to more than we pay for, just that we’d like not to be sitting on top of each other if it can be avoided. And in the example above, although I do not approve of how the poster treated the older couple, it was not necessary for them to sit directly in front of the only other people in the place, even though the older couple technically did nothing wrong. I certainly would not have asked them to move. They probably also wanted to sit in the middle of the theater, which many people believe is the best seat.
Somewhere out there on the internet is a flash game where you enter a men’s washroom – American style where the urinals have no dividers between them – and the game is to choose the optimal place depending upon which urinals are already occupied. Suppose there are 5 urinals, and someone is using #1. The “correct” choice is to use #5, the one furthest away. If things are busy and there’s a lineup, well, these concepts of personal space all fall by the wayside, but most North Americans would agree that they would feel very, very uncomfortable if they were at urinal #1, and even though all other urinals are free, someone comes in and chooses #2.
I was at a kiosk for government services (renewing vehicle licensing) and this person stood very close behind me – less than arm’s length. The kiosk was in a shopping mall, and while there was no clear place for the lineup, there was also nobody else lining up. So I asked said person what they were doing so close to me, and that I would prefer if they moved further away. At some point in the transaction, I would be entering personal information and using a credit or debit card, so privacy was important. When the person said, in heavily accented English, that he was a recent immigrant and merely wanted to learn how to do this, I politely offered to help him do his transaction, when I was done with mine. He declined, then walked away. Was my suspicion justified? I don’t know, but we are not accustomed to body-against-body crowds in North America. I would hope that someone can comment that this is not even the case on the NYC subway system.
Living in Canada and the US I’ve encountered people from various countries and cultures, and I do acknowledge that not all cultures have the same personal space boundary. But I’m a suspicious person by nature, and caught a pickpocket red-handed as a teenager, so when someone stands too close, I think they are up to no good.
Now I’m a fairly large white male, and I don’t generally fear singular individuals unless they are very large – professional football player size. But just imagine now if I was female and of slight build – how should I act then? Even the ex-gf who was taller than me had unsolicited attention from men in the form of touching her arm or butt, touching her hair, sniffing her, not to mention those who may have been trying to pick her pocket. Knowing how uncomfortable that is, I respect the buffer space of others, especially women, and especially if they are alone.
So coming back to my anecdote – suppose you buy your ticket and go to a European theater. It’s sparsely populated. Although your ticket entitles you to any one seat, would you (if you were male) sit next to a lone female? What if she’s young and of slight build? And if she moves away from you, do you understand why? Do you follow her? (After all, you are entitled to any seat, right?) None of that is acceptable anymore.
As someone who actually lives in New York and rides the subway everyday, even when it’s before or after rush hour, it is absolutely body-to-body and walls of people. You get used to it very quickly. I’ve spent entire rides with people practically in my lap or with backs pressed to mine. It can be a sardine can, especially weekdays in Manhattan.
Yes, but if you were alone in the car, and someone walked in and pressed up against you, wouldn’t you be a little annoyed?
As a NYer I can say yes, we absolutely get body to body squished in crowds regularly. However, when its not crowded, personal space is definitely an expectation. On a rush hour subway one can expect people packed in so tightly there’s no need to hold anything, as there’s no way to fall. On a slow hour subway, people are expected to spread out and choose a seat that is not directly next to a stranger.
This can be directly observed around the lake in Central Park at lunch time. There are several benches. As people start coming into the park for lunch they will walk farther along til they find a totally empty bench. Then as the lunch crowd thickens, people will fill in and join a stranger on a bench. It would be very odd behavior for someone to settle on a bench, even at the far end of it, where someone was already seated if there were totally unoccupied benches nearby, even though benches are about 6ft long.
Personal space exists in Europe and other places too. Apart from situations where you can expect to be crowded and can do nothing about it (public transport in rush hours, elevators in office buildings, etc.) people definitely expect other people to respect their personal space. The size of that space varies accross cultures, but the idea is universal. And people like to have empty space around them in cinemas – if nothing else, it gives you a place to put your things in. But if that seat is needed, then no, you cannot keep it.
I was mostly surprised by the assumption that the fact of sitting in a seat should give you control over other seats around you and other people are not allowed to sit in them because you got there first.
