How Do I Politely Handle a Chatty Seatmate on a Plane?

Wearing earbuds is just one of the options our expert suggests.

Person sitting on a plane with earbuds

You’ve jumped through all the hoops of contemporary air travel and finally arrived at your cramped seat, hoping for some quiet you-time. But your seatmate wants to chat . . . and chat . . . and chat.

You have a right to defend your desire for silence, says Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life. And you can do it without raising your voice.

“Of course, you want to be polite and respectful,” she adds. “If she says, ‘Good morning,’ wish her the same in a friendly tone. But you’re not required to go beyond that, and if she insists on chatting when you’d rather not, you have several options.”

Speak in closed-ended responses. “If she shows you a photo of her children,” Gottsman says, “respond in a way that’s not open-ended; don’t feel you need to further the conversation. ‘That’s a beautiful photo of your kids,’ full stop. Not ‘That’s a beautiful photo of your kids. What are their names?’”

Declare your intention. “Being honest and straightforward gives you your best chance to guard your peace and quiet. ‘I’ve really enjoyed talking with you. Now I’m going to excuse myself and take this time to just close my eyes and rest.’ Or ‘I’ve got some work to do, so I’m going to jump into it right now.’”

Use physical cues. Wearing earbuds is quickly becoming a universal code for “don’t bug me,” says Gottsman. A book or laptop relays the same message.

If the person doesn’t take the hint: “Repeat your declaration,” says Gottsman, “in the spirit of simply reminding her. ‘I’m sorry, but I really do want to focus on my work’ or ‘I really need to chill out right now.’”

If the person gets mad: “We can’t dictate another person’s personality, unfortunately. Who knows how this other person is going to react? We assume she’s going to be adult. We assume she’s going to behave appropriately, but if she is combative, you have every right to talk to the flight attendant.”

is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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