Since I don't have any priority, I avoid using priority seats* on busses, trains etc. However I see that other people who have no priority are occasionally using those seats. I wonder if there is a general code or etiquette for it.

Should I continue to avoid using priority seats even if they are vacant?

* Some seats may be for disabled people.

  • 22
    As their name implies, some people have priority for the use of those seats, but others can use them. They would be called "reserved" seats if it was otherwise.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 15:27
  • 13
    To some extent, whether it is appropriate or not depends on local norms. In some places, it would be rude to expect that someone who qualifies for a priority seat should have to ask for it, and in others, it would seem ridiculously impractical to leave them empty if no qualifying passengers were around. I wouldn't use the seats reserved for the elderly in Seoul, for example, but on the subway in New York, if I don't grab the seat, someone else will.
    – choster
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 15:32
  • 1
    A disagreement over use of the handicapped stall in a public restroom is played for humorous effect in season 5, epsiode 2 of the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm, titled "The Bowtie."
    – choster
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 15:35
  • @Abigail Generally 1 passenger out of 10 is sitting on a priority seat. I don't think that 10% of the people have invisible disabilities.
    – user63373
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 13:06
  • 3
    Note that by not using the priority seat, you're probably unnecessarily blocking the carriage thoroughfare/exit area. Use the seat, and if someone boards who looks like they need it more than you do, offer it to them.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 13:55

10 Answers 10


If there is no one on the bus/train/etc who currently needs the seat (or wheelchair space, where seats in that space exist) then it is perfectly okay to sit in it. Just be observant and be ready to get up if someone who does need it boards.

They are not 'these seats can ONLY be used by someone with a priority need' seats, but 'these seats should be the first to be given up and offered to someone with a priority need' seats. (They are also not the only seats that should be offered to such people, if the need arises for more.)

  • 44
    It's worth noting that some disabilities are hidden and this can cause problems for people who need those seats because, though they outwardly appear fine, they are not able to stand for extended periods.
    – user90133
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 16:30
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    @user22a6db72d7249 Which is why you should give it up to people who ask (without questioning them), not a reason to never sit in them. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 20:09
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    @Abigail It's a pretty basic human interaction. Person 1 says "Would you mind giving me this seat, I need it, even though I don't have a crutch." Person 2 says "Oh sorry, I do as well, can you ask someone else?" Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 20:50
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    @fkraiem If you don't sit in a seat on a crowded bus or train you are wasting space and someone else will just sit there. It's not rude to sit in one of those seats. You should get up when you see someone with an obvious disability, and you should get up when someone asks. I am not sure what you take issue with. Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 2:38
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    @fkraiem I am 100% for disability accommodations, but the number of people with a disability that causes them to be unable to ask someone to move and requires them to need a seat is very small. It's unreasonable to leave thousands of seats empty all over every city for the small handful of people with those issue. In my city, each bus has six such seats. Do you expect six people so disabled to ever board at once? There is always printed note cards and the driver to help out. What disability are you thinking of here? Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 6:40

As someone with one of those "hidden disabilities" that make me unable to stand for prolonged periods at times (and especially in a moving bus or train), I'd say indeed use the seat if there's no other available but be prepared to give it up to someone who needs it more than you.

It's not nice to have to ask someone to please give them a seat (more because I'm loathe to ask for help than because I don't want to be seen as weak or something like that), but it's better than being prevented from getting to a seat at all because someone's blocking the aisle you need to move through to get to it :)

For me it's luckily only an occasional issue, as my problems are related to recurring but not constant arthritis attacks and back pain that severely affect my balance. Mostly I don't need crutches but sometimes I do. And sadly, though not common, there are cases where other passengers will seemingly deliberately hinder those in need. Compared to that, just a minor inconvenience of waiting for someone to lend you a hand and give you a seat is nothing.

  • 1
    -1 Saying it's okay to take the seat because it means you're not blocking access to it is nonsense. You are blocking access in both cases.
    – fkraiem
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 10:40
  • 4
    In London you can get a "Please offer me a seat" badge to avoid / pre-empt any awkward conversations.
    – Matthew
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 11:19
  • 1
    @Matthew interesting and very handy. Wish we had something similar here. As is, days I've trouble standing and walking I just take crutches or a cane with me.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 8:33

In general if there is a seat available, you should aim to remain seated while the train, bus or tram is moving. This is a simple safety consideration: it's more dangerous to be standing than seated in the event of a sudden stop or crash. This includes utilising any seats designated as priority.

Priority seating labelling varies across networks, with the more modern signage saying something to the effect of

Priority Seating. Please be prepared to give up your seat to passengers with mobility needs

I think the key word here is prepared, you should be on the look out for others that might need it more at stops or stations if you are seated in a priority seat, not glued to a phone, asleep or otherwise oblivious to your surroundings. Obviously if you're sat in a normal seat and someone asks for it you should of course oblige, that's just common courtesy, but the be prepared part is less relevant.

