Flying the Friendly Skies

I’ve always thought airplanes should be the perfect place to meet a new friend—I wrote about it back when I started this blog, after I found myself sharing a knowing smile with the girl next to me as we traded complaints about the airline service we’d received that day. When you’re tens of thousands of feet in the air with nothing to do but sit, the person next to you can quickly become a companion. If you let them.

Plus, there’s something poetic to the notion that the two of you are on the same journey, literally.

I’ve had the whole air travel-friending thing on the mind lately, since Friday was the busiest travel day of the year and over the weekend I read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, a wonderful young adult book by Jennifer E. Smith (my book editor!) about two people who fall for each other on a flight from New York to London. Also, a reader recently sent me this article, which makes the case for chatting with the person in the window seat next to you.

Friending on airplanes is divisive. I used to be firmly in the “I’m deliberately opening my book now and looking very concentrated so you know not to talk to me” camp. These days, as you might imagine, I’m less so. Now I’m excited to chat with fellow passengers, and I often try to flash a grin that says “you can chat with me!” or glance at their book in a way that says “that looks interesting, let’s discuss!” Last night I had such a moment with the girl across the aisle from me. She was reading the year-end issue of People and writing down the movies she should see in between sips of her mini red wine. There was something about the fact that she wrote her to-dos in a planner, rather than typing them into a gadget, that made me like her. She caught me glimpsing at her magazine every now and then, but we never talked. I have a hard time working up the nerve, still. I hate annoying someone if she’s not in the mood.

Befriending someone on an airplane was a goal of mine during the official friending year. And I did work up the nerve to give one woman my card—I detail the resulting date in MWF Seeking BFF, the book. I’d definitely like to do more of that, though. It just makes for such a good story, and a couple of hours with nothing to do but talk can really accelerate the bonding.

I have a number of flights coming up this month, so I’m wondering: Have you ever made a friend on an airplane? What’s  the best approach? I’m thinking commenting on what they are reading is a good first step. Ideas, anyone? (Or do you put your headphones on first thing, to send a don’t-bother-me message?)

MWF Seeking BFF is on sale now! If making new friends is your New Year’s resolution, let MWF be your companion guide. It’s a quick read, and a great pickup with the gift certificates you raked in for the holidays. Also, if you see the book out in the wild, send in a pic for the new “Where in the world is MWF Seeking BFF?” tumblr blog!  

14 Comments

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14 responses to “Flying the Friendly Skies

  1. I never seem to be sitting by people my own age, but I’ve gotten friendly on flights and Amtrak trips. If talking about books isn’t an option, another really easy conversation starter is asking where someone lives – are they going home or traveling? I’ve chatted up quite a few people headed to Chicago to visit their kids. People have started conversations with me about my on-flight knitting before too (sadly, motion sickness means I don’t read much while traveling), which is akin to asking about books.

  2. Flight to Vegas has to be the best place to make a new friend. Everyone is just so happy! I always use the headphone move, but even I chatted for awhile with the person next to me.

  3. Sweets

    Only once… A flight from Heathrow to Paris was delayed, causing me to miss my flight back home from there. Met a girl in the same situation who got put up in the same hotel as me. We spent a great night (I like to think) out. Next day however we were on different flights to South Africa, and she was stopping in Joburg, while I was heading to Cape Town from there. Also, she was from the UK, and I was home… So we did not remain in contact. But we did get along great, and I like to think we could have possibly become friends had we lived in the same city….

    Ps loved you book !!

    • Love that story! Too bad it didn’t end in BFFship, but sometimes a one-night BFF (is this the equivalent to a friending one-night stand?? Feels a bit more pure than that) is all you need!

  4. Ana

    Hmmm. I feel like this happens a lot less than it used to—the gadgets and headphones are so ubiquitous and really send a “do not disturb” message. Or maybe its me? I’ve certainly gotten less inclined to WANT to talk to random people, now that life is busier and I rarely get time to sit by myself and read any other place. And most of the past 2 years I’ve been traveling with a kid—whole different ballgame.

  5. Megan

    I have yet to make friends on an airplane, but I made friends on an airport – I was stuck in an airport for three days when there was an 8-inch snowstorm in Seattle and my flight was cancelled. I was on standby- so, stuck in the airport – for the three days before Christmas and finally got out on Christmas Day to be with my family. A guy in the Navy happened to be in my general vicinity and got me and the friend I was traveling with into the USO (there were nice warm beds and free breakfast) so we didn’t have to sleep on the chairs outside.

  6. Sweets

    Forgot to mention… We started to chat off the flight. But we had the whole “great we missed out flight we have no bags no clothes no stuff” thing in common….

    And in response to Ana’s comment – I did a very long flight with a baby of 5 months some time back. Does make it more difficult. But I was approached by another mom who came to offer her help as she noticed I was travelling alone. But no friendship “made” unfortunately. I also agree with her that the gadgets do send out a “do not disturb vibe”.

  7. San Diego

    Yes! Met a great friend when I was on a flight moving across the country from NYC to San Diego. The flight was filled with soldiers who were on their way to Camp Pendleton before shipping out to Afghanistan. One soldier was sitting next to me and commented on how lucky he was to be sitting in the same row as two pretty chicks. The other chick and I laughed and then she noticed my bar review materials were out and I was cramming. Turns out that she is an attorney as well and an amazing person. We chatted a bit on the flight and exchanged contact information. She e-mailed me to wish me luck on the bar and we decided to meet for drinks shortly after that. Turns out that we both wanted to chat more on the flight but did not want to be rude. Great way to meet someone!

  8. Ashley

    I so look forward to flying (happens quite often since my boyfriend lives in Phoenix and I’m in Chicago) mainly because I get to read my books. But now I’m thinking I should start chatting to ppl! I do every once in a while, and it is mostly to discuss the book someone’s reading. I have to say something if I see someone reading a book I love. Although my next flight is Friday to Jamaica and I plan on reading MWF seeking BFF! But I suppose I can save it for the pool :)

    • Ahh, now THAT is a dilemma! Maybe you can talk to your neighbor about MWF and making new friends — that’s sure to inspire an exchange of phone numbers?

      Enjoy Jamaica! I’m jealous!

  9. Alexandria

    I met my best friend on an airplane – she is really scared of flying so I let her hold my hand during take off. We’ve been best friends for three years now and we have weekly dinner dates. I’m so thankful I sat next to her! I think there is something vulnerable and sweet about someone who will strike up a conversation. Most people I know desire connection and I think it’s always good to try.

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