Some bad fortune has required me to change my Thanksgiving travel plans at the last minute. I canceled my train ticket and bought a Greyhound bus ticket instead. I'm concerned by this language on the ticket:

Seating is first-come, first-served. In case of insufficient seating capacity, passengers will be placed on succeeding schedules that have available seats.

I intentionally bought a late departure (overnight trip) ticket. Now I'm worried that was a mistake, if there will be a cascade of travelers bumped from earlier buses competing for seats. Is there anything I can do to ensure I get a seat on the bus I intended to?

  • For the record: Greyhound in NYC were using special rules on Thanksgiving that meant the time on your ticket did matter; I arrived an hour early, got a good place in line, and had no trouble boarding the bus.
    – benzado
    Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 18:31

3 Answers 3


Normally you being there in plenty of time should ensure you are the first-came, and excess passengers would be put on after the rest of you. However, this is Greyhound we're talking about, and to further complicate, this is Thanksgiving, the day of the year rules just don't apply ;)

According to one source:

As the ticket policy suggests, Greyhound does not assign you a seat when you buy a ticket. If you show up at 8 AM for your 8 AM bus, the bus may be full. If you show up at 7:30 AM and the bus line already has 55 people in it, you may not get to ride that bus. If you're riding for your first time, you will get a good seat on your bus if you arrive an hour ahead of time, and will probably catch it (unless you need to check bags) if you arrive fifteen minutes ahead of time.

For the expert, how early you show up can be calculated by four variables: (1) Are you checking bags? (2) Is your bus "originating?" (3) Is your departure station popular? (4) Is the route popular?

If you're checking bags, you will have to wait in line. Depending on station , you may have to wait in the general ticketing line. At peak times, there can be 30 people in the general ticketing line--all of which have urgent needs. You don't have a choice about waiting, so budget 15-30 minutes.

An "originating" bus means that your bus will be empty when boarding begins. If your bus is originating, you can show up later, because more seats will be available.

If your departure station is popular (i.e. a large city), more people will be in line, so budget another 15 minutes. If the route is popular (and most are, especially on the weekends and at night), you may wish to budget another 15-30 minutes.

Your best situation is an originating bus, leaving from small town X, at 10 AM. Your worst situation is a North Hollywood bus originating in Los Angeles, CA going to San Francisco at 10 PM on a Friday night.

So given all that, I'd try and get there as early as you possibly can. Because after all, this is Thanksgiving, and you'll already be thankful you have a seat ;)

  • That's a pretty good source. The only problem with it that I see is that the buses virtually never originate "from small town X". They start or end in major cities. Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 6:12
  • @MichaelHampton there's a greyhound bus route that originates from Whistler, British Columbia. Its population is only around 10,000.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 16:15

Mark's answer is good. Here's my personal experience with Greyhound.

Just to be clear, the time on the ticket is completely meaningless. You show up, find out which gate your route boards from, get in that line. When the bus comes they let however many people they have room for on, if there isn't room for you that means you wait for the next bus on that route.

I've done Greyhound on the day before Thanksgiving a couple of times. It was pretty much complete anarchy as you probably imagine. I think I waited about 3 hours to board. The most frustrating part was there were (empty) buses at the gates, but I guess they didn't have drivers for them.

Check online to see how often the route you are using leaves. Arrive a few hours before a bus you'd like to make. Accept beforehand you may be waiting 4 hours or more. Bring entertainment for the line.

  • you don't say from where to where Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 0:31
  • Generally DC to Philly, and the return. Occasionally, I'd do New Carlton instead of DC, or Mount Laurel NJ instead of Philly. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 19:31

According to the latest policy i got (ottawa - toronto and back):

It doesn't matter when you arrive anymore. It all depends on this number you have on the ticket. That number will determine your position in the lineup.

So no point if you show up 1 hour head, if your ticket number says "50", then you have to lineup as the 50th person. The announcer will call the posistions "#1 to #10 please line up for boarding".

I guess they want to be special and adopt this system instead of assigning seats like trains and planes...

  • 1
    They've been printing these numbers on tickets for years. This is the first I've heard of them actually using them, though. Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 23:58

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