The pool chair stakeout

Ever gone on vacation to find every chaise longue reserved by a hat or a towel or a book?

The pool chair stakeout

James Marshall/Getty Images

Torontonian Jasmine Miller went on a four-day jaunt to a family resort in Jamaica with a friend recently. But it wasn’t entirely relaxing, as she explains. “I was sitting on a lounge chair by the pool around 11 one morning. My friend and I had been there since 7 a.m. but she had moved to a chair in the shade. I was reading a book when suddenly I heard this woman calling my friend a bitch and screaming, ‘Did you put your book on my chair?’ ”

Miller’s friend retrieved the book from the chair, but not without exchanging words. “They started going at it. My friend argued, ‘You have been gone for four hours!’ ” The woman said she went for breakfast and had put five towels on five chairs to reserve them.

Everyone around the pool was watching the heated exchange. “All I kept thinking was, ‘Honestly? Is this really happening?’ I thought there would be a brawl,” says Miller. “Her anger was completely out of context with the beautiful surroundings of the sky and the sound of the ocean. She really was enraged.”

Welcome to the world of vacations, where lack of pool-chair etiquette can sometimes ruin much needed relaxation. Come holiday season, when resorts are booked to capacity, a simple chaise longue can bring out the beast in people.

Evelyn Hannon, the editor of Journeywoman, a travel-tips website for women, is always surprised how seemingly polite people at home become selfish and rude on holidays. These are the people who get up before everyone else to throw a towel on a chair and expect they have the right to use it all day.

To avoid conflict, some resorts like the Four Seasons in Maui actually have a pool-chair rule, and it is very clear: “Personal belongings placed on chaise longues prior to 7 a.m. do not constitute possession of that chair,” says the note from resort manager Maria Jagla that is left in every room. Guests are given a towel to take to the pool, and attendants assist with seating at the beach and the pool beginning at 7 a.m. Items left on empty chairs are removed after one hour and held at the towel stand for retrieval. It is not possible to hold chairs in multiple locations.

Robyn Zeldin, founder of Toronto’s Wee Care placement agency, has seen people save chairs on both sides of the pool, so they get sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. “It’s really frustrating,” she says, adding that resorts should assign chairs to guests on week-long vacations. Then there was the acquaintance who freely admitted to bribing the concierge to save chairs for her family. “People paying off staff apparently happens all the time, but really hotels should have enough seating for everyone.”

And if that sounds brazen, consider Jacqueline Cooke’s story. The logistics manager for Nestlé and her husband had a room right on the beach in Aruba, with two beach chairs outside. But when they got up in the morning, someone had already put magazines and towels on the chairs. In retaliation, her husband got up at 4 a.m. one day to claim the chairs with his own books and towels.

At the Ritz-Carlton in South Beach, pool chairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but hotel recreation manager Richard Hai says they remove unattended belongings after an hour “for safekeeping.” And yes, guests do get testy when they don’t get their first choice of chairs. His advice is to send someone early, ahead of the family, adding that “teamwork is the best approach.”

Hannon advises keeping your cool and treating other guests as you would treat your neighbours back at home. “Would you not share your lawn chair with a neighbour?”

That will cut down on the stress, and the embarrassment, for everyone.

“Arguing over a pool chair made a spectacle,” says Miller. “And everyone watching became part of the spectacle. And no one wants to feel like that, especially on vacation.”

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