But I must say, I have rarely been in situations where I had to analyse the size of people around me. Yes, I would find it odd if someone chose a seat directly next to me in an empty theatre, regardless of the person’s size and gender – even with assigned seats, you are free to move if the theatre is not full – but I would not move unless that person did something threatening. In a practically full theatre or cinema I would think nothing of it. I had to deal with someone getting too close to me on otherwise almost empty public transport twice in my life – once it was a rather drunk man trying to chat me up, luckily just before my stop, so I didn’t have to do anything special to get away, and once it was a clearly disturbed person and I moved to the other end of te bus. That person wasn’t doing anything threatening, just crowding me unnecessarily and I didn’t want to cause a scene when dealing with someone with obvious mental issues.
While I think it was rude of them to sit directly in front of you when every other seat in the theater was available, I don’t think you were justified in calling them out on it.
I remember a time when my husband and I were sitting in the second to last row, in the middle of the row in an otherwise empty theater. Three people came in and sat directly next to us about one minute before the show started. They did not even leave a buffer seat. They had the entire theater to choose from and had to sit right next to us.
I will admit that we got up and moved several seats down so we weren’t directly next to them. But we did not say anything to them.
I know it’s weird when people choose to sit so close to you but you had no right to tell those people off. Everyone is allowed to choose whatever seats they want and you don’t get to control that.
I once went to a movie in a theater that was basically empty, my friend and I were the first to arrive, we sat in the middle of the middle too. Two women and a few kids came in and sit immediately next to us, no buffer seat or anything. My friend and I found it weird but, since we don’t control the theater, we elected to move. It was a smart choice because one of the kids later threw up in the row!
This has happened to me before, and I have been mightily annoyed. (in my part of the US, in this situation, the “right” thing for the elderly couple to do would have been to either offset themselves by two chairs, or to sit an additional row ahead or behind.) In a case where someone sat right in front of me, I would have moved back a row, or if I were feeling particularly annoyed, maybe right in front of them. No call to yell at them; they did have a right to sit anywhere they wanted, just as you did.
I find it depends upon how busy the theatre and how they ask. If it’s one of the first few weeks of a film being open and everyone wants to see it I have no issue moving down so every person can fit in the theatre and sit with their company. As long as it’s just a matter of me/my party sliding down a few and still sitting together to let others move in seats I don’t care. And if they ask nice then I have no issue.
Here is the issue I don’t like it when it’s a practically empty theatre with tons of seats together but they want your specific aisle which has nothing special about it. Then I do agree it’s kind of weird. And if they ask in a not nice way I’d be more inclined to do as the admin said, “no sorry I got early to claim these seats specifically”. This is also the reason why I love the move to assigned seats for things like Imax showings where I live. You pick out your seats online or on the screen booth at the ticket counter.
Oh and if people show up last minute when the film has already started and the theatres dark then dare ask people to move so they can have spots? Hahah No! Should have got yourself here on time. I’m cool with it when the lights are still on and the trailers haven’t rolled yet but once the film has started with the lights all off I have no sympathy for a party of 6 using their cell phone flash to find seats together. You snooze you lose should have arrived earlier.
I will say I have a pet peeve of people who are saving seats for a huge party and only one person is sitting in the row to save it. Sorry but at least half the party should be there seated then to each hold a friends seat each and when the others come back from bathroom break/snack buying then the savers can get up to go get their stuff. Reversing roles. You should not be able to “claim” almost an entire row of seats for people who do not show up until the films about to start. That is such rude etiquette. Be on time to get seats or send more then half the party to each save a seat aka throw their coat or purse on it. But just sitting in an empty row saying, “sorry these are all saved” doesn’t count for anything unless the theatre specifically has marked the area off for say a kids birthday event.
Regarding your last paragraph, I would say it depends on the makeup of the party how they should go about on restroom/snack runs. My family, for instance, consists of my husband, myself, and four children, all under the age of 10 (and even the 10-year-old is likely to get turned around in the maze-like cinemas around here if she’s sent to the restroom by herself). It’s a LOT easier for us if one adult holds down the fort while the other takes all the kids on one group bathroom run. If time runs out and the other adult doesn’t make it, they can hold it, but I can’t ask two of my children to hold it just because the other group took too long at the bathrooms.
