I often hear horror stories of people who have no desire to talk on airplanes.
And now I know why.
I pride myself on meeting new people on planes and having interesting discussions. But what I witnessed the other day must, just must, be the reason people are gun shy about striking up a conversation on the plane.
It was a quick flight from Phoenix to Denver, about 1½ hour flight time. I took my aisle seat and noticed the woman, Cathy, across the aisle strike up a conversation with the person in the window seat. And might I add that I use the word “conversation” loosely. Very loosely. It was more like she was doing a monologue. This went on for about 20 minutes while the plane was boarding. Yes, she’s from the East Coast. No, she wasn’t affected by the hurricane that much. Well, she has two kids and a dog, so she was really worried about how they’d handle it. She teaches at a university. And she’s hoping to get tenure in a few years. I don’t know, maybe 10? But she really wanted to be a clinician.
And then her rant was interrupted by a new passenger taking the middle seat. Oh the poor soul. He had no idea what he was in for!
“Yes, hi, yes, headed to DC. I’m a teacher. I really like it but I wanted to be a clinician. They make four times the money as teachers…”
Even her students graduating make more money than she does (not that she’s bitter…). Well it’s all because of her high school counselor. Apparently, when he was writing his letter of recommendation, it included some not so recommended items. Cathy sounded something like this [in the brackets – I inserted my own thoughts]:
“My high school counselor wrote a five page letter of recommendation. I mean, that’s unheard of. [You mean, someone as talkative as you? Yes, simply unheard of!] They typically write 1-2 page letters, but this guy wrote a glowing 5 page letter. [Yes, you mentioned that.]
But among five pages, there was one teeny, tiny paragraph sandwiched in between all the good stuff where he said my interpersonal skills were lacking and I was aloof and wouldn’t do well helping people. [Wow, who knew high school counselors were so astute?!] What do I mean by aloof, well, standoffish, maybe, but that’s not me at all. [No, I wouldn’t call it standoffish so much as annoying.] And just because of that, he thought I wouldn’t be good interacting with people. Boy was he wrong. [No he wasn’t!] I’m great with people [No you’re not!]” And this went on and on and on.
In fact, it went on for so long that I finally tried to drown her out. But that alone was very difficult. I used every superhuman yoga/meditative/mind power technique in the book. But to no avail. Chatty Cathy wouldn’t give my ears a break! I mean she talked nonstop for the entire flight. 1 ½ hours. And I’m sure if the flight went longer, she would’ve talked longer. It was painful for me. As it was, I’m confident, for the guy sitting next to her.
I’ve never so desperately wanted my headphones. It was the first time on a flight I’ve ever wanted to wear headphones!
So now I understand. Now I understand why most people don’t want to “talk” on planes. Most people are getting stuck listening to a monologue of a bitter, aloof, annoying seatmate. Next time you “want to get away” here are a few things you can do:
1. Get up to use the restroom and when you get back, put your headphones on.
2. Look at the TV screen and say “I’ve been wanting to catch this TV show” and put your headphones on.
3. Tell them you’re right in the middle of the best part of the book and you need to finish it before the flight lands.
4. Tell them you need to do some work, then break out your computer.
5. Tell them you need to do some work, then feel free to break out your copy of Us Weekly.
6. Hold your eyes closed for longer than expected. Then, open them and say “Wow, I must’ve dozed off. I’m really tired. I think I’m going to take a little nap.”
7. Start coughing uncontrollably (throw in a few weird noises with your throat and you should be good the entire flight).
The reality is that you really don’t owe them an explanation for not wanting to talk to them (or listen to them), but if you have any level of human empathy, you’ll want some type of excuse that gets you off the hook gently.
And next time you’re on a flight. Make sure you’re not the one annoying the people around you. If you’re doing more than half the talking, you just may be the Chatty Cathy who people want to get away from.