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I've come across this rude habit of some people in the waiting areas at airports or hospitals wherein they place something (like a handbag or a water bottle) on a vacant seat next to them, and claim that their loved one is on the way.

Of late, I have taken to returning the item on the empty seat to its owner, and politely explaining to them that their loved one is no more deserving of a place to sit than I am.

I may add that I live in India where there are usually more people waiting than there are seats.

Is there an etiquette about saving seats for friends/relatives in waiting areas?

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  • Hi Thomas, welcome to IPS. I've given your post an edit in order to keep it away from being off-topic (hopefully). Feel free to reverse it or edit it yourself.
    – OldPadawan
    Mar 5, 2023 at 20:35
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    I am not a specialist, but that would be called "offside" in football. So probably not good etiquette. I am not from India, so I cannot provide a good answer, but I have a question. Did you try to "bargain"? Something like: "Please allow me to sit until your <somebody> comes. When they come, I will stand up and free the seat for them"... If you tried, how did they react?
    – virolino
    Mar 6, 2023 at 6:56

2 Answers 2

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I'm going to answer based on my experience in airports. I've spent a lot of time in airports in various cities in the USA, plus a bit in other countries.

I have never, ever, in 5+ decades of air travel, observed anyone just picking up someone else's belongings off a seat in order to sit there. Not in the USA, not in Latin America, not in Europe. It's just not done. As far as I can tell, at least in the USA it would be considered extremely rude, and could even get the person into trouble with airport security. For example, if someone walked up to the chair my wife's purse was on and picked it up I would definitely be yelling and getting the attention of airport personnel.

What I have observed (and done myself) is walked up to someone who has gear on an adjacent seat and asked "is anyone sitting there" or "is this seat occupied"? That's common enough that it's only mildly awkward. Either the person will pull the gear onto their lap or they will say "yes, so-and-so is sitting there" at which point it's time to politely move on.

One thing to remember in travel situations like airports is that people aren't just sitting for 5, 10 or 15 minutes. When my wife and I get to the airport we've already sat through a 3 hour bus ride, and we are looking at 90 minutes or more of hanging out till we board, and then 3-7 hours of sitting on a plane. So yes, people are going to get up and walk around while they can. It's just a fact of life.

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TL;DR: it is rude to save seats and then people show up late to claim them (or don't even show up), but it is just as rude to move other people's property.. "Two rudes don't make a polite". Context really matters: place, people involved, time...

Public spaces, such as bars, concerts, theaters, airports, trains... are full of written or unspoken rules, most of which are just basic behaviours you should have picked up early in your life, as early as kindergarden: just be polite, wait your turn, but the early bird should only gets his worm.1

Many places have policies: theaters, concerts and so on... that non-reserved seats can't be saved, or only be saved for a certain amount of time before the show starts (like 10 minutes), otherwise it's 1st come, 1st served. When facing a claim of "seat saving", in assigned seats or no seat-blocking areas (also known as OPOC: One Person, One Chair, a policy we used to enforce at bars/restaurants I worked for), you either decide to live and let live or go seek out an employee, rather than enforce the rule yourself, which can degenerate into a conflict.

But watch enough people hogging chairs at crowded places and you realize there is no good rule about when you should and shouldn't try to save a seat.

"My friend's in the bathroom." "She's outside having a cigarette." "My husband's parking the car." Then, 20 minutes later, the friend "in the bathroom" inevitably rushes in and sits, wearing a winter coat and apologizing for being late. Fritz Hahn - Washington Post

In some places, saving seats is so common and so accepted a practice that the only real arguments I've heard concerning it have to do with the specifics of etiquette -- how many seats an individual person can save, whether they can be saved after the movie or whatnot has started etc. The etiquette of saving seats for others

Avoid saving seats for people who may or may not show up, or don't have the courtesy to get there on time. Those who are prompt should be rewarded. Reader's Digest -- rules of etiquette that everyone should follow

In your case, you could maybe ask for the seat until she shows up, and explain that you can rest for a while without bothering anyone. Depending on the answer, back to the above lines: do you want to argue, try and enforce your right to have a seat, and escalate or not?


1. inspired by Fritz Hahn - Washington Post

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