Another thing–with snack runs, you can have one person take orders for the group (provided the kids decide what they want before you get into the theatre). With bathroom runs, you can’t very well send someone else to the bathroom FOR you…….so, there’s really no way around the “one adult saving six seats” scenario you described, in the case of a bathroom run.
Where I come from, seats are usually numbered and assigned (although people frequently change if there are free seats), so I can’t say I can fully get into this problem. However, while asking everyone to move so you get to sit together is rude, I must say that leaving “buffer seats” empty in random places just so that you have extra room between your group and other people also seems rather rude. Personally, I would probably prefer to move one seat over (though I would never asked someone to do so and would probably be a bit surprised if asked) than having several strangers scramble in the dark over seated people because one needs to get to seat 37 and another to 21, forcing larger people to stand, awkwardly squeezing past others, possibly spilling their own and others’ popcorn and soft drinks around.
Just for information how it’s done with assigned seats around here – in cinemas if you come after the lights are out, you just grab the first seat available, choosing the one easier to reach if there are options. No one checks seat and row numbers after dark (unless it’s a very popular, sold-out showing, maybe). In a theatre, you are supposed to seat in your own seat and if you come in late and your seat is in a hard to reach spot, the best solution may be to wait until the intermission (sitting on easier reachable seats, if there are any).
This is yet another reason I’m so glad assigned seating is becoming more and more popular. The seats are large and act as a buffer in their own right because every arm rest is wide and has a cup holder!
In the case of OP, it’s a first come first serve situation. If you wanted seats together, you should have arrived earlier. Op and the rest of the row shouldn’t have to shuffle around because of your poor planning.
On another note, I once saw a grown man throw a hissy fit about “buffer seats” when I went and saw the last Harry Potter movie at midnight. He was the manager, and his poor planning meant that we didn’t get let into the theater until 11:45…so of course midnight rolls around and they can’t start the movie because there were still scores of people in the lobby trying to get snacks and drinks and/or just get into the theater in the first place, because two ticket takers can only work so fast. My group of seven is near the front of the line, we get in, claim seats. Other groups do the same, and everyone is being SUPER respectful of each other. We deliberately sat all the way to the end of an aisle because we saw another large group trying to claim the other end, other groups were being kind to each other, etc. So a group would claim seats, then send one person to go get snacks and drinks for the whole group, that way it was CLEAR what seats were taken because there was someone still in the aisle to say “Sorry, they are going to get snacks”
Well, the crabby old manager comes in, sees all these seats he perceives as “empty” and starts yelling about how if there is an empty seat next to you, you HAVE to allow someone to sit in it, or you will get kicked out. So of course those still in the theater start telling him that the seats aren’t empty, they are members of the group that are still in the lobby getting snacks because of his terrible planning. I missed all of this because I was one of the people in the lobby, but my friends filled me in later. Apparently it also came out sometime during all this that he had deliberately oversold the two theaters that were showing the movie, so we weren’t all going to fit anyway.
It was a disaster. I know that’s not quite the same, but the idea of buffer seats reminded me
Sound of Music, 1965. Our small theater had one of the best sound systems in the world (pre dolby, it could run Fantasia as it was meant to be!) They booked the movie for an unprecedented 17 days. And ran five showings every weekday and six on Saturday and Sunday. And filled it. Local merchants opened earlier and kept late evening hours because of the people in town waiting for their showing. AND they assigned seats with the ticket sales. They had ushers and cleaning crews ready to clean as soon as one showing got out for the next fill. There were people coming over 100 miles to see the movie with that sound system in that theater. They had few issues. They also did cutoff on when you could enter the theater proper. If you missed that you could see if you could exchange your ticket for a later showing. Period. If they could do that a little over fifty years ago, no excuse for the mess mentioned.
