Is ‘reserving’ a pool chair ever acceptable? Etiquette experts weigh in

Jun 13, 2021

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There are always debates to be had when it comes to travel etiquette. I mean, we all remember the great airplane seat recline dispute. But as vaccination numbers continue to increase and more Americans plan to travel this summer, the bigger crowds could create a new etiquette battle: Is it ever OK to ‘reserve’ a pool chair?

It’s happened to pretty much everyone who has lounged poolside at a hotel.

You sleep in a bit, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, gather your things and head down to the pool. And though it isn’t crowded yet, all the chairs around the pool are strewn with towels and personal belongings — but there are no sunbathers in view. What do you do now? Can you move their belongings to another chair? Do you wait it out? Learn a lesson and reserve a spot yourself the next day?

Here’s how some etiquette experts suggest you handle the tricky situation if you’re planning to travel this summer.

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It’s fine to hold a spot — for a short period of time

As with any debate, there is a gray area. And according to Mission Point Resort general manager Brandon Sheldon, that blurry line boils down to timing when reserving pool chairs.

“When guests hold pool chairs for their family members or other people in their party who are not present, it creates frustration for other guests who are looking for somewhere to lounge,” he said. “Ideally, guests would not hold chairs for longer than five to 10 minutes without having someone there. I have never worked anywhere or visited a pool that had enough seats at the peak time of day.”

Jeff Crebeil, the area general manager for Bobby Hotel & The Westin Nashville, agreed with Sheldon, but had a slightly different timeline.

“The most important thing when it comes to pool etiquette is being mindful of the time you plan on spending in your pool chair,” he said. “You shouldn’t leave your chair unused and with your belongings on it for more than 30 minutes in an urban pool setting or 60 minutes in a resort pool setting. If you plan on taking longer, you should take your belongings and towel, so the pool staff knows to clean and make the chair available to someone else.”

The Plaza etiquette trainer and Beaumont Etiquette founder Myka Meier also recommended not reserving a pool chair in the morning if you don’t plan to use it until later. But, she said, it’s acceptable to reserve chairs if you’re going to be coming to use them within the next 30 minutes.

“If you think you will need more than 30 minutes away from your chair,” she said, “it’s best to pack up and come back later and give someone else a turn.”

Never move someone’s items

While there might be a gray area surrounding how long it’s polite to reserve a pool chair, there is none when moving someone’s personal belongings.

“I would never advise moving someone’s items off a chair, even if they haven’t used the chair in a while,” said Meier. “Touching anyone’s personal items can feel violating to the other person, and you also risk them coming back and starting an altercation.”

So, how do you handle the situation if you’re ready to lounge and empty seats are “taken?”

“We would always recommend our clients … speak with the hotel staff who can assist with finding an available chair or cabana,” said Lauren Starr, the vice president of marketing and editorial at Essentialist, a private members travel service. “It’s better to involve the hotel staff than move another guest’s items without their consent.”

Meier agreed, adding, “If you aren’t sure if someone is still using a chair, it’s best to ask a pool attending or hotel employee if there are additional chairs or ask if they know if someone is coming back or not.”

Reservations are the most polite

If you want to reserve a pool chair and be polite, you’ll have to be an honest early bird.

“Go out to the pool early and bring all the belongings you’ll need with you, so you don’t have to leave your spot unless for just a swim, to get a drink or snack, or [go] to the bathroom,” said Meier.

But, if you’re a late riser, have other activities scheduled for the morning, and want to enjoy some afternoon pool time, actual reservations are key. “You may want to call ahead and see if you can reserve a pool chair or cabana for the day, which many resorts offer,” said Meier.

Starr added, “In our experience, we find there is a fairly even split of hotels with a strict cabana booking and fee system while others have none. So, when planning our member’s itineraries, we always reserve in advance on their behalf to ensure a cabana is available for them on the day. While the pool chairs don’t always have a reservation system, we would take the same approach with our clients and book in advance when possible.”

Hotel general managers also believe this is the safest way to ensure a spot without ruffling feathers. “Any resort with a lively pool experience is currently dealing with high demand for pool real estate,” said Hotel Valley Ho vice president and general manager Ronen Aviram. “We do allow our guests to reserve couches, daybeds and cabanas if they would like a guaranteed space to enjoy all day.”

Feature photo of occupied pool chairs by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy.

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