Five ways to avoid a chatty passenger

You usually know within seconds whether the person next to you will leave you alone. The talkative types may wait until they have their bags stored, though some will start even before they’ve tossed their carry-ons into the overhead bins. From before the door shuts to well after touchdown, chatty passengers can consume your flight, making your books, magazines and iPods irrelevant.

Some people love this. Stick two talkers together, and they’ll reach baggage claim the best of friends. The unfortunate pairing of one of these passengers with the type that prefers to be left alone can make the flight a living hell for the latter, with severity linked to duration. If you like nothing more than to occupy yourself while flying, here are five steps you can take to be left in silence.

1. Keep your magazine in your pocket
A talker can strike while you’re fishing through your bag for reading material. Keep your magazine handy, and you narrow your neighbor’s window of opportunity. Roll it and put it in your back pocket, that way you can pull it out in fractions of a second. Open it while you’re sitting down to avoid making eye contact.

2. Act like a workaholic
Stare at your Blackberry and shake your head. Mutter to yourself about “that asshole, Steve.” When you have to turn off your electronic devices, pull out a notepad and start scribbling furiously. The passenger next to you may try to strike up a conversation, but you can reply, “Sorry, I have to deal with this.” Don’t give any details: they can only lead to more questions.

3. Look exhausted
Merely waiting to sleep isn’t enough. A chatty passenger will try to keep you awake. You have to look weary (the prospect of having to listen to this person should help this along) and in desperate need of some shut-eye. If you have to say something to the person, just mention that you didn’t get to sleep much last week … and that the coming week will be worse. Then, close your eyes and tilt your head. Don’t give in to any offers to converse.

4. Stick to short answers
Try to telegraph your lack of interest in talking through one-word answers and grunts. Usually, a single word in reply to an open-ended question drives the message home. After you answer each question, close your eyes and turn your head away, or lift your magazine or book higher. Make it clear through body language that you have no interest in continuing the discussion.

5. Be direct
If you’ve tried to be polite and sought to avoid conflict without the desired result, it’s time to get tough. If you don’t like to be rude, think of it this way – you tried, and your neighbor is the one acting inappropriately. Be firm: “I’m not interested in talking. I really need to [pick one: sleep, work, etc.].” Sometimes, the direct approach is the only one that will work.