I was on a plane last night. I grabbed my book, stowed my bag and sat down. And stuck out my hand.
“Hi, I’m Dan,” I said.
“I’m Andrea,” she replied.
We chatted for about five minutes, the plane pulled out of the gate and we lapsed into silence. I read my book and she slept.
Planes are great places to meet people. It is a shared experience of sitting in a tube for a couple hours with an anonymous group of people you will never see again. What else are you going to do?
I have observed most people don’t introduce themselves on planes. It is very easy to ignore everyone and do your own thing. However, a simple effort of an introduction is courteous and simply the right thing to do. You don’t have to give more than a first name – few will remember it anyway. Spend a couple minutes in small talk and it will quickly become apparent if you will continue to talk or not. Sometimes, like last night, silence is fine. Occasionally, it is a wonderful opportunity to meet the most fascinating people.
A few years ago, I was flying on a particular stormy night. My seat mate was clearly distressed by the turbulence. We hadn’t even taken of yet. My quick introduction led to an intense conversation that lasted the entire flight. Not only did it take her mind off the gut wrenching bounces, we became good friends in a couple of hours. I have been to her store several times, which became a favorite of my daughters and she sold a few of my pens.
On another flight, I was lucky enough to get bumped to first class, where I sat next to one of the heads of Public Broadcasting. We had a wonderful conversation and I learned a lot about programing decisions and how PBS is put together. It was a crash course in running a public media entity I would not have been able to get at any university. He was even kind enough to mail my children a few video tapes of their favorite programs.
I have met all sorts of people on planes. I’m not advocating being an annoying seat mate, chattering on about nothing when the other person just wants to work on a spreadsheet that is due. It only takes a little observation to be able to tell if the other party is interested in a conversation or just pleasantries. Be open to their needs as well as your own. However, the chance to make a new friend is rare. There aren’t many opportunities to just sit an talk with strangers anymore. Take advantage of the chance to practice the art of conversation. It’s not like you will see them ever again. On the other hand, you might make a new friend or learn about something totally new.