As she settled into her aisle seat preparing for a three-hour flight from Orange County, Calif., to Chicago on United Airlines last month, Joy Denman only wanted to get lost in the pages of her book.
But the man in the window seat had other plans. He was a Sunday school teacher and wanted to find out where the Georgetown history teacher stood in her spiritual beliefs.
For the first hour of the flight, Denman's seatmate grilled her on her knowledge of the Bible and Mormons and spent some time proselytizing his beliefs.
When a flight attendant offered headphones for a Harry Potter movie, Denman snatched them up and got a break from her persistent seatmate. But when the movie ended, the man in the window seat -- who hadn't watched the film -- wanted to discuss what he perceived to be the demonic symbols in Harry Potter.
"Please God," Denman said to herself, "get me out of this."
As soon as the plane landed in Chicago, Denman ducked into the airport's ladies room.
After a hectic business trip, many travelers want to flop aboard their flight to relax, read or catch a quick nap. But often their plans are foiled by a chatty seatmate who doesn't seem to recognize -- or chooses to ignore -- their nonverbal cues asking for some solitude. Some frequent fliers have developed strategies to beat back annoying conversationalists -- from the nearly rude and direct to the subtle and sometimes effective.
Attorney Hollie Reedy of Columbus said her husband, Rocko, a rock-and-roll production manager who has worked for U2 and Journey, throws a blanket over his head and tells the flight attendant in earshot of his seatmate that he'll be sleeping during the flight and is not to be disturbed -- even during meal service. "That gets the message across clearly," she said.
Robert Salmon of Chevy Chase sends a different kind of message. Whenever he flies on Southwest Airlines, Salmon dons on a surgical mask in the boarding area. It's not that he has a breathing disorder or an infectious disease. Since Southwest has an open-seating policy, Salmon uses the mask to discourage people from sitting next to him. And if someone does wind up beside him, he said the mask pretty much ensures the traveler won't start chatting away.
"It's very effective. I don't have to make any excuses about why I don't want to talk, people just stay away," said Salmon, a housing constructor.
The most popular strategy BizClass readers use to avoid unwanted conversations is to wear headphones, even if there is no music playing. They also suggested not making eye contact with the seatmate.
Perhaps the most effective way to silence the chatter would be a simple: "I'm sorry, I want to focus on my book or work." But that was the least preferred method among the most hardened, seasoned traveler.
"I have not been able to figure out which words to use to not make it sound rude," said Washington attorney Keith M. Dunn.
Instead, Dunn whips out his headset. And if the traveler still insists on talking, Dunn pulls out his CD collection of Public Enemy, Eminem and D-12.
"I guess there's something about seeing a 45-year-old white guy with this rap music that makes them think this is not exactly the kind of person I want to converse with on a trip," Dunn said.
David C. Whitman of Potomac buries his head in a newspaper or a book because "most people don't interrupt a reader," he said.
For some travelers, fake language barriers sometimes do the trick. Hector Sanchez of Rockville often glances at his talkative seatmates, smiles and, in his best, thick-Spanish accent, says, "No hablo ingles, senor." The ruse often gets Sanchez out of a pesky conversation unless, he said, his seatmate also speaks Spanish.
Question of the Week: Have you or someone you know been stopped from boarding a flight because your name was similar to a name on the government's no-fly list? If so, tell us about what happened. How long were you delayed? What did the airline tell you? How was it resolved, and what will you do differently to avoid such situations? Send your comments, along with your name and a daytime telephone number, to firstname.lastname@example.org.