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Updated Jan 01, 2018 @ 9:00 am
Credit: Nicole Rivelli/Getty Images

We’ve all heard stories of people who have struck up lifelong friendships or even romances on airplanes. Far more common, though, are the stories of people stuck next to a chatterbox who won’t stop talking. While it’s polite to say hello to the person sitting next to us, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with chatting with our seatmates, sometimes you simply want to use your time on the plane to read a book or watch a movie, activities that are challenging if someone is peppering you with questions. Even if you don’t mind chatting a little, those polite conversations can stretch on and on.

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Luckily, there are plenty of options to politely get a little peace and quiet while you travel—and if handled the right way, you can pick up the friendly conversation when the meal is served or the plane lands. Here are a few ways to get the message across without making the remainder of the flight unbearable.If you’re not the confrontational type—or simply don’t want to risk annoying the person sitting mere inches from you—there are several subtle, yet effective, ways to make it clear you don’t want to talk. The first involves a handy piece of technology:

Pull Out Your Headphones

When the uninvited conversation hits a lull, pull out your headphones, put them firmly in your ears, and divert your attention to your phone, Kindle, or the onboard entertainment system. It’s a subtle yet unmistakable sign that the conversation is over. From there, fire up an audio book or podcast, tune into a movie, or just enjoy the quiet.

Catch Up On Sleep

If you don’t have headphones, an enthusiastic, “I’m going to use this opportunity to take a nap!” should do the trick. Make your announcement, then close your eyes, and try to catch a few winks. If you remembered to throw earplugs into your carry-on bag, it would be a great time to put them to use to further deter conversation.

Politely Ask For Some Peace and Quiet

If that doesn’t work, consider turning to your seatmate and telling them in a friendly but firm way, “I’m hoping to use this flight to get a little peace and quiet and catch up on this book/podcast/movie/crossword puzzle/knitting project.” That should get the message across. If they keep prattling on, you may need to kick things up a notch and say, “I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s awfully hard to concentrate on both the conversation and this book and I need to find out what happens next!” or something along those lines.

Seek Extra Help

If that doesn’t work, consider flagging down a flight attendant and begging for headphones—or for a free seat. Once you explain the situation, usually it’s no problem to switch seats, if there are seats available. However, don’t expect the flight attendant to usher you to an empty seat in first class just because you have a noisy seatmate as most airlines require passengers to pony up for upgrades. Instead, look for an empty seat in an uncrowded row in your own section, and it should be no problem to move.