I travel on the bus a lot. Twice a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year (minus a few weeks holidays) and I love it. It's a great time to unwind, to people watch, to lose yourself in thought for half an hour during that beautiful trip through the limbo of home life and work life where you can do simply nothing but wait to arrive at your destination.

One of the most interesting parts I've found (yes, I find mundane stuff like social etiquette on buses interesting) is dealing with busy buses, or more precisely the people on busy buses. Not crowded to the point people are standing or struggling to find space, but busy enough that there are no ideal* seats available.

Sometimes they don't even have to be that busy; if everyone on the bus is sitting in an ideal seat and has a bag with them this problem can present itself when the bus isn't even half full (or half empty, I'm not sure what the optimistic outlook on bus capacity is).

*An ideal seat is one that has the window available and doesn't require you to climb over someone to get to it.


Regardless of capacity, but assuming there are no other ideal seats available, but there are plenty of seats that are not occupied by patrons but are instead occupied by their bags, what is the optimal way of ensuring they move their bag so that you can sit down and relax for the duration of the journey, preferably without any awkward 'he made me move my bag / I had to make them move their bag' tension between you?

Attempts So Far

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have in fact made several attempts to ensure other passengers' belongs will not impede my derrière's voyage to its temporary resting place, with mixed results. When I say mixed results, every single time they have been successful in getting the item of dispute out of my bottom's path, but it is the resultant fellow passenger's reactions that have been mixed. Here they are listed in what I have felt has been the most positive reaction to the most negative (judged by the resultant body language, verbal response and eye contact for the remainder of the trip):

  1. Asking the person 'Can you move your bag please?'
  2. Asking the person 'Do you mind if I move your bag?'
  3. Telling the person 'Move your bag.'
  4. Sitting down on the remaining seat that is left where the person's bag is.
  5. Moving the person's bag without any other interaction with the person. (As in picking it up and placing it on their feet, I've only done this once, I don't recommend it.)

So as you can tell, I'm a bit of a connoisseur in bag moving, enjoying variety and keeping it fresh, but I'm still really interested to know what IPS's thoughts on the matter are.

Clarifying Points

  • I think bag size matters here, if someone is lugging a huge suitcase around with them on the bus which, for any reason (even because they simply don't want to) isn't in the baggage area, then I'd rather stand than have them move it. They've got enough to deal with, I'll take the hit on this one. So let's assume a bag around small rucksack size unless you want to explicitly address different bag sizes in your answer.
  • My ticket does not entitle me to a seat. An important point on this one. As a living, breathing human being I feel I am more entitled to a seat than your nan's groceries but this doesn't mean that I am.
  • People on the bus can be any age, any gender, any race, any shape, any size, anything, the only thing they share in common is a habit of placing their bag in between my butt and its planned safe harbour. Feel free to break it down in your answer though if you feel it is relevant.
  • It hasn't arisen before, but if someone refused to move their bag on the first attempt, I would make a single follow up attempt to reason with them and then I would drop it and figure out alternative arrangements for where to store my buttocks (likely another seat). I point this out just to clarify that the above list is not a progression through refusals, I'll quite happily accept that someone really wants to keep their bag on the chair.
  • Location: UK.
  • Bus layout / seating arrangements are single seats arranged in pairs along each side of the bus with an aisle up the middle, thus:

Bus photo

from: http://www.busandcoachbuyer.com/meeting-customer-satisfaction

So what do you think IPS, how can I secure a seat to hang my heinie with minimal ill-effects on the person who has to move their bag?

  • 8
    Great first post +1 and welcome to the site.
    – apaul
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 23:58
  • 6
    Out of my bottom's path - an epic voyage in seven stanzas.
    – user510
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 8:31
  • 3
    I learned more than five phrases to express "sit" in English in one post
    – Vylix
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 2:06
  • 6
    "My ticket does not entitle me to a seat." But neither does anyone else's ticket entitle them to two seats.
    – swbarnes2
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 19:27
  • 1
    Have you tried asking "Is this seat occupied by someone?" Most people respond positively. If they say something flippant like "Yeah, my bag" then remove the bag and say "Oh, mr Bag decided to give me his seat. How nice of him":
    – Stian
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 9:37

8 Answers 8

  1. Asking the person 'Can you move your bag please?'

I can't think of a single way of using tone or inflection so that this doesn't come off as rude. edit: I should probably add that I believe this is rude due to the inherent demand for the seat in the statement. Yes, you are using please, however you are essentially forcing your will on someone else. To me this says "Either move your bag or I will!"

I agree that it can be considered rude for the person to have placed the bag in that location to begin with. Whether this question is more or less rude is immaterial because the point of the entire exchange is to acquire this seat. Making demands from the start is a poor way of getting what you want.

