Dear Evie+Sarah: I loved your latest episode on airline travel, especially Sarah’s story about the airplane bathroom! I was hoping to get your thoughts on a travel issue that comes up for me all the time.
I travel regularly for business and really need that time on the plane to get caught up on what’s been going on in the office while I’ve been out, but it seems like I constantly get stuck next to someone who wants to tell me their life story! How long do I realistically have to make polite conversation with the stranger sitting next to me? Is there any good way to tell them to shut up? —Done Being Nice
Dear Done Being Nice:
Being an introvert, I can totally relate to that feeling of wanting everyone around you to just stop talking, especially during travel! Navigating all the way to your seat feels like a major accomplishment for which we should surely be rewarded with silence, right?
But, since you’re going to be sitting next to this person for a few hours, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to strike up some polite conversation while you boot up your laptop and plug in your headphones. Give your seat mate a few minutes of your time during boarding and takeoff, when there are too many distractions to get any real work done anyway. Then, once you’re off the ground, feel free to excuse yourself and throw those headphones on. (You’re traveling with headphones, right??) Totally OK.
The trick is not to get invested in a deep conversation that you have no intention of seeing to the end. If a skilled conversationalist would make eye contact, ask questions, and respond with her own thoughts on a matter, you do the opposite. While your seat mate gabs, you continue to rifle through your papers, throw in a quick Mmhmm here and there, and answer his or her questions in the most straight-forward way possible. I also like the option ear pods offer, where you can stick one in your ear to signal that you’re moving in the direction of tuning out all noise (including your seat mate) very soon.
Once you’re airborne, you’re well within your rights to say, “Well, I’ve got some catching up to do, if you don’t mind.” Then pop that other ear pod in and keep your head down. That should do it. Good luck!
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