Bags On The Seat. Really?

Nishith Goyal
4 min readDec 5, 2019

Remember the last time you boarded the bus and all the seats were taken?

Not by passengers, but their bags!

The bags sit proudly on the aisle while their owners stare out of the window. The stare is just a sham that tells you to keep moving to the next available seat. You look at the bag and it shouts back at you — “This is my seat, back off!

Isn’t that frustrating and confusing?

There is ample space on all the public transport to hold your bags but still, our favorite place to keep our beloved luggage/laptop bags/handbags is that adjoining seat. There are racks and there is space below the seat, but still, these bags become a prized possession while we board these public transports.

Each time I board a bus to and from my workplace, I am amazed by the boldness of the people to hold on to their fellow traveler's seat by placing all their stuff on to the adjacent seat. I try my best to let people know that I am not happy with this. I make faces, I babble, I whine, I throw my stuff around, but man, they are tough!

Why do we do this?


I see two reasons behind it:

  1. “This is my territory” behavior, and
  2. “You are a stranger” syndrome.

Ya, these are strange-looking patterns, but to me they are real. When I went to Google and asked her (and you thought Google is a man!), she gave me some real scientific results to back these “imaginary” syndromes. I couldn’t believe that few people have done a deep study to find the rationale behind such a behavior!

“This is my territory” behavior


“Most of the time most people claim a space and others tacitly agree to it.” says the University of Victoria psychology professor Robert Gifford.

People like to claim the same seat each day. It’s like a territorial claim. Be it a classroom, or your workplace or on public transport, we find comfort in claiming the same seat each day. If there is anyone else holding on to the seat, the experience is not soothing. By claiming the same seat over and over again, we feel control over our environment and that helps us gain confidence in our external surroundings.

Few studies have shown that women are more prone to this behavior than men. This might be because they carry an extra purse or handbag along, which leads to a desire to hold on to extra space.

“You are a stranger” syndrome


Yale University's doctoral student Esther C. Kim explored that the “bag-in-seat” move is just one among a collection of similar strategies, which can be termed as “nonsocial transient behavior.” Or in simple words, they’re tactics people use while traveling in an attempt to keep strangers at arm’s length, or farther away.

With nonsocial transient behavior, “respect is not a concern,” Kim writes. It’s not about affording other people the courtesy of elbow room; instead, it’s telling your neighbors “overtly not to step into [your] territory.” It is a performance, Kim says, and not a civil one.

When I see this behavior in my fellow passengers, I feel like screaming in their faces to lift those bags and allow me to sit comfortably. But then my mind becomes full of queries — Is this good? Should I be asking them to remove the bag? Can this create a controversy? Why upset a fellow passenger?


The Japan Private Railway Association recently gathered information from 72 railway companies and 2,686 respondents to compile an annual list of inconsiderate behavior committed at stations or in trains that exasperate Japanese passengers.

Making the top spot of inconsiderate train behaviors is the way bags are held or placed by passengers in crowded trains. Specifically, 66.2 percent of respondents indicated that rucksacks carried on the back or shoulder bags slung at the side inconvenienced them, while 9 percent did not like passengers putting their belongings on seats. Another 8.3 percent even found bags placed on the floor of train cars frustrating.

What is perhaps most surprising is that bag placement slowly crept up from 12th place in 2009 to third in 2017, and is now first place this year.

Why am I writing this?

Because it bothers me and I want to tell everyone on board that there is a place for your bags, place them either on the top racks or put them under your seat.

By portraying to sleep or to look outside the window or to give a stare are not the right tactics anymore. There might be a lot of science behind what and why we do, but the thought of a stand-off with a fellow passenger each day bothers me a lot.

How to handle this awkward scenario?

Option A: The best and most appropriate method is to make a gentle request. (It works all the time, though only after a “you are a shit” stare!)


Option B: The next best strategy is to give a “you are so wrong” stare to the passenger (expecting results after that? Come on!)


Option C: Face-off! (Try at your risk!)




Thanks for reading.

If you liked this article, I would request you to kindly hit the 👏 button as many times as you can, so that more people like you can read it.

If you too are a frequent public transport user and “suffers” from this syndrome, please share this article and help people understand their own behavior and make necessary amends. Let’s try and help each other, let’s de-congest the adjacent seat, let’s respect our fellow passengers and lets “keep our bags off”.



Nishith Goyal

Author of two books, Creator - Be Better Bit-By-Bit, Long-distance runner, diarist, Podcaster. Writes about Journaling, Self, and Positive Impact.