Transport for London says the following:

All buses, Tubes, trains and trams have clearly marked priority seats for anyone who needs them. If one isn't available, ask if someone will give up a seat.

Source: Transport for London website

The implication here is that they can be used by anyone but they should move if asked.

CrossCountry trains is more explicit:

Other passengers may sit in these seats, but wherever possible they should be offered to anyone who needs them as a priority.

Source: CrossCountry Trains website

West Midlands Trains also indicates the able bodied may use priority seats:

When asked politely, most people will be quite happy to move from the seat (unless they need it too) to allow you to sit there instead.

Source: West Midlands Trains website

Other networks I looked into were less explicit in their language, merely referencing priority seating, but equally none of them state able bodied passengers making use of those seats is prohibited. Virgin Trains (which typically runs longer, inter-city routes) states that priority seating must be reserved in advance (Virgin Trains).

Priority seating is not to be confused with the blue badge disabled parking system where it is a criminal offence to park in (publicly owned) disabled spaces without displaying a valid blue badge.


Just like with "disabled" bathrooms, anyone can use these seats up until a disabled person requires them. There's no point in avoiding them just because someone might be too shy to ask for a seat. All you need to do is give up your seat at first notice - either when you see a disabled person or when someone (visibly disabled or not) asks you to vacate it.

Same rules apply to regular seats too - if someone with a cane needs a seat, I'd give it up even if there are special seats somewhere else on the bus/train.

  • 3
    Sure you can use them; that makes you a "not nice person' (Edited by a mod). -1
    – fkraiem
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 3:00
  • 7
    @fkraiem let's just agree to disagree :)
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 3:05
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    @fkraiem if I'm waiting in line, I'll let a disabled person use the bathroom first. If I'm currently occupying it, there's no harm in a small delay before the next person can use it.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 3:18
  • 4
    Where I live, bathrooms for disabled are usually separate and no, you are not allowed to use them. "Small delay" is no big deal, but being on a wheelchair is a small (or not so small) delay on its own and adding to it = being an inconsiderate 'not nice person' (edited by a moderator).
    – Mołot
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 13:57
  • 6
    Sounds like bathrooms may be very different in different areas. Here in America (because no one else cared to mention their locale), the "disabled" bathroom is simply a larger stall in the regular bathroom, and anyone can and does use it. In smaller bathrooms its common for there to only be one stall so you have to use it, and if there are two stalls, no one is going to wait rather than using the "disabled" stall. We call it a disabled "accessible" stall. Not reserved or priority, but simply designed to be accessible by someone with a disability if they need it.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 15:41

You can sit on them if no-one else is sitting in them. Be ready to offer your seat though.

If there are other available seats you should sit there instead as some people may have hidden disabilities that you don’t know about. You also won’t have the inconvenience of having to change seats later.

The person your offering it to might resent the implication that they need it. They may be offended that you think they look old or weak. Even more embarrassing, you might make the assumption they are pregnant, when they just look it.

In conclusion you can sit there but if there are other seats I wouldn’t.

  • 1
    Not only won't you have the inconvenience of moving, but if the bus has since gotten full enough that there aren't other seats, you won't be stuck standing.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 13:03

Yes, you can use them. This is the fundamental difference between Priority and Reserved seating. On most types of transport, you have Priority seating which means that a person that fits the criteria (elderly, pregnant, etc) gets the seat in priority to one that does not.

As long as it is available, you can take it but I also suggest that you take a non-priority seat if there is one available before using a priority one, although most people seem not to follow this suggestion. The main reason is that if you take the priority seating, someone who would need it more might not request it and make quite an effort to get to a seat which is available. I see this happen often but I also realize that priority seats are often over-provisioned.

In some places you have Reserved seating and the wording implies that you cannot use those seats even if they are available.

  • The wording for the seats is not always a good indicator on usage -at least outside the UK- . For example, in FGC network (fgc.cat/en) there are reserved seats in trains but anyone can use them as long as they are not needed by anyone in a protected group.
    – orique
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 10:15

As there is some disagreement, lets go with some sources as well:

Priority seats have been designated in public transport vehicles by certain transport operators to allow elderly, disabled, pregnant women and the injured to ride public transport with an equal degree of access and comfort as other people. Priority seats can be found on various public transportation, including the mass transit railways, buses, minibuses, and trams. The slogan "Please offer your seat to anyone in need" is often displayed beside the seat. The elderly, disabled, pregnant, and injured have priority to take these seats. In most cases, there is no regulation to restrict the use of priority seats, but people are expected to offer their seats to those in need.


