Networking at 10,000 Feet: Airlines Are Making the Skies ‘Social’

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Gone may be days of sitting next to a screaming baby or in front of a “kicker” on your flight. Airlines are now offering passengers the option of choosing their seatmates based on social networking profiles.

This month, Dutch airline KLM began its new social-seating program, Meet and Seat, which allows customers to upload personal information from their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles and use the details to choose their seatmates on flights.

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“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 Times. “But the technology just wasn’t available.” Varwijk told the Times about 200 passengers have participated so far.

Passengers with confirmed reservations indicate what social information they want to share, and are presented with a seating chart highlighting other passengers with available profiles. Passengers can then select a spot next to someone they find interesting, and that person will receive a message with their new seatmate’s profile.

Analysts believe the new program will be a low-cost way for airlines to get to know their customers and will attract business travelers and backpackers looking to network, according to the Times.

As long as both parties are willing to chat, there is great opportunity for social-networking. However, as USA Today reports, you should remember that both the airline and other passengers will have access to your personal information. Although KLM prohibits users from infringing on others’ rights, there’s still the potential for your info to fall into dishonest hands.

Last year, Malaysia Airlines launched a broader version of the program, called MHBuddy. MHBuddy allows passengers to check-in using the airline’s Facebook page and see if any “friends” will be on their flight or in their destination city. The program has 3,000 monthly active users and also allows Facebook friends to sit together.

Currently, Meet and Seat is only offered for flights between Amsterdam and New York and flights between San Francisco and São Paulo, but KLM hopes to provide the program for all of its intercontinental flights by spring.

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