Travel with Co-Workers: Tips to Stay Happy

Updated: Jun 22, 2018

Travel with co-workers can be tricky business.  “Hey man, what seat are you sitting in?” It seems a simple question, but it carries with it an inherent meaning that's more important than aisle or window. You see, when I asked the question recently on a flight to Charlotte from Cincinnati, it was to a coworker I wasn't sure I wanted to spend an uninterrupted 2 hours chatting up. While business travel can be stressful, it becomes an enormous pain to travel with coworkers.

Why, you ask? Simple. If you are traveling alone, the sky-time is YOUR time. You can choose to read, catch up on work, sleep or even just stare at the seat in front of you and enjoy the quiet time because you have two kids at home and your life has become a series of noisy moments that… that may be a topic for another time. Regardless, when you are alone, you have the choice to use your time how you see fit. In fact, I cover some of these choices in an upcoming post so stay tuned for that.

But when you travel with a coworker, you are limited in your choices when it comes to ways to spend your time in flight. Below are the coworkers everyone has to travel with from time to time and ways that you can combat them and reclaim your YOU TIME!

The Boss

This could be by far the toughest travel companion from work. This is the person whom you try your hardest to impress by working in flight. The issue is: you may not feel like working. Or perhaps yours is the kind of boss who decides that your flight is a good time to ask you questions or conduct your review. No pressure, he just puts you on the spot while you’re crammed into a seat meant for a person half your size. But relax. You have options.

First, if you think about it, ask what seat he is in prior to departing for the airport. Then go online and make darn sure you are not anywhere near him. Be smart, not greedy. Don’t switch to an empty row as this will just give him a chance to join you. If you do have to sit next to him, maybe let him know respectfully preflight that you really enjoy the quiet of the flight, or you can’t wait to catch up on reading or actually do your work. Plant those seeds prior to boarding and the thoughts may actually land with him. On the other hand, if your boss is the type with whom it is tough to get quality time, don't miss your chance to have his full attention!

The Drunk

I’ve personally had the privilege of flying with this coworker several times. This is the guy who gets absolutely plastered either preflight at the airport bar, or on the plane itself by drinking them out of Jack Daniels. The key element in dealing with this person is to circumvent the situation prior to it happening. Once they are 3 sheets to the wind, it is too late. There are a plethora of ways to deal with this belligerent individual. It isn’t easy and you want to avoid having to mandate an intervention on your flight to Dallas.

The best thing is to not join in the drinking (unless you really want to in which case tread lightly). Offer instead to stop at a coffee shop prior to your flight in lieu of the bar. If you are on the plane, maybe offer snacks to them instead of asking what their drink of choice is. Some of my favorites are of the healthy variety. You can usually find them at the airport news and convenience stores like Hudson News and WH Smith. Regardless, if this person insists on drinking and you are not joining them, be careful. You don’t want to end up on the news that evening when your colleague does something to get you guys grounded.

The Talker

This may be one of my least favorite of business travel companions. This person insists on talking to you during your flight and refuses to leave you to sleep, get work done etc. What is worse is that if this person is a coworker, they may want to talk about work on the plane when you may want to have some downtime.  Or even more detrimental than that, they will want to partake in office gossip (AARRRRGH!!!  I HATE office gossip).  Although this is more of an annoyance than anything, there are ways to combat this situation.

My favorite is to place my handy earbuds in my ears and listen to something on my iPod. To be honest, sometimes I am not even listening to anything but it seems that having you ear pieces in is an international indicator that you are not willing to engage in conversation at that moment. If this doesn’t work, you can either sleep or pretend to be sleeping (yes, I have done this as well --- I’m not too proud to admit it). If you do have to engage with this person, make sure you speak in a low tone so as not to bother others around you. You don’t want them to categorize you as The Talker by default if you keep them from doing what they want during their flight.

The Stinky Snacker

Before you get all irate, let me clarify. I myself am a foodie. The person I am referring to here is the person who brings the messiest, smelliest food on the plane that seems to spread through every vent on board, turning the entire aircraft into a Chinese food scented air freshener. If this is one of your colleagues, the easy thing to do here is to take preventative action. Try to talk him out of taking food on board the plane and if nothing else, recommend non-stinky food (cold cut sandwiches sans onions work best). Either way, don’t be this guy and don’t be associated with him. Every passenger on the aircraft will thank you.

No matter who you travel with, reclaim the time as yours. As for me, I like to take advantage of my time in the air to get work done and organize my email. It is the very rare time that I am (for the most part) unreachable by the rest of the world. I like to make sure that time is maximized. So I suppose you can even peg me under the title, “The Worker Bee” - sort of akin to The Boss but without the pay or perks.

These are just a few of the examples of colleague travelers that I have had to deal with in my tenure as a business traveler.

Do you have anything you would like to add? Sound off!

Original post by Adam Little


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