Summer travel season is well underway, which means a lot of people are taking trains. Although some parts of the U.S. have solid train infrastructure, many Americans do not regularly take the train, so when they travel abroad, they aren’t as familiar with the procedures and expectations. This can lead to stress, confusion and plenty of faux pas.
“Train etiquette, much like any other form of public transportation, has a set of standards to make everyone’s ride easier and more enjoyable,” said Diane Gottsman, the author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.
To make the experience more pleasant for all passengers, HuffPost asked Gottsman and other etiquette experts to share some common rude behaviors seen on trains and how to avoid these etiquette mistakes.
Trying To Board Before Letting Passengers Off
“Be sure to allow passengers OFF the train before attempting to board yourself,” urged Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Massachusetts-based Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.
Step aside and wait until people have exited before you enter the train. Once on board, move away from the doors so that you don’t block others from entering or exiting. Practice the same consideration when it’s your turn to get off the train.
“When exiting the train, be patient and respectful,” said Jackie Vernon-Thompson, founder of From the Inside-Out School of Etiquette. “Allow those closest to the door to exit and you follow suit depending on where you are.”
When in doubt, try to follow the example of experienced passengers.
“If you do not ride this train frequently, watch what others are doing,” Smith said. “Even on the same line, stations vary. There are those who note who arrived first and they are the first to board the train. Other stops are a free-for-all.”
“Keep your volume down,” Gottsman said. “If you are on an actual train, rather than a subway, there may be a quiet car that specifically requires silence. Respect the rule. On any other form of public transportation, continue to keep your volume down so others don’t hear your conversation.”
Make use of texting rather than calling if you need to communicate.
“As much as possible stay off your phone,” Vernon-Thompson said. “If you must speak with someone, keep in mind, it is improper etiquette to place your phone on speaker while in public. Everyone should not be subjected to the content of your conversation.”
If you need to make a call, try to keep it short and do it outside the quiet car. Be mindful of what you’re saying in earshot of others as well.
“Consistently using profanity in your conversation is a big no-no,” Vernon-Thompson said. “Pay attention to the words you use so as not to offend anyone in your hearing.”
Not Wearing Headphones
Just as you should be mindful of your volume while speaking, you should also be aware of other people when you’re listening to music or watching videos. Fortunately, technology allows us to keep our viewings and listening sessions private.
“Wear your headphones or any device you may use to keep the music in your hearing alone and not subject others to listening to your music,” said Vernon-Thompson.
Putting Your Belongings On Seats
Resist the urge to take up more than one seat by placing your backpack or purse next to you or spreading your body across multiple seats.
“Do not block others from sitting by putting your belongings — such as a wet umbrella — on the seat next to you,” Smith said. “Do not put your feet on the opposite seat. When the train begins to fill, move your belongings so that others may sit down.”
If the train is very empty and the doors have closed, you can spread out a bit, but be mindful when additional passengers board at the next stop.
martin-dm via Getty Images
Be mindful of where you place your belongings, especially if the train is full.
Eating Smelly Food
“Avoid smelly foods,” Gottsman urged. “Your favorite snack may be a plastic container full of hard-boiled eggs, but these should be enjoyed in the privacy of your own kitchen. Fish and other strong-smelling food should also be avoided.”
If you’re going to eat on the train, opt for foods that are “self-contained and minimally fragrant,” Smith echoed.
Try to refrain from eating common allergens like peanuts on the train as well. And it might not be the best time to douse yourself in your strongest-smelling perfume or cologne either.
“Sometimes on the train people forget they are in public and behave as if they are at home,” said Tami Claytor, the etiquette coach behind Always Appropriate Image & Etiquette Consulting. She emphasized that subway trains aren’t generally the place to have a picnic.
“During rail travel, one should only eat in the designated dining or café car,” she added. “This rule varies a bit when traveling first class on Amtrak’s Acela where you enjoy ‘seated dining service’ — food and beverages are served to you. On The Orient Express, there is the option of in-room dining.”
Insisting On Conversing With Your Neighbor
“Be sure to follow the cues of your fellow passengers,” Smith said. “If they make eye contact and ask questions, you may engage in lively conversation. If they are responding to your questions with monosyllabic answers, allow them their privacy. Your transportation should not infringe on anyone else’s trip.”
Unless the person seated next to you seems clearly interested in chatting, try to keep your conversation to a minimum. In the reverse scenario, there are polite ways to convey if you aren’t interested in talking.
“If you choose not to engage, earbuds are a good indicator that you are deep into your playlist, a podcast or work,” Gottsman said. “Also, friendly conversation is fine, but sharing too much information with a stranger should be avoided.”
Blocking People’s Way
“It is extremely important to find a seat as quickly as possible so as not to block the aisles trying to determine in which vacant seat you will sit,” Vernon-Thompson said. “If additional passengers are boarding the train while you are sitting or standing, be sure you give way for them to maneuver and find a secured spot to stand or seat to sit. Keep your belongings close to you and accommodate as much as you can.”
Be considerate about the space you’re taking up throughout the train journey.
“One of the most inconsiderate acts of someone sitting in the train is when they extend their legs into the aisle and passengers are forced to either step over their legs or say excuse me in order for them to finally draw their leg into their space,” Vernon-Thompson added. “That should not happen.”
Expecting Your Wants To Be Accommodated
“Switching seats on a train is the same as switching seats on an airplane,” Gottsman said. “If you were seated in a row in the back and want to switch seats with someone up front, expect a ‘Sorry, no thank you.’ Don’t take it personally.”
Try to be courteous and use a pleasant tone of voice when asking to switch seats or inquiring if you can take a vacant seat next to someone.
“Be kind to your fellow passengers,” Vernon-Thompson said. “The words please, excuse me, thank you so much, you’re welcome, my pleasure, even I’m sorry, if necessary, should be frequently used when in such an environment. Extend courtesy and humility.”
And if you’re able-bodied and all seats are occupied, the polite thing to do is to offer your seat to people who might need to sit.
“If you notice a pregnant lady, elderly person, or one who is disabled standing while you sit, don’t hesitate to offer your seat to them as a sign of respect and humility,” Vernon-Thompson said.
Throwing Bags Around
“Be sure to take care when putting bags up or taking them down,” Smith said.
Pay attention when you’re lifting bags to avoid accidentally hitting someone. If you’re in a standing situation with a backpack, try to move it to your front, stow it or place it at your feet.
“A rude behavior would be not removing your backpack so it does not hit another passenger,” Claytor said.
Spreading Germs And Invading Personal Space
“It is not appropriate to encroach on someone’s personal space,” Vernon-Thompson said. “Always make the effort to find a way to give the person next to you their space. Touching and breathing in their face is too close for comfort.”
Keep your fellow passengers’ physical boundaries and health in mind.
“If you know you may have a cold or you’re not well, the best thing to do is to avoid such spaces,” Vernon-Thompson said. “However, if you must be in such spaces, wear a mask. Be considerate of the health of others. Consider that you will be in an enclosed space and germs travel very fast and easily.”
She emphasized the importance of covering your coughs and sneezes as well to avoid spreading germs.
“Don’t cough in your hands because more than likely, you will hold a bar or a surface in that train,” she added. You will leave your germs on those surfaces to spread to others. Cough or sneeze in your elbow.”