[..] people think that only people in need can sit on the priority seats. Even if the train is full, priority seats are still left empty. This situation is common in Taiwan and Hong Kong. People, especially young people, are not willing to sit on the train as they are afraid of being morally criticized, scolded or even cyberbullied (like uploading their scenes of occupying priority seats to social networking websites). However, the priority seats are first-come-first-served. Priority seats are designed to promote the culture of offering seats to the needy. If there are no needy on the public transport, people are free to sit on the priority seats.

Source: Wikipedia

So, practically the take away from a travel perspective it might be wise to not use the priority seating if you're in Taiwan or Hong Kong, because even if you have the right to use them as an able-bodied person, it can still cause negative reactions.

Beyond that though in general you're allowed to use them, although at least I personally try to always sit down in a non-priority seat if possible. Both because that means I won't have to move out of the priority seat if someone needing it shows up and because it makes the lives of disabled and elderly people far easier.


You should be aware that some cities (personally familiar with Toronto but it sounds like London has something similar) have programs with official badges for people with invisible disabilities, which look like this (program details): enter image description here

If you're in a city with such a program, you should look out for these and move from a priority seat if you see someone wearing one.

  • You are kidding me... where I had my problem that gave me a hidden disability, Toronto was an easy daytrip. Wish I'd known... Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 17:17
  • Yes there is something similar in London and also a version with the message "Baby on board"
    – mdewey
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 15:36

Should I continue to avoid using priority seats even if they are vacant?

Yes, unless you're really sure no-one else needs it (e.g. multiple priority seats are available and you're the only one standing) or it’s so crowded that you don’t really have a choice.

Keep in mind that it is not always obvious when people need a seat and they often not dare to ask, priority seats should as far as possible be left empty for people needing them.

Related answer: https://travel.stackexchange.com/a/129527/55572

  • I agree that your answer is more relevant here than on the linked question, but I still heartily disagree with your position. Leaving empty space for "just in case" & blocking the aisles is counter-productive, for everyone, including those who are truly in need of the seat. You simply cannot squeeze 150 people onto a tube carriage or 70 on a bus at rush-hour & keep one bit miraculously clear. Human nature would also say that if I don't sit in it, someone else will anyway, so it's hardly enforceable.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 17:17
  • @Tetsujin yes I suppose this is difficult to applies on an overly crowded transport in a major city at rush hour, it’s more a general rule for the general case, for the rest one should apply common sense.
    – zakinster
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 18:20
  • On a half-empty bus or train... who cares, there are plenty of places to sit. These kind of enforcements only really start to make any sense at all [beyond simple common sense] in the rush hour.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 18:23
  • 1
    @Tetsujin although I agree with much of what you have said here even on a half empty bus or train it can make a difference to a person with certain disabilities that they can use a priority seat. I have problems with balance and fatigue due to nerve damage taking the priority seats close to the exit helps, and also makes it less likely I will trip over other people's bags or feet on the floor something I have difficulty with sometimes. It also does not help,if people are blocking the aisles without reason though.
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 2:41
  • @Sarriesfan - sorry - my 'who cares' may have come off as dismissive. It was really meant to be 'it doesn't matter because there are plenty of non-priority seats to choose from, so the matter need not arise.'
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 14:52

Should I continue to avoid using priority seats even if they are vacant?

Yes. If you don't need them, don't use them. It doesn't hurt you in any way (if it does, it means you do need them), and it makes it easier for those who do. (Not everyone can "just ask" you to give it up, for instance.)

This, of course, is not to say that you should just stand next to the priority seat if that makes it cumbersome to access it. The point is that if you do not need the seat, then you should ensure as much as possible that it can be easily accessed by those who need it, which start but does not end by not occupying it yourself.

Yes, of course, if the bus/train/whatever is crowded, you may have nowhere else to go but on or near the seat, and of course that's okay. Everyone can see that. The point is not to say that you can't go there just because, it's that you should be mindful of how your choice to sit here or stand there, insofar as you have such a choice, can greatly affect others.

  • 14
    The wording I most commonly see on priority seats is "Priority Seat - Please give this seat up if someone less able to stand needs it". You can't give up something you don't have. It's therefore implicit that anyone can sit in it, but they should then give it up if someone who needs it appears.
    – AndyT
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 11:09
  • @AndyT This message is intended for people already sitting there and doesn't mean you should sit there in the first place, especially if there is another place available.
    – zakinster
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 15:15
  • 4
    Common sense would always say to sit in another seat if available - for two reasons, one of which is you probably won't have to give it up... That doesn't mean you are going to stand for an hour staring at an empty seat with a Priority sticker above it, just in case someone might need it.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 17:37

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