  1. Asking the person 'Do you mind if I move your bag?'

This sounds entirely unreasonable. No you can't touch my stuff!

  1. Telling the person 'Move your bag.'

Authoritative and incredibly rude. I hope you are a police officer...

  1. Sitting down on the remaining seat that is left where the person's bag is.

This is very passive aggressive and presumptive on your part.

  1. Moving the person's bag without any other interaction with the person. (As in picking it up and placing it by their feet, I've only done this once, I don't recommend it.)

This is worse than #2 above - entirely unreasonable and even threatening.

Seems to me that the best way is to be polite about the entire exchange and just ask nicely:
"Hi. May I sit here?"

update by request:
Starting off by saying "Hi", you are getting the person's attention in a friendly manner. Smiling while doing this will also help. After all, it's hard to ignore someone that's friendly and smiling.

"May I sit here?" This does several things.

  • It signals your desire for the seat.
  • It grants the other person the power to make the decision as to whether they want you next to them. By helping them feel empowered they are more likely to give you what you want.
  • By being polite, you are signaling that you aren't a scary person to be next to.
  • Unlike the options you originally listed, this is non-confrontational.

It's been my experience that people place bags next to them in order to prevent unwanted neighbors. If you come across as friendly, polite and generally amenable then you are signalling that you aren't the worst choice..

I don't think adding the word "please" changes any of the above. It might make a difference in certain locales, just not the one I happen to be in.

  • 9
    Don't tell people what to do. Tell people about your goals and then let them come up with solutions on their own. I'd call it "Management 101", if more managers actually understood it. "Can I sit here?" is definitely the right answer.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 9:00
  • 46
    You think it is rude to ask a person that has occupied two seats (which in my opinion is much more rude) to please move their bag in order to free up one of those seats? I disagree...
    – MichaelK
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 10:48
  • 18
    How is asking someone to move their bag rude? The rude thing to do is leaving your bag on a seat while someone else is forced to stand in the bus.
    – user2848
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 10:55
  • 4
    @MichaelKarnerfors Being right and justified doesn't magically make rudeness not rude.
    – Cronax
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 15:21
  • 3
    Saying "Please move your bag" — in order to free up a seat they were not meant to be occupying — is not rude. The bus is not their property either, and since the unspoken — but entirely known — rule is: one seat per ticket, there is no rudeness in asking to have a seat made available.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 18:52

What I usually do is stand in the aisle and look at several empty seats which are occupied by bags.

People get the message. Soon, one of them will get their bag out of the seat so you can sit down.

The benefit of this method is that the nicest person (or the one who wants you as a neighbor) will be the first to free up a seat for you. The one who wants to be left alone will not. So it selects both for the nicest neighbor, and the one who will be the least annoyed by your presence. Make sure you thank them after sitting down.

Only if no-one volunteers should you switch to "may I?"


Social etiquette on a bus after the 'ideal' seats are taken is that people work together to get the most number of people sitting, and then physically onto the bus and you are not out of line in prompting someone to move their bag. However, there are a few exceptions where you should leave the passenger be such as if there is no place where the bag will fit other than on the seat which can happen with a combination of particularly large bags or particularly frail older passengers.

Now, I also bus to work every day and have found that most people understand this usually unspoken etiquette, and after thinking about this fact, there are a few more options that you did not list in your attempts and would have the best chance of going smoothly/without any awkward or upset feelings coming from the passenger who moved their bag. These would be to try and draw attention to yourself which would prompt clued in passengers to move their bags. You can do this by walking down the aisle and not so subtly looking around for a place to sit, standing/waiting for a minute or best of all making eye contact with a promising passenger. If you make eye contact and they do not move their bag then this would be an opportune moment to as one of your first two attempts after which any normal person would happily move their bag with less chance of bad tension than flat out telling them to move their bag. Your other attempts are all still socially acceptable other than #5 which would only be okay in very rare cases such as a completely full -1 seat bus where a passenger has headphones plugged in, is looking away and has a very small and easily hold-able bag on the seat. In this case simply moving it would be seen more as just assuming the goodwill of the other passenger and that they would move it if they noticed and you are only helping.

In the case where a passenger refuses to move their bag they are obviously in the wrong but I think your strategy is more likely to cause conflict than acquire your rear end a place to rest, not to mention you wouldn't be able to properly relax next to someone who is needlessly upset with you. The best option would be to turn and look for another seat, in which the conflict would have probably drawn enough attention that a better mannered passenger may even immediately offer you a seat as a way of publicly showing the 'correct' way of behaving on a bus.


First things first :

Ask your bus driver or bus service what their rules are.

Social etiquette is not the only issue here, as public transport systems have rules and generally have rules about bags on seats as well.

You are also wrong to prioritize other peoples' feelings about this.

