How to Deal With a Chatty Seatmate on an Airplane

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There you are, comfortable in your assigned seat, ready for takeoff. You’ve done everything right. You checked in early. You breezed through security with patience. You stood in line and boarded the plane with your assigned group. You packed an appropriately sized carry-on, loaded it in the bin unassisted. You even helped the woman behind you find space for her bag.

Now that you’re settled in, it’s time to pull out that book you’ve been looking forward to reading. You’re a travel hero. You don’t deserve what’s about to happen next…the seatmate who over-talks.

An eye mask and noise-cancelling headphones send a message: Do not disturb! (Photo courtesy of SolStock/iStock)

For some, being chatty comes naturally — my friend Andy, for example. Last year Andy showed up on a camping trip with a new friend I hadn’t heard was coming. “Right,” he said, “that’s because we just met yesterday on a flight from New York to Denver.” What? Earlier that year, Andy mentioned that he was going to visit a friend who had a house in Aspen for a ski weekend. “Where do I meet a friend like that?” I wondered out loud. “Oh, we just started talking on a flight.” he responded.

But if you aren’t like Andy, it can be stressful to remove yourself politely from a conversation, especially when physically removing yourself isn’t an option.

Here are some helpful strategies. (For the friendly airplane talkers out there — Please pay attention if your seatmate is displaying any of these signs; they recognize you are a lovely person but still hope to be left alone.)

Strategies for (Politely) Avoiding a Talkative Seatmate

1.  Be subtle yet obvious

Yes, it’s possible to do both. Subtle means you’re not specifically asking a person to stop talking, but you are giving out some major clues that you’re looking forward to some quiet time. For example, find a moment to open a book or put on headphones to indicate that you’ve already got the inflight entertainment figured out.

2.  Change your environment

Although space is limited on a plane and you’re not really able to switch seats without good reason, there are ways you can break up a conversation. Standing up to stretch or to go to the bathroom can pause a conversation and give you enough time to sit down, smile and put your headphones on to listen to that new podcast.

3.  Be direct and honest

Oof, it can be tough to speak directly to a stranger. But are they really a stranger after 15 minutes of one-sided conversation? At some point, it might just be best to speak up and explain that you’ve loved this exchange but are now going to return to reading this book for the duration of the flight.

4.  Blame it on work

These days, many of us plan on doing work while we’re in the air. Especially when many airlines offer Wi-Fi to their travelers, it’s commonplace to see passengers sitting with their laptops out, finishing last-minute emails, working on a presentation or even writing a travel-related blog post. Most people will get the hint when you take your laptop out and apologize that you’ve got to focus on work for the time being.

5.  Sit by the window  

You will, indeed, have to speak up if you’re trying to get to the bathroom or stretch your legs. But it’s easy to nap in this seat and keep conversation to a minimum.

If all else fails…

6.  Relax and lean into the conversation

There are a number of reasons that people attempt to engage in conversation during a flight. Some might be nervous to fly and find that speaking with the person next to them is a great distraction. (I’ve definitely employed this tactic to detract from flight anxiety.) Others are just interested in the people they meet (for now, that means you), are really extroverted, are ready to relax on vacation or are excited about their travel plans and want to share. The list goes on…

Unless you’re really dying to get through that book, finish that movie or finish your work, I’ve found it can be lovely to get to know your seatmate. They’re headed in the same direction, so you might have a lot in common.

Have you ever had to deal with a talkative seatmate when all you wanted to do was relax and enjoy your flight in peace? How did you handle the situation? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section below.

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