Travel Etiquette: Saving Seats at the Pool

Last spring I was on vacation with my husband at the Four Seasons, Nevis. As you might expect, it was a lovely vacation at a lovely resort. But there was one problem.

Among the beach chairs the hotel had set up, there were two that were clearly prime seating. They were front row, set apart slightly from the others and under one of the few trees growing out of the sand.

Every day, we wanted to sit in those seats. And no one else was sitting there. So why couldn't we sit there? Because despite the fact that every morning we arrived at the beach no later than 9 a.m., someone else had already put their belongings – towels, sunblock, a book – on the chairs and claimed them. But no one ever arrived to actually sit in the seats, at least, not in the hours we were there. Watching.

With every day that passed and every day that I didn't sit in those chairs, I grew more irritated. And then finally, one day, I had had it. I moved the mystery chair hogger's belongings and plopped myself down. Not five minutes later, a woman came walking over from the pool – adjacent to the beach – and said to me:

"Excuse me, those are my seats."

"Oh, are you going to sit here now?" I asked.

"No," she said. "We go to the pool during the day. I like to sit here and read at dusk."

Time? 11 a.m.

"Well," I said, "I'd really like to sit here for the day. I'll be gone long before dusk. So you can have the chairs then."

Let's just say that at that point, the "discussion" took a turn for the worse. And I never did get to spend the day in those chairs. Sound familiar? It should, because I'm not alone. Some 84 percent of respondents to TripAdvisor's Beach and Pool Etiquette Survey said they get agitated when others save beach or pool chairs by leaving belongings on them. And 37 percent think there should be a 30-minute limit on seating being saved while 30 percent will tolerate up to one hour. Only 14 percent think chair hogging for any longer than that is acceptable.

The practice of saving seats – whether on the beach, poolside, or on a cruise ship – is so pervasive that cruise lines are taking action. The pilot program was introduced on the Carnival Breeze this week and on the Norwegian Star last month.

And it's long overdue, Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of told ABC News.

The main pool on a cruise ship, particularly the mega ships that sail Caribbean and Mexican Riviera itineraries, is a "total scene," said Brown. "It's like non-stop daytime theatre." With that kind of atmosphere, it's not surprising the subject of chair hoggers would be one that gets people riled up.

"It's the hottest issue next to bringing alcohol on board," said Brown. "People get really flamed up about it."

Under the new program on the Carnival Breeze, employees monitor chair usage and if they observe a seat that contains a towel or personal belongings but appears to be unoccupied, a notification is placed on the chair indicating the current time. If the chair remains unoccupied for 40 minutes, the contents are removed and held for the guest's safekeeping.

Saving seats is a particular concern for families. In the worst case, families may not be able to find seats together. Even if they can find enough chairs, they are likely to be on the upper deck – fine for a view of the pool entertainment, not so fine for keeping a close eye on the little ones while they're in the pool.

Not helping the issue: cruise lines are sailing full and, as they build new ships, trying to squeeze on even more passengers. Carnival said response to the program so far has been "overwhelmingly positive." The cruise line will decide whether to implement the rule fleet-wide in the coming weeks.

On the Norwegian Star, a "dot" system is used to track how long a person has been away from their chair. Though the dots are only used to track how long a person has been away from their chair on the Star, the line asks fleet-wide that passengers be away from their chairs no more than 45 minutes.

"We will be evaluating if this will become a fleet-wide policy in the coming weeks," said AnneMarie Mathews, a Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman.

At least one hotel not only monitors for unoccupied "saved" seats, but also has a waiting-list system. The Water Club at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City places guests on a wait list once all the chairs have been occupied, takes the cell phone number of the party and calls when seats are available. If a chair has been unoccupied for 30 minutes, the hotel removes the items and offers the seat to the next person on the list.

"We experience high demand especially over the weekends or holidays. We implemented the system to provide a better experience for our guests. This allows guests who are waiting for chairs to occupy their time elsewhere on property (lunch in The Sunroom, wine tasting at Vintage, gaming action on the casino floor, etc), while waiting with the confidence that they will be contacted when seats are available," Mark Vanderwielen, senior vice president of hospitality for Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said in an email.

And with just a few precious weeks of vacation per year, perhaps it's no surprise people, and now hotels and cruise lines, are taking pool time very seriously.

"People get really unhinged," said Brown. "They're paying for vacation, others are abusing system and it's not fair to anyone."