Why Do People On Trains Go For The Seats Of Four?

By M@ Last edited 51 months ago
Why Do People On Trains Go For The Seats Of Four?

You board a train alone. There is a choice of seats. Where do you sit?

As an introvert, I always go for the airline-style seats. I want as few neighbours as possible.

My neurosis is not shared by everyone. Others board and head straight for the bay of four. It could be a legroom thing, but it seems people of all heights are attracted to these seats — even when the bay is partly occupied. Why?

Let's look at the pros and cons.

Reasons to go for the bay of four

1. Space. The group seats feel more open; less hemmed-in. You can leave a window seat without having to say 'excuse me' to the person next to you. The more leggy breed of passenger needs plenty of knee room. The bay of four seems to offer this luxury.

A man stretches out his legs on a train like a bit of a nobber, but at least he's not manspreading.
Ah, the luxury. Nothing's going to spoil my lounging ways.

Downside: The advantage vanishes if the lottery of travel places you opposite somebody with bulky luggage. Seats of two often give you more guaranteed foot space (if not knee space).

2. Table. The bay of four often (but not always) comes with its own table, with more real estate than the fold-down ledges on the back of seats. Plus, some trains have power sockets only at the tables.

Downsides: It's that bit harder to get out of your seat if you're penned in next to the window. If everyone's using the table, expect a silent but furious battle for territory.

Reasons to go for the bay of two

1. Privacy: Nobody facing towards you; only one person next to you. There is no danger of playing accidental footsie with the person opposite.

Legroom, what legroom?

Downsides: If you end up next to The Weirdo, then you have to carry that burden alone. Also, if you're at the window and the aisle person falls asleep, then you're done for.

2. Safe from the stag/hen/football group: We've all had that sinking feeling when a peaceful journey is interrupted by a group of revellers joining the carriage. Those sat in the bay of four can easily find themselves surrounded by booze-addled roisterers. Stick to the airline-style seats, and you only get one of them, who will probably lean out to shout to his/her mates.

Downside: No one's going to offer you a can of Stella. (This may be a plus-side.)

We did a little survey

To gauge people's preference, we put the Londonist Roundel Ramblings Facebook group to the poll. The results vindicated my own personal taste:

The seats of two (airline style): 142 votes
The bays of four: 72 votes
Other: 15 votes

Airline style seats proved almost exactly twice as popular as the group seats. The 'other' category included people who preferred to stand, some who sought out the rare single seats, and others who catch trains with three-in-a-row seats (a whole different scenario, not considered here).

What's your take?

Clearly, where to sit on a near-empty train is a decision laden with nuance. What's your preference? Have we listed all the factors that play into the judgement? Do certain trains throw up other variables. Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated 11 March 2019

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