Had a response on another blog post about seat-saving, where poster was sitting in front of a mother, teenaged son & a third person. Son, who’s in the middle, goes for snacks, leaves jacket on seat. Two women come in, one woman sees the empty seat between the two women, marches over, shoves the jacket at mother and sits, declaring “NO SEAT SAVING!” Mother declared that is her son’s seat, he went to get snacks. Nasty woman refuses to budge, even when her companion tries to get her to move. So the nasty woman came in with a friend but tries to sit between two strangers just to prove a “point”. She and Mom almost come to a fist fight before son returns with snacks, and an usher comes and tells her to get out, that’s the kid’s seat. Nasty woman calls Mom a c-word before leaving.
My husband needs an aisle seat, as his bathroom trips can be somewhat unexpected after receiving radiation treatments on his pelvic area. He wouldn’t appreciate being asked to move down, and would no doubt refuse, but we’ve never had anyone ask us to do so. I did go to the theater once with my daughter and granddaughter when we had to sit separately (she sat with her daughter, I sat alone in another section) because we got there a little too close to the start, and seats were nearly all taken, so there weren’t three together anywhere. I figure I get there last, I take what I can find. It never occurred to us to ask people, who were there in time to choose their seats, to move.
In a crowded situation, I need an aisle seat too, because I’m claustrophobic. If I knew that a certain movie was going to be popular, and therefore crowded, I’d arrive early to claim my aisle seat if it was free seating, or reserve one if it wasn’t. As awful as it may sound, if someone asked me to move, and surrender my aisle seat, I’d only comply if the other person had a physical condition, like, if they were on crutches or something, or if it was an unusually tall person who needed the aisle for their legs. I know it might make me look like an awful, selfish person, because my “thing” isn’t visible, and I look pretty much like an ordinary, healthy woman, but I really panic when I’m boxed into a crowd.
FWIW, you’re not doing anything to feel guilty about. This would be true even if you weren’t claustrophobic. The fact that you were there first is sufficient reason to not feel guilty about not moving. I would probably move for someone with a disability like you, or if for some reason I’m feeling unusually magnanimous. But moving is completely at your discretion.
I simply say, “I don’t mind standing so you can pass me and take one of the free seats.”
Yep, this is me. I have no problem with letting people in and out of the aisle.
Regarding Admin’s comment about theaters assigning seats:
I love the idea (one of my local movie theaters does it and it’s great), but I’d love it even more if people actually sat where they were supposed to! Whenever I go to a theater with assigned seating, I’ll still have to get there early or someone will take my spot (especially if I was able to get a really good seat). It’s awkward to have to ask them to move, but if I shrug it off and sit somewhere else I’ll potentially be taking someone else’s seat, thereby making the problem worse!
I remember a story from a few years ago, about a family (a mother, a daughter who was the OP, and her two brothers; one with mild autism, and another with a mobility problem), who went to the movies together, only to be told they couldn’t sit down, because a mother and her daughter were “saving” an entire row of seats (the only empty seats left in the theatre) for the daughter’s friends, because it was her birthday party. I remember a certain poster saying, “who was she friends with, China?” But, my point is, as rude as arriving late may be (and the family in this story wasn’t late; they were on time or early, but the birthday party mom and daughter had arrived even earlier), I think doing the “buffer seat” thing, or saving seats for people who haven’t arrived yet, is rude if you know you’re at a popular show that’s going to fill up. It’s one thing if your movie companion is, say, buying snacks at the concession stand, but if they’re not even in the building yet, it’s pushing it.
People often take their movie seats pretty serious. I don’t much, as long as I’m not too close but most people I’ve been to the movies with were pretty choosy. As such I would never ask someone to move because I’d assume that was the seat they picked and don’t want to move.
This is definitely, a “this seat is occupied, that one over there is empty” type situation.
(And while I like being early for everything I have ended up getting into a theater just before start and found myself needing to take what I can and/or split up my group. It’s the price you pay for not being on time.
If people won’t move when asked by the other patrons, they just need to go ask the ushers because the ushers here (so it can of course be regional) will go in and instruct everyone to fill in the empty seats, like a previous comment has mentioned.
Buffer seats are rude and a waste of space when you’re in a packed theater.
Now if you’re asked to scoot down and there’s plenty of clustered seats to choose from, they just want “that row” that you’re in, then that’s another story, spreading out is not an issue.
This reminds me of a time I went to see a movie with my then-boyfriend. We arrived early and got middle seats, perfect seats. The theater filled up around us, and people politely left a seat between groups, not realizing the theater would be full. So bf and I had an empty seat to either side of us.
