Don't Sit Next To Your Coworkers On The Plane

Image: Travel Man, Shutterstock

Once, when travelling back with a video crew from Tokyo, the counter agent informed me that the only available seat was next to one of my coworkers. Whom I had just spent eight sleepless days with. I boarded, and promptly told him that we will not be speaking until we landed, 14 hours later.

If you travel with coworkers for business, you may be placed in a somewhat awkward situation: Should you book your seats next to each other? No! You should never feel the need to do this.

Allow me to explain.

You are being paid to spend time with these people, and making small talk for hours is not one of your job requirements. There will be plenty of time for schmoozing in the hotel bar or rental car or while you wait for the meeting to start, and you can’t use up all your good banter while taxiing from the jetway. Plus, you even buy yourself some extra small talk with the whole “What did you do on the flight?” topic.

Then there’s the matter of your personal preference. What if you and your coworker both want a window seat? Should you put aside your own comfort and happiness to sit next to this person and continue the small talk conundrum (see above). Of course not! Book the seat you want. This isn’t personal, it’s just business.

Or what if you’re a nervous flyer? I don’t have an MBA, but pretty sure the advice to “never let them see you squirm” applies here. Or maybe you have weird habits and take your shoes off before the plane takes off. Or snore really loud. Or need medication to fly comfortably. These are all things your coworkers do not need to know about, they spend enough time dealing with you at your desk all day, and just because you’re travelling for work doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to some basic level of privacy.

Now some of you may say “I work in sales and use the time on the plane to prepare with my team for our synergy and goal-oriented blah blah blah.” I gave up halfway through that sentence trying to think of what a sales person would say. My point still holds: You will have plenty of time to talk business in all the other parts of your trip where you are forced into company bonding. The flight is your time to watch Mama Mia: Here We Go Again and not think about managing a team.

So if you do end up in the unfortunate situation of being placed in a tiny chair next to a coworker for hours, just let them know that you will not be interacting until you get to the other side.


Comments

    Should you book your seats next to each other? No! You should never feel the need to do this.

    Is this an opinion piece from an anti-social person? There's nothing of actual use in this entire article other than "I don't want to sit next to my colleagues - and if I am, I don't want to talk to them".

    Well at least your colleagues know to keep you at arm's length from now on, to prevent any more uncomfortable situations for you where you might actually engage with them.

    What a terrible anti-social opinion piece masked as advice. What are your rejected colleagues supposed to think when you sit next to them and inform them that you will refuse to talk to them for fourteen hours? How juvenile.

      It's an actual intelligent article - your opinion sounds like that of either a) someone who rarely travels for business long haul and / or b) has poor social awareness and are possibly the main reason people agree with the article. Granted there are work colleagues you may want to sit with on planes from a social perspective (probably not all the time) and there may be times where you need to catch up on work / vent discuss - sometimes especially on a short haul flight however for long haul and / or repetitive journeys this is not realistic. As someone who travels long haul frequently, has a global team that I rarely see and is a sociable extrovert this article is on the money 100%. Not to mention if you travel like this a lot the time , when on the plane even though is technically work time is often your own personal time where you may want to not focus on work or maybe different work unrelated to the other colleagues. If you want a chat and catch up you can go visit - like in the office but you don't sit there all day with them - like the office. It's the same as having an annoying unknown colleague sitting next to you for the entire journey but worse because you will see them again.

        I'd be inclined to agree. If I'm travelling with a co-worker, then the likelihood is I'll be spending a week with them in the office and probably for dinner and drinks in the evening. Having a little alone time on the flight in and out is almost essential to be honest.

        My co-workers and my boss don't have a problem with this. If we do sit together then we'll typically put headphones on for most / all of the journey.

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