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Face Time – Would you rather have WiFi or chat to your neighbor?

May 15, 2019

Ponder this question: When you're on a plane, do you prefer to have no access to the internet or have to sit next to a talkative stranger?

In an era where we spend most of our time glued to our screens and not having internet connection can make most of us break into a cold sweat, the answer seems obvious. But is it really? How many of us favor hours of conversation over online connectivity?

In a recent survey of 2,700 business travelers from the Americas, Europe, and Asia Pacific, we found that only 54% choose to have no internet access. Travelers from the Americas are the least willing to engage with fellow passengers (41%), followed by Europeans (44%), whereas travelers from Asia Pacific score 50% for each scenario.

However, the regional results don’t reflect local realities. If we split the results per nationality, we get a really interesting ranking of ‘outgoing’ cultures. Ready to see if the results reflect any stereotypes you might have?

When it comes to a preference for chatting to fellow passengers, Chinese travelers rank first (67%), followed by Argentinians (61%), Mexicans (55%); Indians (52%), Belgians, Dutch, and Germans (51%); French (47%), Spanish and Canadians (43%), Swedish (38%), Brits (35%), US travelers (34%), Italians (33%), Brazilians (32%), Singaporeans (30%), Japanese (27%), and Australians (26%).

And what about the gender split? There’s an old and rather misogynist saying: “A woman’s tongue wags like a lamb’s tail.” It couldn’t be more wrong. Despite the fact that science has found that girls find it easier to acquire language than boys the reality is that – in every region we surveyed – women travelers were less inclined to sit next to a talkative stranger than men. Could it be due to our mental load? Do we view our travel time as an opportunity for a bit of peace and quiet?

The age split also threw up surprises. There is a general perception that young people prefer to communicate on social media than talk to each other face-to-face. However, our research shows that in every region millennials were most inclined to sit next to a chatty, unknown travel companion. And it seems that the older we get, the grumpier we become. Boomers ranked last after Gen X travelers.

So with that in mind, and regardless of your nationality, gender or age, I invite you to take the chance to have a good old chinwag with the person seated next to you on your next flight. You never know, it could help you land a deal, a job opportunity, or even meet the love of your life.

And if the conversation becomes insufferable, you can always get up and hide in the galley, pretend there is a project you need to work on, or claim air-sickness.


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