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How to talk to someone on a plane flight

Updated on August 4, 2007
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It’s a perfect day for flying. The plane departs on time, the flight attendants are sincerely happy, and the couple with the squealing newborn is seated 13 rows away. You settle into your chair, open up the latest Bestseller, and then...

“So, do you fly often?”

There you are, 30,000 feet in the air, and the person next to you wants to chat. Now what? Do you pretend to be engrossed in your novel and ignore your neighbor, or do you respond and tumble into a lengthy, mind-numbing conversation?

Relax, and stop hyperventilating into your vomit bag. Here are some tips to help you converse with your fellow passengers in a way that is polite, satisfying, and most importantly, brief.

Making “small talk,” or light conversation, can be challenging. When flying, it can be even more difficult because individuals are kept in close proximity and one’s options are compromised by the limited amount of physical space. For instance, a shy businessman cannot look at his watch and excuse himself by rushing outside to catch a taxi while in flight.

However, most communication gurus argue that with a little preparation and confidence, small talk can be easy and even enjoyable.

How to prepare for small talk on an airplane:

Practice- Try chatting with anyone who says “Hello,” such as cashiers, waiters, or co-workers. By practicing, you can get a feel for how people respond to certain subjects and also determine what different people like to discuss. Although talking about the weather or something similar may be dull, it is still an acceptable ice-breaker and is better than an awkward silence.

Read and observe everything- While waiting to board the flight, glance over a few magazine and newspaper headlines, or the back covers of a few books. Most anything can be used as a source of information for later use.

While talking:

Be yourself- Talk about what you know honestly. If you pretend to be an expert, you may be bombarded with more questions than you can handle, and end up prolonging the conversation rather than keeping it short.

Keep it casual- Remember, the goal here is to be polite and likable enough so that when you end the conversation, there will be no hard feelings from the person sitting next to you for another hour or more. Be mindful of your audience; avoid sensitive topics like politics or religion, watch your language, and listen to what others have to say.

Stay focused- Attempt to maintain eye contact with the other person and pay attention to any non-verbal communication (body language, facial expressions, etc). This will help the conversation move smoothly toward its conclusion.

Have an exit strategy- If you sense the conversation is dragging or becoming monotonous, have a plan for what to do. For instance, if you want to nap, feel free to yawn during a pause in the conversation, and excuse yourself. Since you’ve indulged your neighbor by talking with them for five or so minutes, they should be gracious enough to stop chatting. Make sure you turn away or close you eyes to signal the end of the conversation. This also works if you would like to return to your reading or work. Don’t forget to thank them for talking with you, as good manners are always appreciated.

In short, by being polite and maintaining control of the conversation, you will be able to avoid both painfully long discussions and awkward silences. However, if you would like to get out of conversing with your fellow passengers altogether, here are some ideas:

• Board the flight with your mobile phone or headphones securely against your ear, most people will not interrupt you.

• Take your seat, and immediately close your eyes in an attitude of sleep or meditation. Again, most people will not want to disturb you. However, this solution tends to work best for those seated next to the window or those who are the last to sit down in their row.

Nonetheless, in spite of these options, keep in mind that at some time during the flight, for whatever reason, your neighbor may attempt to engage you in conversation, so just be prepared. Who knows? You may even find that your neighbor has some fascinating stories that will make the hours fly by.


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    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 6 years ago from Germany

      Thank you for sharing this hub. I am a kind of person who wants to read or write on my journal about the travel that I make and then trying to relax myself for I´m scared of flying. So I just close my eyes and nobody has disturb me yet besides the stewardes who ask me about something to drink or eat.

    • profile image

      DavidLivingston 7 years ago

      Taking it easy and being cool is the best approach. But thanks for posting this hub too.

    • profile image

      DAS 7 years ago


      Hi Terry, if you flew business class you wouldn't have the problem you describe.

    • Terrylee5151 profile image

      Terrylee5151 7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I usually get stuck by someone who is a seat hog and take mine and their seat or who has bad breath.

      I have learned to grab the window seat and let my Husband deal with the small talk.

    • profile image

      tuuky 8 years ago from Utah

      I guess I'll put in my two cents and say that I'm in the middle. I love talking to new people, especially on a plane where they may be headed somewhere cool for final destination, but I usually wait for the person to signal conversation or I'll just feel them out for a chat. If I sense some hesitation, I have no problems cutting the conversation short and doing something else.

    • profile image

      RBrooksC 10 years ago

      Good grief. The last thing I want to do is chit chat with anybody in a plane. I get on the plane and I want to take a nap. I don't want to find out about ANYTHING my seat neighbor has to offer. I usually will answer the first question and not allow it to lead anywhere else and when the doors shut for push back, I will close my eyes and go to sleep.

      Remember, it isn't rude to not talk to your seat mate on a plane. Being forced to sit next to them does not mean you are forced to talk to them.

    • profile image

      Briana 10 years ago

      Oh Geez, I am that neighbor who always wants to talk : /

      In fact, I talked to a flight attendant for 30 minutes about Apple laptops and iPhones. He forgot to start the in flight movie and I think the entire plane might have been mad at me.