How to deal with a talkative seatmate

Bose earbudsHow many of you have been stuck next to a seatmate that just doesn’t stop talking? All of you? Yep. Unfortunately the Chatty Cathys and Talkative Tonys are more common  in the skies  than we
would like. So what can you do when you’re stuck for the next four (or six. or eight.) hours next to someone who just won’t shut up? Here are my tips for dealing.

Start working or reading. If you don’t want to be super obvious about not wanting to listen to someone’s life story, try getting out your laptop or a book. Most people will pick up on the hint and stop talking.

Be direct. Some people aren’t  great at social  cues. In this case, you may have to be more direct. “It’s been nice talking to  you, but I have to finish this report/chapter/article/nap.” All but the most clueless passengers should get this hint and leave you in blessed silence.

Use headphones. A friend texted me this morning, saying that on  his flight  home yesterday the guy behind him didn’t  stop talking for two hours, extolling his genius to the poor girl next to  him. Her repeated attempts to work, read, and just close her eyes didn’t work. My suggestion in this  case is to wait for a break  in  the word stream and toss on your headphones as quickly as possible.  If there is  no break, and you’ve tried the other two tactics, clearly this person doesn’t care at all if you are participating in the conversation (monologue?) so you don’t  need to  worry about them. Just put your headphones on and close your eyes.

Readers, what are your tips for dealing with a talkative seatmate?


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  1. If you are in a window seat, fake sleeping before they even have a chance to start talking. It has saved me from dealing with idiots countless times. It works incredibly well on RJs since with 2+2 seating makes their job that much easier.

  2. 1. When a seatmate engages me in conversation, I participate in the exchange for a few minutes because I am always open to the possibility that:

    (a) I will have a refreshing, enlightening, and/or informative conversation;

    (b) the person may be a colleague or luminary in my profession or organization, or that we have common interests; and

    (c) s/he could become a friend.

    2. For some reason, among the most talkative seatmates are those belonging to the clergy (or who claim to be). I have twice dealt with this issue on long-haul flights to eastern Africa as follows:

    (a) A Catholic priest moved from the back of the plane to the bulkhead row where I was seated and started talking to me about religion (I am Catholic too). Until I asked him about why there are no women priests, bishops, and cardinals; and why there has been no female Pope to date.

    (b) A “born-again” preacher asked me if I was Christian and when I said yes, he asked me if we could say a prayer together. Since the flight had just taken off (and I usually pray at that time anyway), I didn’t mind.

    But then, when he wanted to talk more about religion and Jesus Christ, I simply told him point-blank “I am a Catholic but I’d rather rest on this flight and not talk about religion.”

    3. Bottom line: If hints do not work, tell the person politely but in no uncertain terms that you do not want to have a conversation at that time.

  3. 4. I also do not hesitate telling fellow passengers when they are too talkative and I am trying to sleep.

  4. I usually try to set the tone the moment I get to my seat. Book, laptop, etc. out and in plain site. This usually sends the signal that I’m busy or not interested in talking. But I agree with Brad’s comments and are good call outs.

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