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.