27 September 2023

No-fly zone: Why it’s unwise to sit next to a co-worker on a plane

Start the conversation

Joel Kahn* says just because you’re travelling for work doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to some basic level of privacy.

Photo: Sourav Mishra

Once, when travelling home from Tokyo after a work trip, the airport counter agent informed me that the only available seat was next to one of my co-workers.

Whom I had just spent eight sleepless days with.

I boarded, and promptly told my colleague that we would not be speaking until we landed, 14 hours later.

If you travel with co-workers for work, you may be placed in a somewhat awkward situation: Should you book your seats next to each other?


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 can 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 preferences.

What if you and your co-worker 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 I’m 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 co-workers 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 salesperson 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 co-worker for hours, just let them know that you will not be interacting until you get to the other side.

* Joel Kahn reports for Lifehacker. He tweets at @JoelStuffs.

This article first appeared at www.lifehacker.com.au.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.