James Cridland

How to get a seat on the London Underground

You have started your quest well, young student. I am the knowledgeable sage, ready and willing, after literally years of research (well, nearly seven), to help you on a quest for the holy seat of destiny - the bottom-pleaser of times gone by - the empty seat in the tube train home.

Listen well, for you will learn plenty about how to park your behind on the warming place of relaxation.

Choose your train carefully

Check the indicators. If the next train is five minutes away, and the one after that is only a minute after that, then don’t grab the first train: because everyone will be jumping on that, and it’ll be a total scrum. Wait for the next one, and it’ll be much less crowded: therefore the chance for decent seatage is quite high.

A quick peer through the carriage window will normally allow you to double-check whether this train makes sense to jump on. The standing space in the middle of the carriage, not near the doors, needs to be fairly empty. It be as crammed as you like near the doors: because that’s our next trick.

Choose where to get on

Right at the front or back of the train, you’ll normally find some seats are available, no matter how crowded the train. The downside is that they’re difficult to get to: but they are normally there for the picking.

Assuming everything else is equal, you stand most chance of getting a seat if you’re far away from the entrances: since olden times, people are terrified of walking down the platform too far and expending extra energy. Use this lethargy to your legs’ advantage.

But know your station, and those further up the line from you. The front of southbound Piccadilly line trains from Kings’s Cross, for example, are normally jam-packed with Northern tourists who are scared of walking down the platform and then complain about “How reet crowded t’train is, Harold”. A little local knowledge always works, and will avoid you trying to get a seat in the front of the train at Russell Square, for example.

Move right inside the car

Yes, that means you. If you don’t stand near a seat, you stand no chance of getting anywhere near a seat during your journey. So when you get on, force yourself past the door-hoggers, into the main seat aisle.

Quite often, you’ll find yourself near a hitherto invisible seat, normally with a lardy chap or chappess blocking the view of it to people near the doors. Bag it. It’s your prize. You’ve earned it. Enjoy.

If not, the ideal position is to stand dead between the seats, slightly off-centre, facing towards the most amount of seats. Yes, even where you face is important for to gain maximum seated comfort, because you need to keep your wits about you.

Watch for twitchers

So, the train has set off, and you’re still standing. You’ve failed in the quest for the holy seat, right? Wrong. Don’t fall into that trap.

If you’ve followed these instructions correctly so far, then you should be standing surveying your potential seatage options, like a lord surveys his manor. Watch your fellow passengers carefully. When one of them starts closing his book, fiddling with his rucksack, and rearranging himself, then either he’s just about to blow the train and all the occupants to smithereens or he’s getting ready to exit at the next station.

This is your time, brother. Edge toward him. Turn if necessary to ensure that your posterior has least distance to travel between standing up and seat. Get ready to take your rightful place on the slightly stained cloth of relaxation. As he stands up and leaves his seat, grab your opportunity. Relax.

(On a more practical note, if he’s a fundementalist terrorist ready to offer his life to his misguided religious belief, you are in exactly the right place to stop him and thus be a national hero, or at least the end will be quick and relatively painless. And in any case, you’ll be incredibly lucky: 976 million journeys on the tube every year means you stand a better chance of winning the lottery. Probably.)

Be aware of the next station

When more people get off, you stand more chance of getting a seat.

Before you cry “No shit, Sherlock”, you will note that major interchange stations have more people getting off. So, Tottenham Court Road will give your bottom more chance to get warmed than Goodge Street. See, I told you this was a good plan. That’ll teach you to doubt the Seat Guru.

Second-guess peoples’ movements

Excitedly chattering children? They’re probably bound for some museum or other. Americans that are actually - boggle - TALKING? They’ll be going to Buckingham Palace or something touristy. Drunk, giggly and amiable blonde 22 year-olds? They’ll be off to the nightclubs near Leicester Square. (Or the lapdancing clubs). Use the clues, my friend. At the very least, you might make new acquaintances.

Know when to get off

Even if you do have a seat, depending how long your journey is, you may get tossed off this tube train onto another one where you can bet your bottom dollar that there’ll be no seats. Or you might have to stand in the bloody cold outside waiting for the next tube train to take you to middle-of-nowhere shire. Worry not: simply get out of the train at the stop BEFORE your current train terminates, in a warm station, and you stand more chance of seatage on the next train.

Of course, in order to perform this trick correctly, you need to know where your train is terminating, which occasionally requires a masters degree in futurology. And even if the train indicators are working correctly, the line controller may have failed the ‘elbow/arse identification’ training, and foul things up at the last minute, dumping you in Northfields in the middle of the bloody cold.

It is a mighty quest, my friend. Good luck in your quest for seatage. And remember to always give up your seat for pregnant ladies, unless they are just actually a bit fat, in which case, don’t for heaven’s sake give up your seat, because the lardy will a) hate you, and b) take your seat anyway.

Note from the future: the oh-so-daring mention of fundamentalists blowing themselves up on the tube came true only six months later.