You're not being rude asking them to move their bags.

They're being rude not moving their bags.

The question which should have a seat, bags or a person has no real dilemma IMO.

Bags can go under feet or on laps. I do it all the time. This is reasonable behavior. And people with too many bags should be putting them in the stowage area - there normally is a small one on buses here (Dublin,Ireland).

How to ask ?

I think you're over-thinking this one.

A plain and simple, "Sorry, I need to sit here." usually works fine for me. Typically I find that just giving people a sympathetic nod and a glance at the seat works. I use public transport all the time and typically at rush hour (when a seat is a luxury more often than not after the first few stops).

Moving them yourself is not a good idea - the legality of this is dubious. However I am certain that the bus driver (or conductor if you still have one of those mythical creatures) almost certainly can demand they move the bags and require them to leave the bus if they don't.

And I suspect people being unreasonable and refusing is probably against your bus company's terms and conditions (which you and they are bound by when you purchase a ticket).

Public transport is, by it's nature, a cooperative exercise that requires people to use common sense. People who don't or won't do not deserve anything more than minimal courtesy.

My ticket does not entitle me to a seat. An important point this one. As a living, breathing human being I feel I am more entitled to a seat than your nan's groceries but this doesn't mean that I am.

Almost certainly you're not entitled to a seat if the bus is full to standing, but equally I'd be astonished if you didn't have priority over someone's bags under typical terms and conditions.

Let's not loose sight of the fact that this is a business transaction and people are not paying for a seat for their bags.


Many things are a matter of mindset. My mindset in approaching the problem is "that person didn't notice that the bus is running out of empty seats and forgot to put their bag out of the seat. So if there is a seat with a bag on it, it's obvious that I will have the seat, and that the bag will be removed.

So I walk to that seat with the right attitude, say "excuse me" loud enough to be noticed, and they move their bag. Works without any problems.

From the question: "My ticket does not entitle me to a seat. An important point this one. As a living, breathing human being I feel I am more entitled to a seat than your nan's groceries but this doesn't mean that I am." I don't know about you, but I am more entitled. I bet nan's grocery doesn't have a ticket.

From the question: "It hasn't arisen before, but if someone refused to move their bag on the first attempt, I would make a single follow up attempt to reason with them and then I would drop it..." There is no point reasoning with them. They have to move the bag, that's all there is to it. If they don't move it, it will be moved for them.

One thing that happened to me: I enter a very full underground carriage. But there are three empty seats. I check it out and they are empty because some guy, drunk and asleep, managed to occupy all four seats and that is more impoliteness than brits can handle. Had to wake him up, which he was not happy with, but then I got a seat and two more passengers got a seat.


"So what do you think IPS, how can I secure a seat to hang my heinie with minimal ill-effects on the person who has to move their bag?".

You could write to the transit company and ask that they consider signage and an advertising campaign such as the one enacted by Spain's Empresa Municipal de Transportes de Madrid (Spanish only, EMTMadrid) or the USA's Seattle Sound Transit system.

I'll leave Sound Transit's tweets to explain why people might occupy an additional seat with their bag.

A polite image from their campaign asks people to place their bag under, not on, the seats.

Don't be a seat hog.

Get a T-shirt or magnetic sign for your briefcase.

Explain politely your needs and why your request is within reasonable norms. People may not like being reminded of rules or social norms, smiling while you speak calmly and politely may be more effective than many of the tactics that the OP choose to employ. They may be tired or unaware, much as you are tired of asking, assistance from the transit company can help convey the message politely that the bus is for everyone and that people who arrive first do not have a greater entitlement.


I've never had any problem with "I'm terribly sorry, can you please move your bag so I can sit down?"

From either direction that seems to be both direct and polite.

(If I get on a bus or train with 3 people on it then yes, my bag will go on the seat next to me. If I am busy reading as the car fills up I may not notice that I am denying someone a seat.)

The trick is to apologize for the inconvenience whether you are the owner of the bag or the person who wants to sit down. A few apologies really smooth social interactions among strangers.

(US coastal areas.)


I usually ask "Excuse me, is this seat taken?" or something along those lines while looking or pointing at the seat. Usually the bag owner then hurriedly moves their bag and utters an apology.

This approach works because it is non-confrontational. I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to say something like "Please remove your bag." or "I would like to sit there" without sounding like a jerk. Even if the bag gets removed and I get to sit down I find this interaction upsetting. Asking the above question makes it clear I would like to sit down, but does not create a confrontation because the removal of the bag is implied but not explicitly asked. Hence it gives the 'perpetrator' an easy out without being confronted about their 'misbehaviour' which may have been either accidental or somewhat inconsiderate without malice. Obviously, if someone is being deliberately anti-social, this approach will not work. But in that case I'd rather not have the confrontation either and just move on.


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