February 10, 2023

On Buses and Trains - Seating Conundrums

I am running a small experiment.  

When I take the train to work I there is usually an open seat next to me when on departure.  More people get on at stops 2-4.  Most people get off at stop 5.

How do the newcomers pick who to sit next to?  When each row is full (the seats are 2x2) then someone inevitably gets a seat partner.  Is anyone more likely to partner with anyone else?

For the last few weeks I have sat across from someone, one open seat and an isle between us.  I often put my bag on my adjacent seat to avoid people sitting next to me... at least until 50% of the seats are already full.  

Does this make me a jerk?  Probably.

This week across from me was a professional looking man about my age.  At stop 2, as the train filled up, a 50ish year old man asked me to move my bag so he could sit down.  The man across from me had an empty seat still.  

Why did the newcomer ask me to move my bag rather than sitting in the seat opposite?

Two weeks ago I sat opposite a woman who was younger than me.  When the train started to fill up a man sat down next to her.  My seat was spared.

Often I scan the train, to see who has partnered.  It is so often woman-man in any two seats, and man left to sit alone in a two seat.  Some of these people know each other of course, but most don't.  This is a commute train.  People are tired and want space.

The space, apparently, is unknowingly saved for the men on the train.


  1. What an interesting experiment. I am not commenting these days but I would like to know if that is a global phenomenon or not. And it would also be interesting if women sit next to women because "they don't want to give the wrong impression" to the men. Very very interesting.
    I will be traveling by train next week to Hamburg. I will be a bit more attentive. We'll see.

  2. This is so interesting! I know that when I have to choose who to sit next to, I will almost always choose a woman over a man. But it's fascinating that men seem to do this, too! I wonder if we pick the most "non-threatening" person to sit next to? Maybe that's why people sit next to younger women first? Maybe if you intentionally look really grumpy you can preserve your empty seat?

  3. I always sit next to women because I have been physically assaulted by men on public transit. If I am traveling alone, my preferences go as follows: sit next to an empty seat, sit next to a woman, stand. Never do I voluntary choose to sit next to a man.

  4. Interesting! I love how you observe the world, Rachel. I also think that most people probably choose to sit next to a woman - although I feel like the way the open seat is facing might also make a difference (you didn't say if you were facing the front or if you were riding with the back to the front).

    1. Oh that is interesting! The last time I took the train I was sitting at a table seat facing backward, and diagonally from me was a guy facing forward. He had sat in the isle blocking the window seat, and put his bag on the seat. a late 20s(?) man came and asked him for the window seat before someone sat next to me... maybe facing backwards is the key to sitting alone?