I don't do it.
Allow me to elaborate.
I take my plane time very seriously. I use it for reading, listening to music, and watching movies. Also eating. Being on a plane is a very productive time for me. I don't even sleep because it cuts into my productivity. Also because I can't. But that's another story.
My point is, what I don't want to be doing on a plane is making friends with someone I will never see again. In Fight Club, Edward Norton refers to these people as "single-serving friends." But I have friends already. My need for companionship is not such that I want to strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Don't get me wrong: if my seatmate talks to me, I will respond. I'm not rude. I've even been known to spend an entire flight conversing with a chatty fellow passenger. But make no mistake: I did
not enjoy it. I'm a brilliant actress so the person I was talking to thinks I enjoyed it. But I didn't. I would rather have been reading.
Of course, there are times when you can't completely avoid speaking with other people on planes. Sometimes you might need to get up to go to the bathroom. Or perhaps, as I've said before, they will talk to you first. I don't advocate rudeness. Respond and be polite, but if you want to avoid the beginning of such conversation, here are...
Kimber's Tips for Avoiding In-flight Conversation: (it's not exactly pithy, but oh well)
1. Do NOT make eye contact - This is key. Making eye contact is like an open invitation for someone to start speaking to you. Granted, some Chatty Cathys don't even need that. They will start gabbing no matter what. But your average airline passenger is a little shy of talking to strangers, so if you never look them in the eye, they will probably not get up the courage to speak to you in the first place. Plus, eye contact might lead to polite smiles or (heaven forbid) a knowing glance, and then you're done for.
2. Headphones - If you have headphones in, you have license to ignore everything around you. You don't even have to be listening to anything, but as long as those headphones are in/on your ears, people will assume you are deaf to the world. Even if you do hear their attempts to talk to you, you can always pretend you can't, requiring them to tap you if they really want your attention. Most people don't want your attention that badly. Unless they need to get past you to go to the bathroom. Of course, the headphone system works when you first board the plane (prime conversation starting time) and during the bulk of the flight. "But, Kimber," you ask, "What about that pesky time frame between the closing of the airplane's doors and the arrival at 10,000 feet during which electronic devices must be turned off?" Well, dear reader, for that period you must have...
3. Books - The moment I sit down on an airplane, I bury my nose in a book. If you look completely engrossed in something, it takes a pretty ballsy individual to try to distract you from that thing. Magazines and newspapers can work as well, but they run the risk of seeming too casual. Articles are short and you don't hear people talk about "getting lost in a good issue of Cosmo." Books, on the other hand, make it appear to your fellow passengers that you are really committed to what you are reading. You might be at a really exciting part or studying for that big test, and most seatmates will not impose on that. You're always going to get your "what are you reading?"s, but you have to deal with those and move on as quickly as possible. And make sure to bring a real book. E-readers will not help you during the crucial "no electronic devices" period.
4. Sleeping - If all else fails and you are really desperate not to talk to someone, sleep. Or at least, pretend to sleep. On more than one occasion, I have closed my eyes on a plane as a way of saying to my fellow passengers "Do not even try to chat with me. This is a dead end. Move along." Or maybe you're one of those people who actually can sleep on planes. If so, I envy you, and that can be your number one strategy. I will stick with averting my eyes.
Please don't get the wrong impression, dear reader. I'm a nice person and an excellent conversationalist. But the fact remains that unless I already know someone or desire to get to know them for the future, I don't care to expend my time or energy with mindless getting-to-know-you drivel. I've been an RA. I have played more getting-to-know-you games then I care to remember. And people on planes are a prime example of people that I will never see again and therefore, do not care to hear talk about themselves for the space of a few hours.
I would wager that 9 out of 10 of my fellow passengers feel exactly the same way and appreciate my ongoing efforts not to talk to them.
This last, of course, I assume, as I have never (and will never) asked them.