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Is It Rude to Ignore People Next to You On a Plane? How to Let Them Know You Don’t Want to Chitchat

A lady in a plane working in a laptop and an earphone.

So many of us have been there before. Exhaustion has set in from rushing to the airport and standing in a horrifically long TSA line. After finally boarding and getting situated, you see it. A fellow flyer is standing at the end of your row squinting at the numbers listed under the overhead storage.

“Oh, please, don’t be sitting here,” you think. But they are. They eye the seats next to you and squeeze in. That might be about the time you feel provoked to pull out a pair of headphones.

Alas, the action is in vain. For your new seatmate is traveling solo and they are a Chatty Cathy. With no one else to turn to, they narrow in on you. How can you let them know that gabbing isn’t on the itinerary this evening?

A small family on a plan playing on a phone.

Why Are They Trying to Converse With Me Anyway?

Before we discuss a few ways to avoid someone, it seems fair to go over why they might be talking in the first place. The way people react to traveling is not the same for everyone. Throw in a variety of personalities and you have a recipe to come across some very interesting people.

Having a better grasp of the reasons people feel so compelled to nudge you might help you be more empathetic and willing to let them down gently. Here are a few of those possibilities:

  • Nerves. Many people get anxious before flying, especially if they’re on a trip alone. Talking is a good distraction from the events unfolding. It’s a type of coping mechanism.
  • Behavioral disorders. Some people have disorders that make them more prone to interacting with those around them but are not necessarily adept at picking up on social cues.
  • Curiosity. We all know someone in this category. Just as with any other part of life, there are those who just plainly like to hold symposiums.
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Headphones

A lady sleeping in a plane with headphones.

So, now that we have a better understanding of what might be going on, let’s go over ways to make sure they know you want peace. As mentioned, you may already have a pair of headphones in your hand. That is supposed to be a universal signal for silence.

Not everyone will catch on, but it’s an easy first attempt to divert a conversation.

An acknowledgment of their introduction followed by a smile or kind word and an obvious insertion of earbuds or pulling a pair of over-the-ear headphones over might do it. A polite person of society would catch the drift and find something to entertain themselves going forward.

Electronic Device

Okay, they don’t care that you want to listen to music. They might, however, feel more inclined to worry about themselves if they see you are busy. Whether it be a laptop, tablet, or even a phone, when a person is deeply engaged with the written word, it feels impolite to interrupt them.

Travelers everywhere fill the void of the inability to do anything they want in a multitude of ways.

Some read and others play games. Some watch movies and others work. Work, even without the internet, is a great way to let time speed by because you’re engrossed in an activity. A seatmate would likely not want to get between your money-making or studying and will do something else.

Nap

Women taking a nap in a plane with a travel pillow.

However, not everyone is so quickly thwarted. The most outgoing of people might be unable to help themselves from going for another chat, even if they picked up on the hints you were dropping. Now is when you make the ultimate move, go to sleep.

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There is no better statement than a literal closing of the eyes to adjourn the rattling on.

Get into position slowly. Pull out a jacket, rub your eyes, and get into a more comfortable-looking position. When they pause, hopefully, because they realize what’s happening, lean over and drift off.

Even if you aren’t really sleepy, keep the farce going for a moment. It is difficult to even pretend that you don’t notice someone is clearly trying to sleep.

Be Direct

Even now, there are individuals that will still have the audacity to tap you on the arm so they can continue an argument they were making or just thought of. At this point, persistence must match persistence. Before they can get a word out, let them know that you are trying to do an activity, such as work or sleep, and you would appreciate the time to focus.

As Geoffery Grief explains, “If I say, ‘Are you going to Boston for business or pleasure?’ and they just say, ‘Business,’ and open up their book, I’ll naturally read them as not interested.”

Is Avoidance Ill-Mannered?

Two person talking on a plane and holding a coffee.

That brings us to the question many are likely wondering about. With all these attempts at getting out of a conversation, is it rude to not carry on with someone sitting next to you for an unspecified amount of time? Simply put, no.

Aside from these tricks to get out of talking, you should never feel obligated to answer anyone.

As Michelle Smith points out, “This may be hard for some people to understand, but you don’t need to respond and be nice to everyone. You can simply give one-word answers, close your eyes, and not feel the need to respond.”

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