Most people find this hard to believe as I generally like talking to people and enjoy nothing more than making a new connection or strengthening an existing one. But somehow the combination of overly-close physical proximity, the usual fatigue from pulling all-nighters before big trips, having looked forward to reading and watching in-flight movies and the possibility of near neck cramps makes yet another plane conversation about as appealing as Los Angeles rush hour traffic.
The fact that you likely DO have to share a very limited space with someone for hours on end means that it is best not to offend them however. So for you CultureMutt readers who are out there criss-crossing the globe on your service adventures, here are some ways to avoid unwanted conversations on flights (let me know your best tips for avoiding unwanted plane conversations in the comment section):
1) Book an aisle seat
There is something about the basic, physical positioning of an aisle seat that is liberating. Not only can you lean away from the offending party but there is always the option of leaving for the bathroom or a simple stroll whenever the chatterbox next to you starts to get too carried away. I like that you don’t have to step over anyone or ask for permission to do this… you can just do it.
2) Take a nap
If for some reason you did not have the good fortune of landing an aisle seat, the nap excuse has consistently worked for me if I want to get out of a conversation. If your seatmate starts up with lively conversation before you even sit down, say BEFORE TAKE OFF that you feel like a nap (this is not a lie – it is a far more attractive option than continuing the conversation) and close your eyes for a few minutes. Then do this…
3) Reach for a book
Done right after a nap or as soon as you sit down, this a clear signal that you want some quiet time. Equally effective can be donning those headphones. Body language is great and is often more effective than words. It is not rude and communicates the point convincingly.
4) Change Gears – talk about something extremely boring
Turn the tables and give the guy some of his own medicine. Feign interest in something insanely boring. This really works. I’ve found abstract philosophy or religion to be a great way to lose people. Of course this could backfire if you happen to stumble across someone who lives and breaths your new passion. In which case.. you can just…..
5) Be blunt
Here’s where it all comes full circle. I sat down next to a Swede on a Stockholm-bound flight and initiated conversation. By my second question she unleashed her humiliating strike – “I’d rather not talk.” I sat and roasted for a while. But then I admired her for her guts – no seat maneuvering, no naps, no books and no encyclopedic rambling – just an effective one-sentence shut down.