Previews started and finished. The movie started. A young couple clearly on a date walked into a crowded theater, spotted the two seats around us, and, ignoring the less desirable seats way down in front that were available together, came and asked us to move over so they couls sit together. I refused! We had already claimed the perfect center seats nearly an hour ago by then. My bf was irritated with me for that, but I still think I was justified. I was polite but firm. The couple elected to sit on either side of us, occasionally leaning forward to look at each other. I think they were trying to make me uncomfortable. If they had come in before or even during the previews and asked, I probably would have obliged. But after the movie started? Come on!
Tangential non sequitur: why doesn’t anyone carry their trash with them out of theaters anymore? So rude.
I’m surprised at the number of people who say there’s no reason for adults to expect to sit together. Am I the only one who shares a popcorn and drink with my husband?
Of course, that’s why we arrive early – so we can get exactly the seats we want. Together. We’ve only been asked to move once, on the first night of a very popular movie, when the management asked all patrons to move to the center and fill in open spaces.
Agree. When people elect to go to a movie or the theater together it is not unreasonable to want to sit together. I go with my adult children all the time and although we don’t talk to each other we both react or laugh during the movie and it’s an important way of sharing that experience. We are also ones who come early to claim the center seats. I definitely would rather not move and hate when tall people sit in front of me. That being said, it is completely reasonable to be asked to move one or two seats over so that the buffer seats can then be together if the theater fills up. Not move to either end-but moving a couple seats is absolutely reasonable as people do start by sitting with a buffer and if that can be maintained, great, but if not, it’s pretty rude to not move ONE seat over. I’ve moved a couple seats over a dozen times and my movie experience was not hindered. It would have been affected if I acted like a brat and wouldn’t accommodate a very reasonable request because I would have felt bad throughout the movie for being such a jerk. We aren’t animals here people. Have a spine but don’t be an a**.
Couple things about the theaters in my area:
Getting there early means standing in a clump or hanging out in the lobby until the previous show lets out. The first show of the day is the same way. They won’t open the doors until ten minutes to preview showtime.
If it’s a sell-out, theater staff will ask people to move in toward the middle and help those stuck in the rear of the clump find seats. These are not latecomers. They’re people who got stuck behind the seething mass of moviegoers and who don’t have someone who got in ahead of them saving them seats.
I actually posted about a movie seat issue several years ago.
Basically I bought two seats and had a couple get really nasty because I refused to let them have my second seat so they could sit together.
As far as I’m concerned, when the seating is first come first served, you don’t have to move down.
It is nice of you to do so, but you’re well within your rights to say “Sorry, I picked this seat for a reason.”
I re-read that one. What awful people!
I’ll also admit that both on the re-read and (as I recalled while re-reading) on my initial read of your story, I was worried the whole time that a manager would come and make you forfeit the extra seat you’d paid for because the couple “needed it more.” I’ve certainly heard of other stories where someone paid for an extra seat and then were told to give it up for someone who wanted to sit there because it was supposedly “empty.” No talk of refunds in sight.
Actually, it makes me wonder in light of the United fiascos going on right now what would happen if someone of a heavier build who needed a second airline seat had their second seat bumped when no one volunteered to get off the plane. Would the airline still enforce it? Would they then complain about an overweight passenger cramming into one single seat (because they were forced to give up the second seat they’d paid for)? These questions are going to keep me up at night now.
I think asking people to move down is rude. First, some of us pick end seats for a reason. Second, just because someone sees an empty seat, it doesn’t mean that no one is sitting there. The occupant of that seat could be in the lobby or in the bathroom. I think it is pretty presumptuous to assume that all empty seats must be unoccupied. That’s a pretty “I’m the only one who exists” way to think. Third, once the lights go down, that is a really rude time to be asking anyone to do anything for you. For me, the show that I paid for starts with the previews, so I’m not interested in your specific seat wants since I am a paying customer and what I paid for has started. If you have an issue, go talk to an employee, I’m here to watch the show.
I don’t think that asking is rude, provided that the request is polite and that the person/people asking accept it if the answer is ‘no’.
