Airline lets you pick a seatmate using Facebook


By Harriet Baskas, msnbc.com contributor

Today in Amsterdam, KLM launched a new social networking program that allows passengers to link their flight reservations with their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, find out who else is on their flight and make a seat selection or other flight-related plans using that information. 

“This new service connects passengers and aims to give them a more inspirational journey,” said KLM managing director Erik Varwijk in a statement announcing the new “Meet & Seat” program.

The program will eventually be available on KLM intercontinental flights, but for now is being tested in a pilot program on flights from Amsterdam to San Francisco, New York and São Paulo.

Here’s how it works: Using KLM’s ‘Manage My Booking’ section, passengers flying on intercontinental flights choose personal information from their Facebook or LinkedIn account to share with other passengers and then link their flight reservations to their profiles. The reservation program allows passengers to choose a seat between 90 days and 48 hours before departure.

“They can find out whether someone they know will be traveling on the same flight, or discover who else will be attending the same conference in the USA,” the airline said in a statement explaining the program. “They might arrange to have a coffee before their flight, select adjoining seats or decide to share a taxi afterwards.”

Raymond Kollau, founder of airlinetrends.com, an industry and consumer research agency, liked the program. “The concept makes perfect sense as people like to surround themselves with like-minded persons,” he said. “It will certainly apply to specific demographics, such as a generation Y, who are more interested in meeting new people, as well as business travelers en route to a conference. Singles will of course also be interested.”

Although KLM claims that it is the first airline to integrate social networking into its regular flight process, this is not the first social seating effort in the skies.

Malaysia Airlines’ MHbuddy program not only allows passengers the option of booking and checking in for a flight on Facebook, it also offers travelers the option of seeing pictures and seat numbers of Facebook friends on the same flight. Alaska Airlines’ Flying Social program also integrates Facebook.

The social seating trend isn’t just for the skies. Last August, Ticketmaster rolled out interactive, Facebook-integrated seat maps that allow ticket buyers to tag their seat locations and see where their friends — or potential friends — will be sitting in a venue.

“We’ve heard stories of seat tagging reuniting fraternity brothers at college football games and making the planning of live event outings much easier,” said Ticketmaster spokesperson Jacqueline Peterson.

Airline branding consultant Shashank Nigam notes that independent companies Satisfly and Planely enable passengers to find and book seats next to others with specific interests across airlines. Nigam said some travelers may feel such programs are “creepy.” He also questioned how quickly or frequently travelers will adopt the service.

Still, he noted that “Meet & Seat” is the first social seating effort led by a major airline. That’s why, he said, “there is excitement around it and chances are good that it might work.”

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