Forget First Class! Find out who's sitting next you on your next flight. Remember the days when you sat at your airport gate wondering and worrying who might be sitting next to you? Those days are over now for travelers who can't get enough social networking on the ground. Airline travelers no longer have to be nameless and unknown. In fact, with 'social seating' now available on a number of airlines, you can find out all kinds of things about your fellow travelers. Welcome to the new "mile high" media club.
In January, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Malaysia Airlines made it possible for passengers to share photos, social networking profiles and have even gone as far as letting them pick their seatmates prior to takeoff. These social seating programs are viewed as a dream come true for social networkers although some passengers are concerned about privacy issues and even possible stalkers. KLM calls their voluntary social seating plan "Meet and Seat," available on flights between Amsterdam and New York and San Francisco and Sao Paulo. Malaysia Airlines call their program (also voluntary), "MHbuddy."
Here's how it works. On KLM's "Meet and Seat," once passengers have booked their flight, they can access the option through "Manage my Booking" on the airline's website. They have from ninety days to forty-eight hours to get to know their potential seat mates. Social networking flyers can share their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles with other passengers and the information shared in the profiles and their photos can even be edited.
Seating maps display seat choices and Facebook or LinkedIn profiles of other passengers who want to participate. Passengers can contact each other before the flight and choose their seating assignments ahead of time if the seat is available. Participating passengers are notified via e-mail when other passengers select the option to share their social network profiles. Prior to takeoff, travelers can change their seat or withdraw their social media profile and after the flight, profiles are deleted.
MHbuddy, Malaysia AIrlines' program is a Facebook application. Passengers can book their flights and check in on Facebook. They have the ability to view photos and seat selections for any of their Facebook friends on the flight. MHbuddy also lets passengers know if any of their Facebook friends are planning on traveling to the same destination in case they want to meet.
JetBlue, American Airlines and Delta are all showing interest in the social-seating trend. A JetBlue spokeswoman, Allison Steinberg said, "We haven't ruled out social seating or similar concepts, but it's not something we're actively pursuing. 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."
Fasten your seat belts.