Similarly, if there is a seat which is empty, it isn’t rude to ask whether it’s free, as you can’t always tell whether it is ‘occupied’ by someone who is getting snacks or using the bathroom, or if it has been left empty and is still available. There is nothing presumptuous about assuming that an empty seat is unoccupied, as long as you accept it politely if someone tells you it is,in fact, in use.
I tend to chose to sit on the end of a row as I have an (invisible) physical issue which makes it painful to sit ext to someone on that side, particularly in cinemas with smaller seats, so I would generally say no if asked to move, but I wouldn’t see it as inherently rude for someone to ask, unless they are expecting me to move to a significantly worse seat / row.
I often go to a theatre that every movie is sold out, or close to it, every night. We use movie passes so we have to go to the box office to exchange for the actual tickets, and have to arrive early to ensure we get tickets at all. We then get our snacks and claim our seats. Usually just before the previews we take turns using the restroom so we dont lose our seats and we dont have to get up during the movie. If someone asked to take that seat, I would have no qualms letting them know the soda and popcorn currently inhabiting the seat would be back directly. I’ve only time I’ve been asked to move was opening weekend of Imax 3D Alice in Wonderland. We got to the theatre early to get the best seats since 3D doesn’t look as good when you are out of center. Right before the previews a huge group shows up and there are not enough seats for them to sit together anywhere in the theatre, they would have needed almost a whole row. My friend and I were in the dead center with 8 occupied seats on one side and 8 unoccupied seats on the other. The group asked us to move, which still wouldn’t have been enough seats for the whole group. We quickly said very sorry but we got here early for this exact reason. The group ended up splitting up with half in our row and the rest in another, which was the logical decision anyway.
We had a similar situation one time at the local high school football stadium. Our school was huge rivals with the high school up the road. It is a huge statewide rivalry that, in the past, has been broadcast on ESPN. They add tons of extra bleachers and you have to get there hours early to get good seats, or any seats at all. We had gotten there when the gates opened at 530p for the 730p kick off. It was my hubby, son, son’s 2 friends, daughter and daughter’s 2 friends and me. So 8 of us. We got really good seats on the 40 yard line on the home side. The stadium was literally standing room only by 6p. I can’t tell you the number of people that came by and asked us to ‘smoosh in’ so they could sit on the aisle! We had just some elbow room between us, not large spaces. If we ‘smooshed in’ we would have been sitting on each other’s laps! And, heaven forbid if any of the kids had to use the restroom! They would go 2 or 3 at a time and the vultures descended and wanted their seats! Some people even told us we couldn’t save seats! There was a couple that arrived after the game started and a few of the kids were getting snacks and they were demanding their seats ‘because they weren’t using them’! Everyone knows this is a sell out game! Everyone knows you need to get there early! Why on earth someone shows up after the start of a game like this and think they can get a prime seat is beyond me! Some people just have a sense of entitlement.
And, if I’m late to a movie, I sit wherever I can. I would never dream of inconveniencing someone else and ask them to move so I could get a prime seat. But, I never go to first fun movies on opening weekend, so it’s never really been an issue for me.
I thought it was perfectly normal to ask people, politely, if they mind moving over a bit so that two people can sit together (maybe not a group of 8 – if you are a large group and don’t get there early, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to split up). I’ve obliged people who have requested this, and I’ve seen other people oblige. It’s just a nice thing to do, after you’ve realized your “buffer seat” has meant that people who arrive after you can’t sit together. I don’t mean latecomers – they can go into the depths of e-hell as far as I’m concerned – I mean people who are still arriving before the lights have dimmed.
Of course, if it meant that I had to sit behind a tall person, my answer might change, but generally moving over by one seat does not change the view of the movie one little bit.
I think you’re right that it is pretty normal to ask – but the flip side is that it’s also perfectly normal to refuse.
I’ll move where it’s not a big deal – when the lights are on; when I’m not moving to a significantly different view/uncomfortable/unaccessable seat; where there aren’t a lot of other options for the people asking, etc. However, I reserve the right to refuse a favor for any and all reasons. In unassigned seating, everyone knows the rules – arrive early to stake your claim. Claimjumpers have no rights. They can ask, but as with any request, the answer may be “NO”.
