In the United Kingdom, when is it appropriate to offer your seat to someone on a train or bus? Okay, if someone is in distress by standing through disability or otherwise it seems clear enough. However, I am of a generation that manners dictated that men generally, and younger men particularly, should also offer their seat to women (especially ones who are heavily pregnant), and to the elderly (whatever that means these days).

Is it still appropriate to make the assumption that such individuals should be offered a seat? If so, how can this be done without coming across as patronising?

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    I don't know about UK, but in India, we do have reserved seats for disabled and ladies. If none of them is available, then it is up to one to offer their seat. In general, I'd offer my seat to old people, disabled, and pregnant ladies or women with newborns.
    – A J
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 9:08
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    If someone wants to be upset with your offer, they will be and that's on them and not you. I remember a coworker (50 or so) grumbling about the previous night being offered a seat by a young lady. If someone's in a bad mood like that and had a rough day, ironically, they -could- use a bit of relaxation. I tend to frame it as "I'd like to offer a seat" vs "I guess I'd better offer a seat."
    – aschultz
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 2:25
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    I'm sorry I can't resist sharing an anecdote. Once there was an a lady in my bus who I guessed was around 7 months pregnant. I immediately offered her my seat. She said there's no need but I insisted saying she definitely needs it more in her situation. She was all red and angry in the face as she sat, I had no clue why. Later on, I came to know she was not pregnant, she was not married, she was just a thin lady with a huge tummy and people always offer her a seat . So please don't just assume, tell them you can offer your seat if needed, it's then up to them.
    – svj
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 3:47

5 Answers 5


It's entirely down to personal preference. Yes it is generally acceptable to offer your seat to an elderly or disabled person (there are even some seats in places where you must give up your seat if a disabled person comes along), it isn't always necessary to offer it to women. If you don't want to offer it to a woman (just because they're a woman) then you don't have to, obviously if they fall into a category mentioned above still offer them the seat (and if they're pregnant) however there is no need to just because they're female.

I personally wouldn't offer my seat up for a woman just because she's a woman, but would offer it to someone who was disabled, elderly, or pregnant (or in clear distress due to them standing up). The only exception to this would be if they have been standing up for a long time, and you have been sitting down for a long time (and would be okay standing), however this would also apply to anyone of any gender.

At the end of the day do whatever you feel comfortable doing, if you feel uncomfortable not offering your seat to a woman, then just offer them it, simple as that.

When it comes to offering the seat, if they are nearby to your location, simply stand up and offer them your seat, you can always say

"Hey, do you want to sit down?" while gesturing to the seat in question

Of course they may refuse your offer, in which case you are perfectly okay to sit down again (as otherwise if they don't use it someone else probably will so it might as well be you).

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    I think a key component here is standing up when you make the offer. If you stay sitting, it makes you seem more reluctant, like your gesture is only symbolic, and you don't really want to give them your seat.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 13:27
  • "If you don't want to offer it to a woman (just because they're a woman)" "I personally wouldn't offer my seat up for a woman just because she's a woman" - I love sentences like this, where, if read a certain way, it sounds like there is 1 reason you wouldn't give up your seat and it is because she is a women. :) I wonder if there is a word for this type of ambiguity. Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 0:53

In the UK on much public transit, you may see a sign like this near the entrance of the vehicle:

Priority seating in UK

The text reads:

Priority Seat for people who are disabled, pregnant or less able to stand

The images represent a pregnant woman, a skirted individual carrying a small child, and a person with a cane.

Until recently, I tended to avoid the seating area labeled as above so that I don't have to get into this exact situation. If this is the only place available for you to sit when you get on the bus/train, take it without concern but be prepared to move (without attitude) without being asked.

If the bus/train is very full and all of these seats are occupied and you see someone in need looking for a seat, feel free to offer it, particularly if they fall into one of the three categories on the sign. I've personally offered a seat to people not in these categories in the past, often when I'm nearing my stop or if they really seem to want a seat.

Pregnant women often have issues with balance, so being able to sit on a moving vehicle saves them from the risk of a fall. Elderly individuals start to have issues with balance, too, and may get tired easily. Particularly if they use any sort of walking assistance, offer them a seat. Be aware, too of riders who have disabilities that may not be immediately apparent, such as the blind. Having a spot near the entrance can make it much easier for them to use transit.

One group that hasn't been mentioned in your question is people with small children. Particularly infants and children under three, it can be very considerate to offer seats to the parent (with their child to sit in their lap) as squirmy kids can be a handful.

In general, as someone who has been pregnant and has a small child, I have never felt patronized when someone offers me their seat... which I think is where your question goes wrong. Being polite - if it is sincere - is always an appropriate action. Unfortunately, you can't control how others respond but if they respond in a way that is haughty and disdainful of your action, that is their problem, not yours. Don't let their ill-mannered response make you feel poorly.


If even offering a seat seems awkward, there are other things to try. This may be more how than when. Also, I am in Chicago, but I think these techniques don't seem specific to Chicago.

When I'm on the bus, I'm able to see who is boarding, and if someone who needs the seat more than me (for instance, they have a few bags) or a family with young kids is coming on, then I try to move away from my seat. Especially if the one next to me is open.

It can be awkward to offer a seat outright, but if the family sees an open seat, then they feel free to just go and take it--as they should.

I often sit in handicapped priority seats on an empty bus, but I look out for people who actually need them if it fills up.

I'm also more likely to give my seat up if my stop is near, whether on the bus or train. I think it's acceptable to offer a seat and ask if someone is going to be on the bus for a while. That can shift the offer from seeming like "I'm more able than you, aren't I nice giving you a seat" to "I'd like to pass the comfort on. I've enjoyed sitting enough."

  • Here in Israel, I do the same. Just free my seat without even creating eye-contact, as if it doesn't have to do with the other person, giving them a chance to decide. I relate to your last sentence, it is very nicely put.
    – Whyka
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 18:09

One should offer one's seat to people who are clearly "weaker" (or in a weaker position) than you are. These include 1) pregnant people, 2) disabled people, and 3) older people (unless you are in one of these categories yourself).

You might also offer a seat to someone not in the above categories who is "struggling," and men might offer seats to women, but that is more discretionary.


If your goal is to avoid possibly upsetting someone, you can always vacate your seat without saying anything. If you stand up right before a semi-elderly person gets close to your seat, they can take it if they want, or choose not to.

I have often gotten up and moved to another seat in the back of the bus without saying anything. This technique would of course leave you standing if there were no open seats.

In the US, at least, there is no expectation to offer anyone a seat based on their gender, but I would of course offer one to anyone who is pregnant.

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