“I don’t talk to people on planes anymore. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with someone sitting next to me on a plane”, I said to Melvin as we stood on the plane-spotters deck next to one of Frankfurt Airport’s runways. Another 747 rumbled past as I dwelled on this thought.
Melvin responded: “That would’ve been me!… Our flight from Durban to Johannesburg.” We had a good chuckle about it and Melvin added that he too seldom speaks to people on planes.
Has flying become less social?
“Why is that? Has flying become less social?” I wondered out loud. In my teens, even in my 20’s, I would often strike up a conversation with anyone sitting next to me in a plane. I found it fascinating to learn more about that person; where they were from, where they were going to and why, and what they did. One conversation I would never forget happened on a flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur. I was 14 and on my way home. An elderly lady sat next to me – she was Australian and was on her way to visit relatives in Germany – and we hit it off in an instant. We talked almost non-stop for the entire duration of the flight (about nine hours) and Renate and I became good friends. Since then, we’ve visited each other and every year, around Christmas, we send each other a card and a long letter detailing our year – she’s the only person I still communicate with via ‘snail mail’!
Another time, I sat next to a journalist from the Wall Street Journal. As I was studying Economics at the time, we engaged in a lengthy and lively discussion about the political-economic situation of the world at the time.
So, why don’t I do that anymore? I thought about this and recalled the drunk I sat next to on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur who cursed and yelled at me and others around us. The cabin staff warned him to stop several times but they couldn’t change my seat as the flight was full. After several hours, he passed out in his seat for the rest of the flight. That incident certainly put me off talking to people on planes for a bit, but it certainly isn’t the answer to my question.
She didn’t say another word to me during the rest of the 12-hour flight.
That said, I probably haven’t always been the most pleasant person to fly with either. One time, I sat next to a lady and as the plane lifted off the runway, I remarked how amazing it was that a machine weighing more than 400,000kg could simply take off into the sky like a bird. She clutched the armrests tightly and glared at me before saying that she preferred not to think of such things while in the air. She didn’t say another word to me during the rest of the 12-hour flight. Haha!
A little escape
I still haven’t answered that question now have I? I guess the answer lies in one’s state of mind or perspective. When I was younger, flying was a great adventure and I was all too eager to share my excitement with anyone who bothered listening to me. These days, I see flying as a means to get from point A to B. Moreover, busy schedules and an equally busy personal life leaves little time for myself. Flying has become a little escape – my time for me; a place where I can quietly pursue leisurely activities like reading a book or watching a movie or playing Angry Birds (my favourite!). I also use this time to reflect on something or come up with new ideas.
I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks this way. Most people I sit next to these days seem quite pleased that I’m not the talkative type. There’s often a quick exchange of pleasantries, then the headphones appear or they bury themselves in a book: a clear “Do Not Disturb” sign. People are also willing to pay more for their privacy. Many airlines these days have single seats, or screens separating two seats in Business and First Class.
At the other end of the spectrum, airlines like KLM have introduced social media integration during the booking process, allowing passengers to check if anyone in their social circles are on board the same flight. I’ve never used this function.
When was the last time you had a conversation with the person sitting next to you in a plane?
Have you met someone on a plane who inspired you or someone with whom you became friends/partners? Please feel free to share your story in the comments section below.