Ever wished you could choose your seatmate on a long overseas flight? Hate getting stuck next to the screaming baby or the burly seat hog? Dutch airline KLM introduced a new program this month that allows travelers to choose who they sit next to according to social media profiles.
KLM began initial testing of its new Meet and Seat program in early February. The program allows ticket-holders to upload details from their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles and use the data to choose a seatmate.
The idea is simple: Link your social media profile to your check-in information and choose a seating partner presumably by assessing similar likes and dislikes.
For at least 10 years, there has been this question about serendipity and whether you could improve the chances of meeting someone interesting onboard, Erik Varwijk, a managing director in charge of passenger business at KLM, told The New York Ties. But the technology just wasn't available.
Now it is.
Passengers with confirmed reservations can indicate what social information they choose to share, and are presented with a seating chart highlighting other passengers with available profiles. Next, they can select a seat next to someone they find interesting and that person will receive a message with their new seatmate's profile.
What if they don't like the person? Though it's not possible to reject a person who has chosen to sit with you, you can simply select another seat up to two days before the flight. Or, if that becomes awkward, you can delete your data and select new seats using the standard anonymous platform.
The matchmaking service is available to all passengers, but those who would prefer to keep their headphones on and their laptops out can choose not to make their profile publicly available.
The idea is that passengers will be able to pick people with the same interests for a seatmate, but access to the Web sites will also allow them to buddy up based on professions or even looks.
For those that are interested, the move could make for an interesting social experiment. Say a business traveler wants to sit next to another business traveler to be near a like-minded flier, but the seat assignment turns into an unwanted sales pitch.
Or, say a lone college boy chooses to sit next to a lone college girl and the in-flight date goes terribly wrong.
According to a poll of 1,000 travelers taken last year by a flight comparison Web site, 45 percent of passengers admitted to flirting during a flight. A third of respondents said that the encounter on board led to a rendezvous on land, with eight percent reporting that it led to a relationship.
Is adding social media into seating assignments a good idea or a recipe for a one-flight stand? Either way, it remains to be seen how many people take the plunge and try it out.
KLM is well-known for its provocative campaigns, but it's not the first to harness social media.
Airlines as a whole are relative latecomers to the social media party, but they're fast becoming sophisticated users of new platforms both as marking tools and a low-cost way to learn more about their customers.
KLM's social concept is one step beyond less successful efforts by other airlines like Air France, Virgin Atlantic, and Lufthansa.
Last year, Malaysia Airlines introduced a similar program called MHBuddy that allows users who book and check in via the carrier's Facebook page to see which friends are visiting a destination or taking the same flight at the same time. The application claims 3,000 monthly active users and enables existing friends to select seats together.
Another company, AirTroductions, made headlines in 2006 when it offered an online dating service for frequent fliers, giving them a chance to meet other travelers. The brief foray into mile-high dating never quite took off.
Other airlines like AirAsiaX, Vueling, and Air New Zealand are taking a different path, letting passengers pay anywhere from $6 to $60 to request empty seats next to theirs. If the flight ends up full, the extra charge is simply refunded.
KLM is not yet actively promoting its Meet & Seat program, which is currently offered on flights between Amsterdam and New York, San Francisco, and São Paulo. The airline hopes to roll out the program on all of its intercontinental flights by the spring.
What do you think about using social media to find a seat partner for a flight? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...