I used to have this happen at church when I was single – I usually got there early and more than once a large family would show up and decide that I was sitting where they wanted to sit. Would you mind moving to the edge of that row over there so we can sit where you are? It was crazy. Just saw this happen to a man at church this past Easter Sunday – a man was sitting at the end of a pew and a big family came in and wanted the whole pew, tried to get him to move. He refused. win.
Wait, isn’t the whole point of church (besides religion, I mean) to promote community? So, following that logic, wouldn’t the family sitting with someone new at Easter Mass, be a small step towards building community? That doesn’t really happen if people go to church with their own families/partners/whoever, and refuse to interact with any other members of the congregation. I mean, okay, you don’t have to become BFF’s with everyone else at church, but this is sort of an offshoot of the “the movie theatre isn’t your personal living room” thing–the church belongs to everyone who goes there, so you don’t grumble about sharing space. If you want to do that, then why not just stay home at watch Worship for Shut-Ins or something?
I remember one on the BB. Poster & friend had got to showing of a popular movie extra early to get good seats. They found two seats in the center of the theater with an empty space in front. SCORE! Just before movie is starting two couples on a double date arrive. At that point, poster’s row has four empty seats, two on each aisle. Double daters want the entire row to move over so they can have four seats together, instead of one couple sitting on each side. Poster & his friend refuse to budge, they got here early, picked their seats and aren’t moving. They say people can move past them, but once they refuse to move, nobody else wants to move either. Double dater’s throw a fit because they NEED four seats together and fetch an usher. Usher tells them they can’t force people to move. Poster throw’s in comment about how they got her extra early to get good seats and don’t see why they should give them up because some people don’t plan ahead.
Where I’m from, we don’t live a “buffer” of 1 seat in between groups, so as rows start to fill up, we take whatever open seat there is next to a person – either to their left or right, and so on, until the row has filled up. Even when people take up the middle seats first, we find a way to work around and fill up the row completely. I’ve seen the front rows be completely empty – as those are the seats people hate the most, and the late comers end up having to sit there. I’d be apalled if someone came in late and requested an entire row move up or down – I’ve seen late comers split up and take whatever was left, many, many times. Heck, *I* have been in that situation, too. This whole “hey everyone move seats to accomodate me” thing is absolutely unheard of here.
Having assigned seats is no guarantee people won’t be complete jerks. My daughter and I went to our assigned seats in a cinema, which were between two groups of people, and found that one of them was occupied. The person sitting in our seat (who was part of a large family group) claimed to also have a ticket for that seat but was unable to produce it and the group refused to move along one seat, saying that my daughter and I could split up or move to other seats. I went out to the booking desk to get someone to sort it out but it was getting closer and closer to the movie start time and in the end all we could do was sit somewhere else in really crappy seats, while I was nearly crying because I have anxiety problems and a lot of trouble coping with any sort of confrontation.
I’ve actually always wondered about the etiquette in this situation because I always thought to myself that it was quite rude to show up after everyone else and expect them to accommodate you and your group. I’ve experienced this myself when I’ve gone to a movie alone. It doesn’t even have to be a crowded movie. I would get to the theater early and find an ideal seat and then a large group of people would come in and ask me to move so they could all sit “together”. One time I did not move and they sat on either side of me being loud and obnoxious and reaching popcorn and candy across me as if I weren’t there until I finally got fed up and moved. I always resented it. I was much younger then, and now I usually go to matinees if I go to a movie alone and haven’t experienced this problem, but I would probably be more likely to say “sorry, I cannot accommodate that request” in some form or other.
Although on a funny side note. I one time went alone to see a movie in a theater that was not stadium seating. It also wasn’t well attended. Only about 6 people came to see it. I had picked kind of a random seat (far back, all the way to the right near the exit) thinking no one would sit in front of me. Sure enough, a girl and her boyfriend came in and she decided she wanted to sit directly in front of me. It was weird and the boyfriend even tried to get her to move to different seats so they’d be closer to the middle, but she insisted on sitting directly in front of me. Weird. So I waited until the previews ended and got up and walked up two rows and sat in the seat directly in front of her. From the noises she made, I don’t think she liked having it done to her. Oh well.