Image via Pixabay

Plane talkers are the fourth most significant travel etiquette saboteurs according to a recent survey. But striking up a conversation with your seatmate could pay off.

A recent survey on passengers’ top travel annoyances has given the commuter class much to talk about. Published by transit payment system provider Genfare, the study polled 2,000 Americans who fly at least twice a year on the primary peeves they encounter on planes, trains and automobiles.

Over half of the respondents rated a kick in the back of the seat as the biggest pain in the neck while traveling by plane, 27 percent of air passengers bewail the cries of infants and body odor offends the scents and sensibilities of 26 percent of flyers. The unspeakable irritation that landed fourth? Talkers.

A disdain for talkative travelers is the only shared grievance across all transportation categories considered by Genfare in the study, ranking seventh for public transportation and fifth in the rideshare category. That chatty neighbors rank higher as an annoyance for flyers may be explained by the heightened constraints of assigned seating and longer travel times. Not to mention that on a flight, unlike in a Lyft, close talking is implied. (Sans breath mints, a closer talker risks checking off two travel annoyances in one go.)

Etihad Airways suggests travelers let “do not disturb” eye masks do the talking.

All in all, the survey found that the majority of flyers (57 percent) don’t like talking to their seatmate. The aversion is even more pronounced among women, 61 percent of whom would rather not strike up a conversation versus 52 percent of men. Along the same lines, only 29 percent of women say they view flying as a way to meet someone new, in contrast with 39 percent of men.

The gender discrepancy may reflect the fact that “stranger danger” is a more present concern for women, especially as the number of midair sexual assaults on commercial airline flights continues to rise “at an alarming rate,” according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Many flyers intend to check out after checking in for their flight. “It’s not that I want to be unsocial … but being on an airplane is my getaway from the world,” writes one FlyerTalk member. “I kind of treasure the quiet. So after lift-off I typically slip on my Bose headphones and leave them on until landing,” writes another.

Flyers go to great lengths to dodge dialogue. Putting on headphones is the most common tactic, Genfare’s study finds, while reading a book, looking at phones, sleeping, or using the restroom follow as other methods. Three percent ignore talkers and less than one percent call the flight attendant. Some travelers resort to buying magazines in foreign languages or feigning illness to con their way out of a conversation.

Conversation Enders
37% of people put on headphones
24% read a book
13% look at phone
12% tell them you’re tired and want to sleep
8% use the restroom
3% ignore them
0.5% call the flight attendant

Travel companies have taken note. Etihad Airways suggests travelers let “do not disturb” eye masks do the talking. Virtual reality headsets may provide another means, unless they spark too much intrigue from a loquacious loomer. In the rideshare sector, Lyft has considered adopting a “Zen Mode” feature that would make drivers aware of the passenger’s preference for silence.

There are cultural differences when it comes to talking on a plane. A 2017 British Airways survey of travelers from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy, found that Americans have the lowest tolerance for banter. Italians were the most willing, with 80 percent of respondents in favor of chitchat. Half of French respondents viewed an in-flight tête-à-tête as an occasion to make a new friend, while Germans are good with “guten Tag” only. Another study found 90 percent of Canadian travelers are sorry-not-sorry about preferring to keep to themselves in flight.


Seatmate silence may be golden, but it could ultimately leave travelers sadder. A recent experiment by Nicolas Epley and Juliana Schroeder from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business found that Chicago bus commuters were significantly happier when talking to travelers than when they remained in solitude.

There’s also the high-flying romantic stuff made for movies: Tales of sparks flying after sparking up a conversation. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who  found love on a plane.

Earlier this year, after a schoolteacher flying on Southwest Airlines opened up to her seatmate about the plight of her low-income students, passengers within earshot opened their wallets. She walked away from the flight with more than $500 in donations for her school.

Troubles With Transit, Ranked

Plane Public Transportation Rideshare
1 Getting seat kicked (54%) Talking loudly on the phone (54%) Aggressive driving (44%)
2 Crying baby/child (27%) Body odor (41%) Driver talking on the phone (32%)
3 Body odor (26%) Playing music without headphones (29%) Dirty/messy car (31%)
4 Talkative passenger (23%) Taking up seats with bags (28%) Braking too hard or accelerating too fast (29 percent)
5 Inattentive parents (21%) Not giving up seat for elderly (22%) Talkative driver (28%)
6 Seat pulled back or leaned on (17%) Blocking the exit door(s) (19%) Driver’s music (25%)
7 Snoring (15%) Talkative passenger (18%) Driver holding their phone/not using a phone dock (20%)
8 Rushing to get off the plane as soon as it gets to the gate (15%) Facetiming without headphones (18%) Driver eating (13%)
9 Reclining seats (15%) Putting legs or feet up on seat (16%) Driver asking you to rate them well (12%)
10 Putting feet up (13%) Eating smelly food (15%) Driver asking for a tip (10%)