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London Underground Etiquette

Updated on January 2, 2016

As a born and bred Londoner, I have spent much time travelling on the London Underground – or tube – depending on what mood you’re in. I have suffered, I have endured, I have persevered and continue to do so, therefore, I have learned enough to know how to improve things.

No doubt, other people will have their own opinion on how things should be done and they would be entitled to it, but they would need to be prepared for an argument. As well as getting you from point A to point B, travelling on London Underground can sometimes angry up the blood.

If you don’t believe me and have had little or no experience of this wondrous mode of transportation, when you next meet a Londoner – whether it is their native or adopted home – ask them about it as they will almost certainly have a story to tell. Particularly recommended if you like a good bemusement-induced laugh.

Many people will argue that it is only tourists who do not know the rules, but I would beg to differ as I have seen regular travellers failing to follow the rules. Accordingly, everyone would benefit from a lesson/reminder.

I suppose I should be grateful that we are not at the levels of the overcrowding in Japan – but are times when we are almost there, only there is no white-gloved ‘pusher’ to assist with the cramming process. Accordingly, I want – nay, need – to share my knowledge on the underwritten etiquette rules of the underground, as well as some common-sense safety tips to help your make your journey as smooth as possible and free from any ructions.

  • Firstly, and most importantly, STAND ON THE RIGHT. Some people want to stand on the escalator while others prefer to walk, so do the decent, sensible thing and avoid obstructing those that want to walk.
  • Further to this, if you have decided to stand on the right, don’t then veer to the left when the mood takes you without looking behind you. Would you change lanes while driving without looking first? If there is someone walking and you step out in front of them, one or both could trip and fall.
  • Similarly, if you have decided to walk up or down the escalator, then stick with your decision. If you need to stop, step to the right. If there is no space, keep walking.
  • Whether you’re using an Oyster or a contactless pay card, all you need to do is touch and go. If your arm is trailing behind you as you pass through the barrier then you're doing it wrong. Your card does not have to remain in contact with the reader pad for the barriers to stay open; as long as you don't dawdle, you won't get trapped in the barriers. All it serves to do is confuse the reader and mess with the person behind you.
  • Do not come to a halt after going through the barriers or stepping off an escalator or staircase. Recognise that there may be people behind you and you will be blocking the way, therefore, you run the risk of being barged.
  • Many London stations are a maze of passageways and, for the most part, you are instructed to keep left to ensure a smooth flow of foot traffic – there are even signs to this effect. Heed them and stay in your lane.
  • Move down the platform. Do not gather around the entrance to a platform, as it is a thoroughfare that other people need to use.
  • Do not attempt to get on the carriage before others have disembarked. Most people spend most of their lives sitting down – why are you so desperate for a seat?
  • If you are not disembarking, get out of the way of others who are and do not obstruct the doors. If this means stepping off the carriage, then do so.
  • On the rare occasion where you are on a platform or in a carriage where there are only a few people, find your own space rather than standing/sitting close to those who got there first – it is just creepy.
  • Don't put your feet/luggage on the seats and do not cross/stretch your legs so that they are in the aisle. Unless you own the carriage, no one should have to manoeuvre around you or ask your permission to sit.
  • Do not eat any stinky and/or awkward food. It’s not your home and there are other people.
  • Sit up straight and keep your elbows to yourself.
  • If standing and there is room by the doors, do not stand in the aisle as you’ll be in the way people want to disembark.
  • Traditionally, people do not talk at all while on the Underground , so if you do talk, it will be easily heard. Unless you want your fellow passengers to know your business, do not talk loudly.
  • Parents, guardians - keep hold of your offspring/wards. Children running wild on the underground is not safe and I have witnessed a child nearly fall down steps after losing hold of their toy, and there have been cases of pushchairs blowing onto the tracks. Besides that, it’s annoying for the rest of us.
  • Invest in some noise isolating headphones. Enough said.
  • Do not rest any part of your anatomy, clothing or luggage on someone shorter than you when standing, or someone sitting next to you.
  • Do not try to get on a packed carriage with a cry of: can you move down. Whether you add a ‘please’ or not, it is not appreciated by those who already have no space and are unable to accommodate more people.
  • If you have a bag on your shoulder and intend to sit down between others, remove the bag from your shoulder first. There is not much pleasure in being hit in the face/shoulder/arm by the bag of some random person. Similarly, taking the edge of briefcase to the knee is not pleasant - watch where you're swinging that thing.
  • Do not read/look at screens over other people’s shoulders – it doesn’t belong to you and is not for your benefit.
  • Do not let the pickpockets win. Carriages are often packed and it makes for an ideal hunting ground for the cowardly, work-shy morons. Don't leave your pockets and bags hanging open, be aware of your surroundings, and if anyone is getting too close.
  • Newspapers are designed to be folded; do not encroach on the space of others with yours.
  • If you intend to take off/put on your coat and you cannot do so without flinging your arms every which way, wait until you have sufficient space. Even if you hit someone accidentally, their retaliation may be purposeful.
  • Do not lean on the doors as it causes the brakes to automatically kick in, making the train jolt and causing delays.

In short, be considerate and use some common sense and we can all try to enjoy some non-traumatising journeys.

Phew, now I feel better. Happy trails everyone.


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