Dealing With Chatty Seatmates In The Air

An article on offers advice on dealing with chatty seatmates when you don’t want to talk.

I recently did a six-leg round trip on packed planes, which meant six sets of seatmates. On one of them I exchanged a few comments and on four others there was nothing more than a nod. On the final leg, though, I ended up in a pleasant three-way conversation of more than an hour with the two women sitting on either side of me. (Yes, I was in the dreaded middle seat.)

I had not intended to chat my neighbors up. In fact, I had loaded a movie onto my iPod and was preparing to watch it on that final leg of a long trip. One of my seatmates had a book and the other had a laptop and folders full of work.

So why did we end up chatting happily for almost the entire trip? I’m not even sure. We had some things in common — three middle-aged professional women with children. There was a lot to say, and maybe something to learn from each other.

On one of the other flights, however, I ended up on the aisle with a woman and her young son in the middle and window seats. A young man behind us, in the very last row of the plane, talked nonstop to his seatmate in a loud voice about his anti-psychotic medications, his sexual identity issues, his family problems, a relative’s suicide and other topics that alarmed and intrigued the boy, of about 6 or 7, sitting right in front of him.

I offered to lend my headphones to the son, but admittedly some of the songs on my iPod aren’t all that much better in terms of content. (What can I tell you. I love Garbage.) The mother and I were on the verge of asking the young man to keep his voice down when he changed the topic, though still talking loudly, to more benign things.

Obviously, the young man had psychological challenges and all of us felt sorry for him. I also felt sorry for his seatmate. Throughout his monologue she answered him politely, in a barely audible voice. After the young man got off the plane, another woman nearby said to her, “You were very good with him.”

I’ve heard that phrase before, in another situation that called for a little compassion and patience. A few months ago my husband and I ended up on a long flight with an unaccompanied minor, a girl of about 9 years old. (I’ve sat next to unaccompanied minors many times. I think flight attendants like to put them next to unaccompanied middle-aged women.) We didn’t have much in common at all, but the girl was bright and fun.

She was also a little exhausting. We didn’t really want to play “I spy” for an hour, but we did.  At the end of the flight, a woman who was sitting behind us said, “You were very good with her.”


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