Prepare Yourself

The Season Of Pool Lounge Chair Turf Wars Is Upon Us

After having a run-in with a “chair hog” on a recent trip, I asked experts for the scoop on proper poolside etiquette.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

I’ve seen my share of turf wars over the years, but on a recent trip, I experienced it on an entirely new level: I found myself in the middle of a kerfuffle when I unknowingly sat in someone else’s pool lounge chair. The woman had tucked her bag underneath the chair in question, out of my sight. Even though I offered to move, she insisted I purposely stole her chair.

The whole encounter made me wonder if I should have done a more thorough search of the premises or if she should have reserved her chair in a more obvious manner. And why is everyone so angry about a pool lounge chair, anyway?

The issue of saving poolside seats on cruise ships and at resorts will likely only worsen this year. According to an article in Forbes, “Forty percent of Americans plan to travel more in 2024 vs. 2023.” More people traveling means that there will be fewer pool chairs available. “Over the years, we've seen it getting worse and worse,” says Don Bucolo, an editor at Eat Sleep Cruise.

One TikTok with the hashtag “sun bed wars” hints at how cutthroat it's all become, playing foreboding music as people line up alongside a resort pool to reserve their seats with towels in hand.

As if the issue of saving one seat for yourself wasn’t already a problem, some people save several chairs — offenders commonly referred to as chair hogs. Eileen Gunn, a blogger at Families Go, told me about a recent encounter with one such type. “I got into an argument with a guy on an NCL cruise ship who had rolled up towels on at least six chairs with no sign that anyone was using any of them,” she explains.

She moved one towel and sat down to keep an eye on her kid swimming in the pool area. The man monopolizing the chairs “came out of nowhere and insisted I move because he had put down a towel,” she says. But she held her ground. “Saving six chairs and not using any of them is ridiculous,” she says. The man ended up leaving while she stayed in the chair.

Why are there conflicts over saved seats?

It may be related to having a scarcity mindset — a feeling that there isn’t enough of something. You may have seen a similar hoarding scenario during the pandemic when everyone was buying toilet paper, which led to shortages. An article in the Harvard Crimson explains that this behavior stems from an evolutionary trait that helped humans find food or shelter when it was scarce. Now, some people take it to the extreme by hoarding.

Irene S. Levine, a clinical psychologist and travel journalist at More Time to Travel, says there are other reasons for chair hogs, too.

“People who have spent a great deal of money on a vacation — both luxury travelers and those who have saved up for a big trip — feel entitled to their lounge chairs,” Levine says. She explains that there is also the anonymity factor; no one knows who they are, so they may act differently. “People are more likely to be rule breakers away from home,” she says. Lastly, most staff don’t enforce any rules around saving chairs or hogging them.

What is proper pool lounge chair etiquette?

Ask at check-in.

When checking into the resort or cruise, ask about their policy regarding saving chairs. You could also check their website. For example, the Norwegian Cruise Line website states, “Pool, deck, and theater chairs may not be reserved.” Carnival Cruise Line’s website states, “If the chair remains unoccupied for 40 minutes, the contents are removed and held for the guest’s safekeeping." Royal Caribbean has a similar rule but limits the time to 30 minutes.

Only leave your chair for 30 minutes or less.

Most places don’t have an official pool chair policy. “It's an honor system. There's no one really technically tracking you,” says Bucolo. He says if you need to leave your chair, you should only do so for 30 minutes or less. “To leave the chair for an extended period just isn't appropriate,” he says. Caroline Maguire, an ADHD coach and author of the book Why Will No One Play With Me?, agrees with Bucolo. “It’s rude to keep a chair till 5 at night that you abandoned at 11 o'clock in the morning,” she stresses.

If you need to leave, *clearly* save your chair.

Understandably, you might need to get a bite to eat, use the restroom, or swim in the pool, which means you’ll have to leave your chair at some point. If you do, make sure you mark it clearly with a towel spread over it and some personal items like a book, pool chair clips, sunscreen, or flip-flops. Even better, have someone in your family stay with the chairs while you leave. “There's usually at least one person who's kind of crewing the station,” says Bucolo.

Don’t be a pool chair hog.

“There's an unspoken rule that you should only take so many chairs,” says Maguire. “I only take two or three chairs at most.” If you have younger children who will spend most of their time swimming in the pool, they probably don’t need a pool chair. And if the people you are reserving the chair for don’t return after 30 minutes, the polite thing to do is to give up the chair.

Don’t remove someone’s belongings.

If you notice an unoccupied chair for over 30 minutes, speak to a staff member. “Definitely don't remove other people’s belongings,” says Bucolo. “Instead, flag down a crew member on the deck and let them know the situation. Then, it's up to that crew member to make a decision.”

Check out less crowded areas.

If you can't find a chair by the pool, there are probably plenty of chairs in other locations. “There are a lot of chairs midship on outdoor decks and promenade decks that have couches and are actually more comfortable furniture,” says Bucolo. This is also true in resorts, where there are chairs available further away from the pool.

The bottom line? Don’t go hogwild for the pool chairs!