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3 Easy Ways to Make Your Seatmate Shut Up

A figure posed with head resting on hand, with a headache caused by loud talkers around him

Traveling can be a tricky business, one that’s often complicated by unexpected, misery-inducing difficulties — but fear not! Mile High Manners is here to lend a helping hand and guide you through the polite “do’s and don’ts” of flight etiquette, regardless of the class you’re seated in and situations you come up against. 

Have you ever faced an in-flight encounter or unexpected situation at the airport which you were unsure of how to handle properly? Send your dilemmas to us at [email protected] and check back every Wednesday as we endeavor make the travel experience more enjoyable for everyone.


Q: Hey Miles! You know those carts the housekeepers push around? The ones packed with towels, cups, toiletries, etc.? Well I’ve been taking things from those carts for as long as I can remember, but I never considered it “stealing” until my girlfriend called me out on it last month. I don’t see it as theft, per se, especially since the housekeepers are always more than happy to give you things from their carts. Besides, if they’re busy cleaning a room and their cart’s just sitting there, why shouldn’t I grab a few extra bottles of shampoo or a couple towels? Is this wrong? Am I a horrible person?

A: One thing is for sure, you can never have too many tiny bottles of shampoo. Oh wait, actually yes, you can absolutely have too many tiny bottles of shampoo.

You are right about the generosity of hotels and their housekeepers when it comes to dishing out standard-issue toiletries. The free stuff in the hotel room is part of what makes staying in a hotel so appealing. Fresh towels! Pristine soaps! The ice! Ohh, the ice.

Depending on how long you’re staying or how dirty you are, there can be times when your room doesn’t have enough towels or shampoo. The housekeeper could be busy when you notice that their cart holds the off-brand two-serving toothpaste that you so desperately need, prompting you to help yourself. That is perfectly reasonable and sound hotel guest behavior.

There is only a problem if you don’t actually need the items you are taking. The concept of free hygienic products in the hotel is guided by the understanding that the toiletries will be used at the hotel, not stuffed into a suitcase to be hoarded at the home front. Unless you are staying at a swanky place, the quality of these free products is most likely lower than what have at home anyway. Do you really need extra bottles of low-quality facial cleanser? No, you don’t. Do you want to use a bar of soap that smells like blueberries? No, why would you. Do you honestly believe that you may one day need a shower cap? No, because if you don’t already have one then you will never need a dedicated cap for maintaining the dryness of your hair in a shower or bath.

The cart’s stationary presence in the hallway is not due to its identity as a hotel guest filling station. The cart is there to supply the housekeepers with the materials they need to do their jobs. Assuming that the location of cart is an invitation to raid it would be the same as saying the cart has wheels because you are supposed to roll it out of the hotel and load it into the trunk of your car.

You are not a horrible person, but you might be a person who is taking advantage of a situation. It is good practice to only take things that you actually need. This concept can be applied to many aspects of life and is one that you should remember the next time you find yourself clutching multiple shrink-wrapped cucumber lemon berry bath soaps.


Q: I hate people who talk too much (see questions that follows) so I’ll keep this brief. I always get stuck next to a blabbermouth when I fly, you know the type, the flying-solo-Sandy that just has to ramble on and on. I’ve got to problem shutting these talkers down once they start getting on my nerves (around the point we reach cruising altitude) but I kinda feel like a jerk when I do. How do you get talkative seatmates to stop nagging you, Miles?

PS—yes, I’ve tried the “putting headphones in” tactic and they end up just tapping my arm or staring at me expectantly.

A: You don’t have to close your eyes right now and pretend to be asleep. I’ll be sure to keep this short.

There is no convenient way to wrap up an in-flight conversation. You can’t just make up an excuse and walk away. That is why the first (and strongest) tactic is to shut down any conversation hard and fast right out of the gate. Do not engage. Do not make eye contact. If your seatmate says something to you, just mumble an unintelligible reply and busy yourself doing something else, even if that something is just staring blankly at the seat in front of you. If you never exchange pleasantries about the weather then you will never have to hear about how her daughter is enjoying her first year of college or what he thought of his experience at the convention center.

If the wheels are up and the conversation is cruising at full speed, another tactic is to summon your creative side to encourage the other person to ditch the conversation mid-flight. The possibilities are endless and only limited to your skill and dedication. How about continually popping small round candies into your mouth and gradually begin slurring your speech until you pass out?

The third (and best) method is to just be honest. It is perfectly respectable to say that you are tired and want to zone out or whatever the truth is. The only way you will be a jerk is if you convey that message in a jerky way. They will get over it, and who cares if they don’t? You will never see them again unless you are very unlucky and the person turns out to be your new boss or your father-in-law, in which case I would say congratulations on getting the part in that new Diane Keaton movie!


[Photo: iStock]


Comments are Closed.
Sydneyberlin October 29, 2015

My problem is always to determine whether it is worth talking or not to the person next to me. I've met some great people on flights from all over the world and wouldn't want to miss the rare the chance to speak to people from a totally different background or a very different attitude towards life. However, sometimes you then realize later that the person turns out to be a real nutter or worse, like on a recent flight, a total alcoholic who is about to start a fight with the attendants. So- this can go both ways, really.

tom_MN October 16, 2015

I've had a few wonderful in flight discussions in my life, usually every fourth or fifth flight, so I can't image using the semi-wacko "shut 'em down" technique at the get go described above. Yes, I have experienced it directed at me, and yes, it comes across as a having semi-wacko judge-people-first attitude. It makes for an awkward flight for all and I don't know why you would choose to have an entirely awkward flight every time. Although I have rarely experienced an unpleasantly talkative person are you really saying that opening a book for you doesn't work? Sounds like you have the problem, then.

Michael Rosenpenis October 11, 2015

Seatmate talks too much. I have been flying for 25 years and use the following lines. 1.) Hi, my name is Mike and I am with the IRS auditing department and you are???? 2.) I am returning from a trip to Africa where I was working on Ebola victims. (cough into hand) Offer to shake hands. 3.) I hope I can get home before they find the body

millseynz October 9, 2015

DO NOT STEAL ITEMS FROM A CART! At many hotels the cart and its contents are assigned to a particular room service attendant with the approx amount of product needed to service their allocated rooms. When thire cart comes up short they are put under the microscope for their missing items and can be accused of taking the items themselves. Always ask, if they so no call the front desk. I know of a case at Hilton were a maid was fired for this and later reinstated after video footage was reviewed of college students taking from her cart over a five day period

jallred6 October 8, 2015

Jabbering seatmate? Do what Brian Tracy does -- smile sweetly and say "I'm a fundraiser for a religious cult. Care to make a donation?"