April 6, 2023

Chose your own seat adventure - train thoughts part 2

In February I wrote about my train seating conundrums and how I felt men sat down next to me more than next to the men I often sat across from.

Recently, Andy saw someone we knew (but didn't care to speak to) on his morning commute.  I asked if they saw each other and he said yes.  Andy and I both take the same train, on different days, so it's quite likely this person has been on my train before.

I realized, I never look up.  At each stop, I stare straight ahead, or into my book.  I try to take up extra space, and I sometimes leave my bag on the seat next to me (if there are other seats available around me).  I never look at who is getting on the train, because I know that if I look at someone, they will likely sit down next to me.

Andy told me that he stares at everyone as they walk onto the train, warning them to stay away.  I asked how often people sit next to him and he said rarely ever.  He told me that looking at people with a warning stare means they don't sit next to him.

Now, I do have to note here that Andy is 6'6 and I am 5'5 and most sensible people would rather share a train seat with a 5'5 person than a 6'6 person.  There is arguably more room next to me than next to Andy.

But still, I started to ponder what a fully different experience we are having on our train - mine is based on ignoring everyone around me, his is based on engaging.  He expects to have a free seat, and generally does.  I consider a free seat a great victory.

Someday I would like to poll people on the train about their seating choices.  Does anyone else think about it as much as I do?

Recently I was on a London train, on a table seat.  I was sitting next to the window with an open seat next to me.  Across from me sat a middle age man, on the isle, with his bag on the window seat.  A youngish man got on the train, walked up to our table, and asked the man if he could take the window seat.   It felt like a victory.

Do you make eye contact on trains? Ignore people? Put your bag on the seat? Eat smelly food?


  1. I try to make myself as small as possible so that if someone wants to sit next to me they can. I also don't eat or play music out loud or any of the other things that people do that would keep someone from sitting next to them.

    This may be controversial, but I have issues with people who spread themselves out on seats in an effort to keep people from sitting next to them. Sometimes on my train to work, people will have their feet on the seat next to them, will be laying down in the seats (I would probably avoid that kind of person anyway) and have bags, or multiple bags in seats next to them. This is the same story at the airport; I have seen people with one of their bags in the seat on their left and the other is next to the seat on their right so they are essentially taking three seats! I am shy so I don't want to have to ask people to move their stuff so I will just stand so I don't have to bug them or get a dirty look, but I feel like they should be more cognizant of the fact that someone is wandering around looking for a seat. If I am on a commuter train and am afraid I may see someone I know and I don't want to talk to them, I will just keep my head down and stare at my book the whole time.

    1. You are a very polite transport rider! I used to get very annoyed when people put bags on seats (I have never seen someone lying down, or putting feet on seats... I think perhaps British people are more confined by social norms than BART riders? Just a guess). But then I decided instead of being annoyed I would just try my best to not be in the first 25% of people to get a seat-mate, hence my probably socially unacceptable approach.

      If people are standing I will always make room for them (although generally I am never the last on a train to get a seat-mate) - and if I'm standing and there's a seat with a bag on it I'll always ask someone to move their bag. I imagine it's much harder if you're shy though.

    2. Even though I am shy, I will ask for someone to move their bag if it's a long train ride, like going to the airport for instance. However, my train time for my commute is only about 10 minutes, so I actually don't want to sit down (since I sit all day) so I end up standing anyway! (also the 5 am train is not really that packed).

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  3. I share your curiosity about how people choose their seats on public transport and sure, generally it's nice if you don't have strangers sit next to you (if possible), but overall I agree with Kyria - I feel it's pretty rude for people to take up more space than one seat and everybody should have the opportunity to sit if seats are available.