Single travellers could find true love in the air as in-flight "socialising" is taken to a whole new level.
Two carriers, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Malaysia Airlines, are letting passengers share their social-network profiles or photos and pick seatmates before the flight.
The social-seating trend has also captured the attention of JetBlue, American Airlines and Delta Air Line, although officials indicate none plan to adopt it right now, according to USA Today.
The New York Times notes that two start-ups, the Danish company Planely and Hong Kong-based Satisfy, also have software that matches flyers with potential conversation partners based on their social-networking profiles and other data they submit.
KLM's Meet & Seat and Malaysia Airlines' MHbuddy "social-seating" programs can let passengers see whether housewives or executives will be on the same plane or whether someone is flying to San Francisco to attend the same business meeting.
Or the sites can even be used to pursue passengers" social-network profiles to find a potential soul mate.
"The social-seating plans, initiated by KLM in January and by Malaysia Airlines last year, are seen as the ultimate social-networking dream by some and an invitation to stalkers and a privacy nightmare by others," writes USA Today.
"Very weird," writes Nora Barry Byrne on KLM's Facebook page. "I totally vote on the creepy. Is the default to opt in or opt out? If I was traveling with my kids/teens or traveling on my own — all I think of is the creeps that would use this to stalk."
KLM"s Meet & Seat, available on flights between Amsterdam and New York, San Francisco and São Paulo, is voluntary.
After passengers book their flight, they have from 90 days to 48 hours before departure to access "Manage my Booking" on the airline's website. There, they can choose Meet & Seat if they want to opt in to share their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles with other passengers. Users can edit their profile and photo. This way, they can share only the information that they want to provide other passengers.
The seating map displays the seat choices and Facebook or LinkedIn profiles of other passengers who have decided to participate in Meet & Seat. Users are notified by emails.
"Dozens of passengers have already shared their profile during the first few days," Ellen van Ginkel, a KLM spokeswoman, told USA Today.
Malaysia Airlines' MHbuddy is a Facebook application. Travelers can book their flights using MHbuddy. As they check in on Facebook, they can view the photos and seat selections of any of their Facebook friends on the flight and can choose seats next to them, if available.
Which airline might be next?
"We haven't ruled out social seating or similar concepts, but it's not something we're actively pursuing," said Allison Steinberg, a JetBlue spokeswoman. "We're conscious of some of the privacy concerns it might raise and are careful to listen to cues from our customers on what they want."
The Economist also raises these questions about the trend:
"It's surely more fun to fly next to someone whom you are interested in than it is to share a row with a bore. But that said, an airline is not a dating service or a networking aid. Does social networking have to invade every aspect of human life?"
By David Wilkening
Thursday, March 1, 2012