How to Avoid the Friendly Skies

On Christmas Day, the Home Warrior and I had dinner at my parents’ house. My stepbrother had just gotten into town, and was telling us about his flight. “I always get stuck next to the crazy people who want to talk!” he said. It made me think back on my early flying days when the same thing used to happen to me. I guess people could tell I was nice, or at least nice enough to listen, and would talk and talk and talk. Too polite to cut them off so I could read the book I had saved for my trip, or to work, I just sat there nodding and smiling. After a year or so, I got pretty good at deflecting conversation or nipping it in the bud.

First, appear busy. Whether you’re reading, working, knitting, or something else, if you appear busy you won’t look available for chatting. Headphones take it a step further. If you have headphones in, it’s another signal that you’re doing something else and not interested in talking.

If it’s too late and you’ve already been engaged, be direct. If someone has started talking to you, and you don’t want to continue, sometimes being direct is the best way to get out of it. “I’m so sorry, I’d love to visit, but I have to finish this report before we land,” or some variation thereof. If you don’t have work to do (or like my stepbrother, you’re obviously still in school), say you’re working on a school paper. Or you have to finish reading Pride and Prejudice. You don’t have to spend the rest of the trip reading, but it gives you a chance to put on your headphones and ease out of the conversation.

There will always be a few people who just can’t take a hint. A few months ago I was on a flight and they guy next to me would not stop talking. I put in my headphones and he just kept going. I said, oh I have to read this for work, he just kept on telling his story. Finally I told him I was losing my voice and needed to save it for my very important presentation the next day. It worked, and he started harassing the flight attendant instead. Phew!

Some people will recommend avoiding eye contact and not smiling at people or saying hi. That may work for others, but I try to at least be polite with my seatmate. Saying “how’s it going” or “excuse me” isn’t inviting them to share their life story, it’s common courtesy. Besides, if it does open the floodgates, at least now you know how to get out of it!

Readers, what are your best tips for getting out of unwanted conversations on flights?




  1. Just say “I’m sorry, but I would rather not talk right now.” if they continue then repeat what you just said. Then follow up with action. They are the ones being rude by insisting that you engage in conversation with them.

    You have no obligation to talk to others unless you want to. It is OK to politely draw boundaries.

    Now if the person just had a major trauma, then it would be different. They are hearing a huge heavy burden and it would be cruel not to help them with it. But that it rare.

  2. In most difficult social situations like this they key is to create some kind of ‘break’ in the scenario. Go to the bathroom (or just hang at the nearest bulkhead (with your headphone) and return with them on and in use.

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