Airplanes are one of the easiest places to make conversation with strangers, but also one of the trickiest. It’s not hard to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you if you use one of a few standard questions or phrases:
- Wow, full flight this evening.
- Are you headed out, or is <flight destination> home for you?
- That’s an interesting title. What’s your book about?
The only problem with airplane conversations is that you’re stuck sitting next to this person for a while, so if you get shut down (Don’t ask me where I’m from, that’s creepy.) or weirded out (My book’s about the redeeming qualities of Adolph Hitler.), you’re in for a fairly awkward hour… or two… or five.
Last weekend I flew to Nashville for a convention, which means I was on four separate flights with four separate strangers. I definitely said something to each of my seatmates (it’s just weird not to say something), but on one of the flights, I did something I’ve only ever done once before: I talked with a woman sitting next to me for the entire flight.
I don’t know if we ever even exchanged names, but over the course of an hour we talked about everything from cell phones to our childhoods to our children (or future children). We laughed at the guy behind us who’d had too much to drink, and we shared our personal experiences with adoption and with special needs children. I have a little sister who’s adopted from China, and she has friends who were in China that very day picking up a little girl of their own. Her youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome. My parents are currently pursuing the adoption of a boy with a heart condition. My new friend had tears in her eyes as she told me how she was moved by people who would make the choice to parent a child with a special need. I thanked her sincerely when she offered to pray for my family in the weeks to come.
And then we got off the plane in Nashville and went our separate ways. I still don’t know her name, but the hour we spent sharing our lives reminded me of the value of an hour. It also taught me that the book I bring with me to read on the plane is likely not as meaningful as the conversation I could have with the person in the window seat next to me.