Wondering when - and how - to offer a seat on subway/bus politely and without causing offense?

As one PSP member asked the group: "When / how do you offer a seat on the subway or bus to someone who you think may need it but aren't sure if they do?  For example, those who aren't quite elderly but you're just not sure, or those who may be pregnant.  Sometimes I find myself wanting to offer, but I don't want to offend anyone, either!  In these cases, I'll get up without saying anything and walk down the car, but then that leaves the seat open to someone else who it wasn't intended for to snag?"

Be sure to check out a related PSP thread: Pregnant on the Subway and PSP member conducted a very informal survey about being pregnant on the subway: Pregnant Sloper in Subway Seat Shocker!


Tips on how to best offer a seat on the subway:


"Easy peasy. When in doubt ask if they would like to sit down because you are going to stretch your legs. Of course you'll have to give up the seat anyway but 9 times out of ten people will take it."


"I love this topic. I've been in the same position and it's just so awkward! You want to do the right thing but you don't want to accidentally insult someone. I'm now in my 7th mth of pregnancy (#2) and I can tell you of an incident from when I just barely showing. A kind man wasn't sure how to offer his seat to me so he just looked up at me and without even referencing my budding belly, said "you look like you could use a seat today, please take mine". Then he got up and sort of made everyone shift to specifically make sure I got the seat. There's a chance he didn't even know I was pregnant, but I was VERY grateful for the seat and the manner in which it was offered. I plan to do the same if ever there is doubt about whether someone really "needs" it or not. So often, even now while i'm VISIBLY pregnant, people often look away or stare at their phones to avoid giving up their seats. I never want to be that kind of person, so better to accidentally offer it to someone who doesn't need it than to NOT offer it to someone that really does."


"I try to make eye contact with the person and very quietly ask if they would like a seat using hand motions. I have had many people say "no thank you" but never have I had anyone upset with me for offering.  I don't consider myself elderly or infirm, and I'm not presently pregnant, but if offered a seat on the train, (usually because I have a loud child asking me if I want to sit, they will sit on my lap), I am almost always very happy and grateful to take the seat!"


"It's better to offer, than not. People will tell you if they don't need it. I have yet to see someone on the subway say that they are offended for being offered a seat."


"My best experience of this last week in Boston from a lady on the T 'Would you like a seat - I think you're further along than me!'. Of course no one else stood up. I managed to instigate a reshuffle to get us both a seat - turns out she was right -due 1 month after me. I usually just ask if someone would liek the seat - they can always say no! I was offered a seat a couple of times at least 6 months after my daughter was born. Not terribly flattering but I certainly wasn't offended!"


"I also love this topic, and wonder about the following: what to do when someone probably or definitely would like a seat, and no one is offering it, but I am standing, too. Should I assume that person is too embarrassed to ask for a seat (as I always was during pregnancy) and ask on their behalf? One time, when I was visibly pregnant, a woman did this for me and I was a little bit embarrassed but mostly really glad she did it...  not even so much because I needed the seat but because it really annoys me when people are selfish and don't get up, and I appreciated that she called them out (which I never would have done on my own behalf). Twice recently I was tempted to do this (once for a small child traveling with her babysitter and once for a woman I was almost 100% sure was pregnant, by the way she held her hand on her smallish belly) but both times decided not to -- partly because I don't like drawing attention to myself on a crowded subway (who does?), but also because I'm not sure if it's any of my business. In both cases, as soon as a seat eventually opened up, they eagerly took it. Curious what others think!"


"Thanks for the suggestions/comments everyone. My hesitation to offer a seat when I'm not 100% certain they'd want it has been colored by working with an elderly woman who walked very slowly with a hunched over back and cane. She was very nice and well-respected, but the poor souls who offered to help her - boy would they be in for it! She was a very proud woman who hated accepting help. Anyway, it sounds like based on the feedback it's best to offer a seat if your gut says the person may need it. Not to get too technical, but what age range is considered elderly?"


"Even though I never had the guts to ask for a place to sit when I was pregnant, now I realize how helpful that would be to people who don't want to offend based on appearance and yet would love to cede a place to someone in need. And with the exception of the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy, the times I most needed to sit were in those early months when nothing was showing but just getting my exhausted nauseated body out of bed, much less on public transport, was a Herculean task. Londoners really have this figured out. Pregnant tube riders can request a "baby on board" pin that signals the situation to fellow riders. It still might be awkward in the first trimester, but I like the idea. Has such a thing ever been tried here?"


"I wished my first trimester had been more obvious because that's when I REALLY needed a seat. One time I leaned over to a man and said, "I don't feel well, do you think I could sit?" and he was halfway down the car before I even finished asking. ; )"


"Chivalry and politeness is never offensive! I love it when someone offers me a seat, even if i don't take it."


"I’m “elderly” and have never ever been offended when someone asks if I want their seat, in fact I don’t really understand what the possible offense would be in the offer. often I gratefully accept the seat, but sometimes if I have only a few stops and prefer to stand I simply say thanks and decline. I think its not as if you’d need to even give a reason for offering, just ask would they like to sit down. micky shorr g’ma, great aunt"