You board a flight and nervously wait to discover who you will be sitting next to for the next umpteen hours.
First, you hope desperately that they don’t smell bad.
But some also hope that the person sharing a metre with them won’t be chatty.
Part of life is being in forced social situations. But a forced social situation doesn’t have to be an unrewarding experience.
Yes, some people can talk drivel. (This is when you can use your Awkward Silence subscription to change the subject.) But most people aren’t so dull.
The random person next to you could be from any walk of life, outside of the circle of people you normally associate with. It’s a great excuse to learn something new or discover the world through someone else’s eyes.
An easy way to get the conversation going is to ask why they are travelling. They may have some terrific advice on the destination you are travelling to. Perhaps it is their home city and they are returning, or perhaps they have done holiday research different to your own.
A purely practical benefit of becoming conversationally comfortable with them is that at some point you may need them to hop up so you can use the toilet or stretch your legs. You don’t want to spend long periods of the flight afraid of interrupting them. A good rapport takes the anxiety out of disrupting.
The person next to you has never met you before, so they haven't heard all your best anecdotes, stories or jokes. They are about to be surprised by the best bits of your personality. So make them laugh, and feel the affirmation that comes with someone enjoying you for the first time.
Worst case scenario, you are unlikely to ever see them again. So in the unlikely event the conversation goes poorly, you won’t have to concern yourself with the next time you cross paths. You can go for broke.
The best case scenario is that you make a new friend out of the situation.
You may be concerned that once you start talking, you will need to perpetuate the conversation for the whole flight. This isn’t true.
As much as we love conversation, at some point after a hearty chat you will want do a crossword puzzle or watch a movie. Here’s the thing – the person you are talking to feels exactly the same way! So when you suggest that you are going to read your book, the other passenger is probably relieved at your suggestion rather than offended.
A habit I make when I’m on long-haul flights is to advice the passenger next to me that I snore occasionally, and suggest they wake me if I’m doing so. It puts them at ease and saves me embarrassment. If you have something similar that someone sitting next to you should know about, be it fear of flying, leg spasms, etc, be forthcoming about it.
It’s often rewarding to talk to the plane passenger next to you. Make the most of it.