Miss Conduct

Advice: I’m 64. Is it fair to ask for a seat on the T?

I expect younger folks to gladly stand up on the T when someone older comes along.

Who should get priority for seating on the MBTA?
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File
Who should get priority for seating on the MBTA?

Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

What is the pecking order to deserve a subway seat? A pregnant person or someone with crutches is seen as deserving. What about fatigued senior citizens? I am a 64-year-old who still works full time and looks good, despite insomnia, IBS, and sciatica. Yesterday I was feeling particularly awful and a twentysomething got the seat I wanted. I said, “How about letting a senior citizen have that seat?” She looked at me in disbelief, but she stood up. I said “THANK you!” She said, sarcastically, “You’re welcome.” Then she had a coughing fit in front of me. Was the twentysomething telling me not to ever ask for a seat? Should I not ask?

C.S. / Arlington

Nobody deserves a seat on the subway more than anyone else, though some people may need one more. People whose need is visible are more likely to get offered seats, and feel less self-conscious when they have to ask.

If you look good despite various invisible ailments, why not apply the same logic to “the twentysomething”? She may have been more ill and exhausted, or have a more draining job, than you. This may have been the message of her coughing fit.


There is an age at which people ought to be preemptively offered subway seats, but 64 is not that age. There was nothing wrong with asking for a seat, but you shouldn’t have implied a moral failing on the part of the younger woman. I can’t blame her for being taken aback and then returning your sarcastic inflection in kind. Next time, try, “Could I please have your seat? I have a bad back.” People are more likely to do as you ask if you frame your request as, well, a request, rather than an entitlement.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.