Travelers can opt to pick who they sit next to based on details from their Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ profiles after they purchase a ticket. You might choose a seat mate simply because of a shared interest, but a similar job title could put you near a potential business contact. If you get cold feed (or just want to snag that row of empty seats) you can change your mind up to an hour before your flight.
“Meet & Seat has been welcomed as a fantastic, innovative new service,” Martijn van der Zee, Air France-KLM’s senior vice president of e-commerce, told Mashable. “People respond with curiosity and enthusiasm and are positive across the board.”
More than 50,000 people have chosen to use Meet & Seat since the service was introduced, according to a KLM spokesperson. This isn’t too large a number in the scheme of things, however, since more than 52 million passengers flew with the airline in the past two years, according to KLM’s 2013 annual report. Meet & Seat is most popular on routes to and from Brazil, perhaps attributed to the fact that of KLM’s approximately 5 million Facebook users, about 1 million of them are from Brazil and 62% of the service’s users connect with Facebook, according to the spokesperson.
When the service first launched in February 2012 it was only available on flights out of Amsterdam going to San Francisco, New York and São Paulo, according to a press release. A month later it was offered to passengers going to 10 more destinations, based on the fact that a majority were using it to network, KLM said in a second release. It has since been rolled out on all of the airline’s flights going to and coming from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Not everyone is embracing social seating. Ben Hammersley, a frequent traveler based in London who often flies KLM, believes the Meet & Seat service could be useful for bringing people with similar interests together — forming a knitting group, for example — but is turned off by the idea of doing business at 35,000 feet.
“You’d have to drown yourself in gin before the end of the flight,” he told Mashable. “In my job you just spend the entire time being pitched at or dealing with people who are constantly on. Planes are a refuge from that.”
Hammersley also expressed concern that the service could create an awkward social dynamic if someone rejects a potential seat mate or if it leads to an unwanted match.
Delta began a more specialized project called Innovation Class last month. Passengers can apply via LinkedIn to be seated next to industry leaders to connect with someone they most likely would not have access to otherwise. The inaugural flight on Mar. 14 paired Eric Migicovsky, creator of the Pebble Smartwatch, with James Patten, a designer and artist who runs an interactive design studio in Brooklyn, on the way to the 2014 TED Conference in Vancouver.
“It’s very rare to get a chance to sit down with someone in that sort of position and talk about whatever you want,” Patten said in a Delta video. “Had we met in another context we probably would have had at most a five-minute conversation.
SeatID uses a concept called “social proofing,” based on the idea that if people associate familiar faces with something they’re thinking about purchasing, they’ll be more likely to take the leap. The company partners with businesses, allowing organizations such as airlines, hotels and theaters to provide users with the ability to see if anyone in their social circle has, for example, taken the same flight they are thinking of booking. SeatID currently works with 150 companies, including three airlines.
Satisfly places airline passengers next to each other based on information gleaned from social media, and asking if they prefer a quiet or social flight. Malaysia airlines tried its own version of a social seating service called MHBuddy which launched in 2011. The Facebook app let passengers share upcoming trips with friends and choose seats next to them if they’re on the same flight.
“We’re adding another dimension to the decision making process and that is social,” SeatID co-founder Eran Savir told Mashable. “I think an airplane has a unique atmosphere around it. It’s a unique opportunity to network with someone.”