To Talk or Not To Talk on an Airplane
The Federal Communications Commission has proposed rules1 to allow the use of cell phones on airplanes in flight. Until the airlines adopt these proposals, it is likely that the talkative person will try to communicate with the person in the next seat. But what happens when the talkative person is seated next to someone who does not want to talk? That depends on the communication skills of the talker and the diplomacy of the listener.
The ideal situation, given the impossibility of escape, would be to seat talkers together and allow non-talkers to enjoy their peace and quiet. However, if that cannot be arranged, here are some ideas to help both passengers enjoy their flight.
Bear in mind that moods change, so that the person who is talkative on one flight may not want to talk on another flight. Therefore, each person should consider being in both roles.
The Talkative Person
Talkers are created by many different circumstances, and if you belong to any of the following categories, you might find it difficult to control your talking.
- First-time flyers are usually nervous; also there are regular flyers who never get over their anxiety on an airplane. Talking is a popular way to relieve stress.2
- Some people are good communicators who can always find something to talk about. It is tempting to take advantage of a captive neighbor.
- Loud talkers like an audience. They know for sure that people on several rows in front and behind them will be interested in their war stories. The neighbor gets the full force of the loud voice.
For Your Consideration
Most passengers on an airplane will listen to a talkative person from any category for about five minutes before they become disgusted. If you are the talker, here are a few things for you to consider:
- There are other nervous passengers who want to deal with their anxiety in silence.
- Some passengers have their own stories to contemplate; they deserve respect for their mental and emotional privacy.
- An exchange of greetings is usually accepted, and may include questions like: My name is . . . What’s yours? Have you been to (flight destination) before? Are you comfortable in the window seat?
- If the other person wants to talk, you’ll get an idea from their willingness to supply information beyond what you ask for, and by a return of questions.
- Body language is also a good clue. If the other person’s body is slanted away from you that usually means that conversation is not welcome.
If your seatmate indicates a preference for silence, be courteous and comply. Just keep your smile on. It may be that later in the flight, your neighbor will want to talk; go for it, but be cautious and sensitive. If you never get the opportunity to talk on this flight, dwell on the memories of pleasant conversations you had previously.
The Non-Talkative Person
“I held hands the whole way with my seat neighboor, a very nice, simple older italian woman, [unedited]” wrote a passenger on the Ethiopian hijacked plane3 on February 17, 2014.
The mention of this story is to make you aware of the importance of being civil, even when you do not feel like talking. How awkward would it be if the non-talker is rude or negligent one minute, and then looks for support the next minute from the neglected person?
The passenger who shared this experience reported that he and his neighbor held hands for six hours. You never know what kind of help you may need from your passenger neighbor, but even if everything goes well as it happens most often, and you do not need any help, make an effort to be kind.
For Your Consideration
- Five minutes of listening or responding can hardly ruin your flight. At least, respond to the initial greeting, statement or question with a smile and then express what you want the other person to know. Try not to be too abrupt.
- A courteous reply would be something like: “Nice meeting you, but I planned to take a nap (or do some reading, or work on a project) during this flight. Hope you don’t mind. Enjoy your flight.”
- It is very unlikely that the talkative person will want to upset you further. If the talker forgets and directs a remark to you, smile and keep right on doing what you said you would do.
At the end of the flight, while the attendants prepare for landing or when it is time to exit the airplane, express your happiness at accomplishing what you planned. That will be your way of saying thanks for the silence.
- The 10 Types Of People You'll Meet On A Plane
Some [weird] air travelers enjoy having seatmates. Some [normal] air travelers do not enjoy it so much.
Two Talkative People
It’s bound to be a great flight when two talkers get seats next to each other. Good Questions for a Good Conversation is a practical guide for your first chat with a stranger. It offers interesting suggestions to help the conversation flow, and to make it enjoyable for both people.
It is possible to meet someone on an airplane who will become a lifetime friend. Indeed, there are some who have found lifetime partners, and share their success stories online.You never know what can develop from meaningful talk shared on an airplane flight. One courteous and friendly effort can pay great dividends.
Which one are you?
Are you the talkative or non-talkative passenger on an airplane?
1. Federal Communications Commissions, FAQ on Proposals to Expand Consumer Access to Inflight Mobile Services
2. Pollick, Michael Why do Some People Talk a Lot When They're Nervous (WiseGeek)
3. Tupungato, Ethiopian Flight 702 (ADD-FCO) Hijacked by copilot -Diverted to GVA (Flyer Talk)