While air travel does offer a huge payoff upon arrival it can often try your patience before touchdown. But uncomfortable seats, questionable food and poor sleep don’t compare to the special kind of discomfort you experience when a seat ‘neighbour’ has trapped you in an unwanted conversation.
While faking a phone call, pretending you have somewhere to be or simply running away are all proven methods of escaping these conversations while on land, the sky has a different playbook. Let’s face it, you’re a captive audience … literally.
Many of us, especially women, are taught to politely entertain the people around us. Most of us like to avoid coming across as rude or abrupt, even if it means sacrificing our own comfort.
The truth is: you don’t owe anyone your time or interest, especially when you don’t feel like giving it. The airline hasn’t hired you as inflight entertainment, so nodding along to someone’s life story isn’t a requirement of your flight.
Here are five tips from a silence-loving introvert on how to avoid or end unwanted plane chit chat.
Avoid, avoid, avoid
As the saying goes, begin as you intend to finish it. There’s no need to be rude, but making minimal eye contact with your seatmates, especially during boarding or early on in the flight, can deter them from the get-go. Be civil, but withdrawn. Hopefully most talkative types will overlook you in favour of a more receptive sounding board.
Don’t underestimate the power of headphones – whether they’re chunky noise-cancelling headphones that literally drown out the noise of their chatter, or smaller ones that symbolically state ‘not interested’ and ‘I’m preoccupied’. I suggest you whip them out early on in the flight. Plug them into something as soon as you get comfy, so that it’s clear to all around you that you have no intention of having a conversation.
Keep it mysterious
Wear a hoodie pulled up over your head, or even better, a sleep mask, to deter people from chatting to you. They may love to talk but this doesn’t mean they’re rude enough to risk waking up a stranger for a chat.
While sleeping on a plane isn’t the easiest thing to do, it’s the simplest avoidance strategy. If sleep alludes you, don’t give up, simply fake it. Even saying that you’re in dire need of some shuteye and would like to sit quietly should be enough to dissuade the chatty type.
Okay, so you’ve tried all the other strategies and they’ve still got you in their conversational crosshairs. Fear not, you can still get out of unwanted chatter.
One thing that these talkative travellers have in common with the rest of us, is their need to breathe. Wait till they pause to draw breath and politely slip in one of these one-liners:
- “It’s been lovely talking to you but …”
- “ … flying makes me a little nervous and I think I’ll try to sit in the quiet and calm myself down.”
- “ … I’m exhausted and was really hoping to sleep on this flight.”
- “ … I’m feeling quite sick; I might just sit in the quiet for a bit.”
Don’t be afraid of being more direct. After all, they’ve chosen to speak to – or more likely at – you. Try these conversation enders:
- “It’s been really nice meeting you but …”
- “ … I was hoping this flight could be some me time.”
“ … I really should get back to this (gesture to a book, screen or earphones) …
“You seem like an interesting person but I’ve had a big week and really need this time to wind down.”
Most people have good intentions and wouldn’t want to put you out, once it’s been pointed out to them that their talk is making you uncomfortable.
What tips would you recommend to avoid or escape unwanted plane conversation? Have you ever been trapped next to a talker on a long haul flight?
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