From 1991- 1999 I lived in South Korea as a Missionary for the Seventh-day Adventist church and I came home at least once a year, so I spent much time in airports and on airplanes. Here are several items that can be used as conversation starters for various situations.
#1 Practice their language- this works especially if you know most of the language and want to learn more of it. Koreans are always very impressed when Americans take the time to learn their language so all I had to do was say “hello” or “Good Morning” in Korean and the conversation would usually go from there, in Korean of course which was always fun for me to use. I do know that there are those who do not appreciate you using their language poorly so this does not work with all people.
Six months are more than enough to learn any language but to use it properly is an uphill task and if something unwelcome accidentally spills out of your mouth, then things won’t be nice, as Koreans are quite sensitive in nature and can’t stand being insulted. I don’t recall what is the name of Seattle airport where a similar incident occurred when I bumped into an Italian and due to my limited knowledge, I don’t think I could have made a good impression on him.
#2 Waiting for a late plane-Another way to strike up a conversation is to comment to the person next to you or to anybody in general about the reason for the long wait, or how you are going to be affected by it. Something along the lines of “Don’t they know that people have connecting flights?” Another good one would be: “I always have to race to catch my connecting flight in Denver” because for me this was true, I would always have to run to get my connection to Tulsa, Ok.
#3 Discuss odd activity of anther passenger or ask them directly why they either did something or are doing it. This happened to me yesterday in the bus station in Denver, Co. I sat and watched a woman clean out a bag because she spilled coffee over everything. Later she sat next to me and I asked her about it. We ended up having a great conversation until I got off the bus at my stop.
#4 When someone is looking for someone else: If you notice that someone seems to be looking around for someone, you can ask them “Are you looking for someone?” Usually this is the case and you can ask them about who they are looking for and get a conversation going about how they ended up looking for them. You might even get a chance to help them find the person.
#5 Note something positive about their outfit or bags: This always works best if you give a sincere compliment rather than anything negative. So pick out a red sweater you absolutely love or something like that. You might make a friend who likes things similar to you.
#6 While in an airport restaurant- Comment about the difference, positive or negative qualities of airport food. Something like “it’s so convenient that they feel that they can charge the highest prices” can start a conversation about the pros and cons of eating at an airport restaurant.
#7 Discuss the in flight movie: Something like “I have seen this movie so much I am sick of it” or “I’ve always wanted to see this movie! Have you ever seen it?” can get a very nice discussion going about the upcoming movie.
#8 Other in flight movie topics: After the movie you can discuss how much you liked/disliked the movie, what other movies the main actor/actress has been in, other good movies in the same genre.
#9 Magazine catalog items: Every flight has a mail order catalog that has very interesting items for sale. You can pick one of these items to use as a discussion starter. Make a comment about how you always wanted a personal fan or some other odd item in the catalog.
#10 Magazine articles: There are other magazines available to use for conversation starters. Try picking one about the city or country that you are going to and commenting about that.
#11Comment about the food choices especially if the person next to you chose an unusual choice or diet variation (such as Vegetarian, Diabetic etc.). This could lead to a very interesting conversation about the person’s reason for being a vegetarian or other lifestyle choice as evidenced in their choice of food.
If you have been able to use some of these conversation starters with the person sitting next to you on the plane then you might want to discuss where you are going and what your plans are for your stay just as the plane comes to the runway. You might make a friend for life if you have common interests and decide to get together in the future.