London Underground : Tourist's guide to Tube etiquette, from ticket barriers to moving down inside the carriage

'Hell is other people,' as Jean-Paul Satre observed

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 17 August 2018 10:37
Comments
Commuters queuing for Victoria line trains at Green Park Tube station
Commuters queuing for Victoria line trains at Green Park Tube station

Commuting in the British capital can be a living nightmare.

As we saw during the recent summer heatwave, when temperatures on the London Underground surpassed that at which it’s legal to transport cattle, the Tube can be a particularly gruelling experience.

Packed in and shoved up against your fellow passengers on busy rush hour trains, sweat gushing from your armpits as you stare down the barrel of another full working week in which your genius will once again go unappreciated by the philistines of middle-management, dreaming of escape to sunnier climes and a new life by the sea... Sorry, where was I?

The intensity of the situation can inspire a hatred of one’s fellow humans like few others.

The uncomfortable heat exacerbated by someone else's thoughtlessness, exasperating ticks or selfish lack of consideration for those around them can turn even the most mild-mannered nebbish into Genghis Khan.

But there’s plenty we can do to make conditions more bearable for one another. If everyone followed the handful of simple, common sense rules below, commuting on the Tube might be a great deal less toxic.

Ticket barriers

There are two major sources of annoyance at the barriers: the first is people arriving at the front of the queue and only then searching through their pockets or bag for their ticket, card or phone while those standing behind smoulder with rage. Folks, just pay attention and be prepared.

The other is people who stop dead in their tracks immediately after passing through to consult a map or check Twitter. Do. Not. Do. This. The seething will rain down upon you.

Escalators

When riding down to platform level, remember to keep moving if you’re taking the left-hand lane.

As with the ticket barriers, tourists unfamiliar with the local customs can be partially excused for not knowing good form. But on the escalators, you can see clearly in front of you what the natives are doing so there’s really no excuse for not following suit.

You wouldn’t stick cautiously at 30mph on the M1, would you?

Boarding

When your train arrives, the correct procedure is to stand aside and queue at either door to let exiting passengers off first, therein creating much-needed space.

Everyone should know this – public service announcements telling you precisely what to do resound at every single station - and yet there’s always someone who takes it as an invitation to violate the implicit social contract and shoulder-barge their way through the wall of would-be departees, causing havoc.

As Seinfeld’s George Costanza once screamed at a fellow traveller: “You know we’re living in a society!”

On board

Not moving down inside the carriage is probably the biggest frustration for Tube drivers, who are forced to repeat the request again and again over the tannoy at every station they approach. Come on people, what’s so bad about standing in the centre of the aisle and holding a handrail anyway? You often end up with more space.

But there are plenty of other habits commonly engaged in, often utterly obliviously, by members of the public that conjure deep-rooted primal fury.

Please, please avoid the following. We’re begging you.

  • No loud music hissing from headphones. Come on mate. Not everyone likes Coldplay.
  • No public displays of affection. Guys, please. Your love is grotesque.
  • Don’t talk to strangers. Nobody wants to be bothered on the Tube and your chat-up lines are definitely coming across 90 per cent creepier than you imagine. You’re not Jon Hamm.
  • No wheelie suitcases or bulky golf bags at rush hour if you can possibly help it. This might not always be possible to avoid but be realistic.
  • No obnoxious manspreading or taking up a second seat with the aforesaid unwieldy bag.
  • Food is just about acceptable, just, so long as it doesn’t have a powerful odour or drip sauce everywhere. Every right-thinking person adores a donner kebab, but please, control yourself.

Seating

This is perhaps the most contentious and complex of all issues posed by the London Underground: when to give up your seat, which is unquestionably a pleasure to be savoured when it's fair to do so.

Everyone fears disappearing into a spiral of shame and self-loathing if they look up to see fellow travellers glaring at them for not standing to make way for an expectant mother or frail senior. Equally, they don’t want to appear patronising and inadvertently cause offence as a result of misdirected gallantry.

For the answer, you can’t do better than turn to Debrett’s, whose motto on the subject is: “If in doubt, stand.”

“You may be reluctant to offer up your seat to someone who looks pregnant, elderly or infirm in case they prove to be none of those things. If you notice a walking stick or ‘Baby on Board’ badge, or anyone resembling your grandmother, make eye contact and move to free up your seat in case they want to use it,” the manners manual advises.

In summary, when travelling on the Tube, take a moment to consider your fellow passengers.

A little empathy, humility and compassion can go a long way.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in