Here’s The Right Way To Offer Your Seat On Public Transportation 

Here’s The Right Way To Offer Your Seat On Public Transportation 

Giving up your seat on public transportation for someone who needs it should be a simple, easy gesture. And yet, almost all of us have seen an exhausted, heavily pregnant woman standing, ignored, in a train full of comfortably seated passengers; a not-at-all-pregnant woman humiliated by an unsolicited offer to sit; an elderly person forced to stay standing while struggling with heavy grocery bags… the list of cruel indignities goes on.

Photo credit: WNYC on Visual Hunt

Part of this mess is that rules that should be straightforward in theory aren’t always in practice. Someone in their third trimester of pregnancy or ninth decade of life will probably be more than happy to accept a seat, sure, but what about the less clear-cut cases? Is it worth ruining the day of someone who might be bloated but not pregnant, or who has grey hair but is neither frail nor elderly? (“I think I get offered seats now because people see grey hair and think, ‘My god, she’s ancient, someone help her,'” says (not-ancient) Lifehacker Deputy Editor Alice Bradley.)

With this in mind, the Lifehacker staff has settled on a new rule: If you see someone who you think needs your seat more than you do, wait until they see you, and then simply get up. No need to make meaningful eye contact while doing that pointing gesture back and forth between the person and the seat. Just move. If they need the seat, they will swoop in and take it, and if not, you still attempted to do your good deed for the day, and is it really so bad to stand, anyway?

Of course, you run the risk that a clueless, able-bodied person will jump the gun and take the seat before your intended seat take-ee has the chance. (White men, we’re looking at you.) This sucks, but frankly, it’s worth the risk. What’s worse: Trying to do something nice and having a blundering idiot mess it up, or hurting the feelings of the person you were trying to help in the first place?

Now, if you’re able to make meaningful eye contact with that person – that is, the clueless seat-grabber – before they jump in and swipe a seat from someone who really needs it, all the better. But this is strictly case-by-case. The bottom line here is: Be considerate without being presumptuous, and get comfortable with the idea that you might be doing a favour for someone who will never realise it.


  • Honestly I’d be looking at clueless able-bodied teenage girls as most likely to swoop in to take a seat. Also least likely to offer one.

  • Hell no.. If I’m giving up my seat – which I’m happy to do for someone who needs it – it will be for a specific person.
    “ruining the day of someone who might be bloated but not pregnant” – If I offend someone by offering my seat nicely (more “Do you want to sit down” with a smile than “Hey chubs – do you and your foetus want a seat?” with a sneer), then too bad. I’m not going to avoid offering my seat to someone who potentially needs it to accommodate the feelings of someone who’s too sensitive. I’m offering my seat because you look like you need a seat – not specifically because I think you look pregnant/old/invalid. See it as the nice gesture it is, like someone wishing you a Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah if you’re of a different religion instead of taking it as someone trying to offend you..

  • I’m not looking up from my phone to inspect the midsection of every potentially fertile woman that steps onto my train. That’s creepy.

    Ask, and I shall levitate mine arse.

    Of course, if someone enters the carriage with an audible issue, like the step-plunk of a peg leg (parrot optional), that’s a different story.

  • Is this really so fucking difficult?

    If you see someone who looks like they might like a seat ask them “Would you like a seat?”.
    If they say “Yes” – stand up. If they say “No” – remain seated.

    Worrying about offending someone who doesn’t want to sit is just stupid. Standing up and moving away without even asking them is even more stupid, and probably makes you look like a bit of an arsehole. Maybe it’s a different game on the “subway” – I don’t know, but it’s not something likely to become commonplace in Australia.

    As for:
    (White men, we’re looking at you.)linked to a biased comic… just fuck right off.

  • why can’t they just ask for the seat if they need it? Why is it the responsibility of the person sitting to make the offer? If I need a seat I’ll ask, it’s called taking responsibility. I’ve only ever had one person give a smartass comment – and then they saw the crutches and fell over themselves to apologise.

    • Agreed- the signs on Vic PTV say “This seat must be made available on request.”
      If someone thinks they need a seat more than me, they probably do, & I’d be happy to give it up as soon as they ask.

  • The real thing I was hoping to see in this article was how to give someone the middle seat in a 3 seater bench when you’re on the aisle seat. The answer is of course that you don’t, you idiot. You move in to the middle seat yourself and let the other person take the aisle seat. This has to be one of the things that annoys me the most, what’s worse is some people don’t even get up, so you have to clamber past them to get to the middle seat. (When presented with that scenario, for some reason I almost always seem to accidentally step on toes or knock some knees, I’m clumsy like that.)

  • Elder, disabled or have some physical limitation with standing, yeah you can have my seat. Pregnant ahh that was your own choice.

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