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How to Ask Someone to Shut Up on an Airplane (Without Being an Asshole)

July 12, 2012

A lot of factors contribute to whether or not you have a good flight, but often times it comes down to the people. If you’re seated next to someone you like, you’ll probably enjoy your flight. If you’re by a noisy, obnoxious human being—or their screaming, kicking child—you can bet it won’t be too much fun. This isn’t an easy problem to solve, but here’s the best way to go about it.
Silence the Noisy People

Noisy people are, in some ways, one of the toughest problems. People have a right to talk at a reasonable volume on the airplane, and “reasonable” is often subjectively defined. Some people are often not in complete control of the noises they’re making. For example, if you’re sitting beside a man who’s asleep and snoring the entire time, he may not be entirely aware of what he’s doing to your sanity. Whatever the case may be, the person making the noise may not agree that they’re being a problem. As a result, you have to approach the situation delicately but firmly.

I’ve found that before you do anything, however, it’s best to get on friendly terms with the people in your row. This is most easily done by an introduction and a short conversation before the flight takes off. Also, if you have the opportunity to do them a favor—such as help with their luggage or answer a question about the flight—they’ll be more inclined to do you the favor of shutting the hell up if they’re being noisy. This is important because we’re talking about two very distinct first impressions. If you do someone a favor or just come across as nice early on, you’re a nice person asking for something. If the first thing out of your mouth to the person next to you is “could you please quiet down a little?” you sound a little more like a whiney jerk (or a cartoon librarian).

Even if you don’t get started off on the right foot, if you want to ask someone to quiet down you want to find a good balance between kindness and firmness. For the most part, this is going to be in your delivery as practically anything you say will come across as nice—or the opposite of nice—if you say it that way. So long as your delivery is sound, all you really need to do is give context to your request. Here’s an example:

I didn’t get much sleep last night. Would you mind talking softly so I can try and sleep a little on the plane?

Or maybe you have work to do:

I have a lot of work to finish on this flight and I have a hard time concentrating when people are talking. I’m not asking you to stop, but if you could be a little more quiet I’d really appreciate it.

There are no magic words, but you’re more likely to make progress if the person feels like they’re doing you a favor. People do like to help other people, and if you’re sincere they’ll be more likely to help you. Nobody likes being asked to shut up, but you can negate that feeling a little by asking for a favor at the same time.

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