Traveling with colleagues

How to handle it is a new series where I share my answers to your questions about office encounters and corporate etiquette. Click here to ask a question that could be featured in an upcoming post.


In my corporate job, I was traveling a lot. What started as six trips a year eventually turned to 14, contributing to my needing to take a breather from my corporate life and subsequently led to the start of this blog. I was extremely fortunate to have a couple of exceptional travel buddies through the years. But there were a few times I found myself sharing destinations and seat rows with colleagues who I wouldn’t necessarily be friends with outside of work, and that can make traveling even more challenging.

Confession: I have, over time, started a collection of photos of me sleeping on public transportation. That’s because I am, by definition, a complete “carcoleptic” which actually applies to any form of transportation – especially planes. The somewhat-awkward part is my inability to keep my mouth shut while sleeping – it just falls open – every single time. So yes, I’m that person on the plane and I’m shameless about it. So, if I’m traveling with someone who wouldn’t lovingly put a napkin on my head and take a photo of me to add to my collection, I would rather sleep in a row of strangers. And let’s not forget – when I was traveling and pumping – I really preferred to sit alone.

Most often though, it wasn’t my relationship with the person I was traveling with or a personality difference, I simply found myself just needing some extra space.

Plane travel with colleagues

My advice on how to handle it

  1. Consider the time of day, the leg of the trip, and the length of the flight. A mid-day, hour-long flight before a presentation is a lot different than a late night or red eye flight following a four-day conference. Some of my best flights with colleagues were over coffee, reviewing material on a short plane ride.
  2. If you prefer to sit on your own, choose an air carrier with assigned seating. Southwest is sometimes less expensive, but the cattle call boarding system allows for people to save seats or board and sit together, making it tricky to break free if you need to.
  3. If you’re traveling with someone in a superior position, this may be an amazing opportunity to get some uninterrupted face time with the boss. Follow their lead! However, if it’s a situation where you don’t care to sit with them for the remainder of the trip (if you are anticipating a pumping scenario, for example), politely excuse yourself to grab a bottle of water, “I’m going to go grab a bottle of water. Would you like one? — if no, then —  Ok, well, if I don’t see you, hope you have a great rest of your trip!
  4. If you’re close enough with the person, be honest about it. “Listen, I would love to sit and catch up, but I have a few loose ends I need to tie up and could really use the extra hour on the plan to get a jump on it. Hope you don’t take offense if I sit on my own.” 
  5. Or, if they are a best friend at work that you trust you can even go so far as to admit, “Hey, I’ll be real honest with you, that conference wiped me out and I’ve been up since 4 a.m. I would love to catch up with you but I need to sleep. I’m gonna sit in the back and try to catch a few winks. Hope you don’t mind.”  

In any scenario where you are opting out of a corporate seat buddy, make it up on the back end. When you get back to the office, follow up with your colleague, share a note about the outing, and invite them to coffee or lunch.

For those of you experienced road warriors, what would you add?

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