PARIS - This month, the Dutch airline KLM began testing a program it calls Meet and Seat, allowing ticketholders to upload details from their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles and use the data to choose seatmates.
“For at least 10 years, there has been this question about serendipity and whether you could improve the chances of meeting someone interesting onboard,’’ said Erik Varwijk, a managing director in charge of passenger business at KLM. “But the technology just wasn’t available.’’
Relative latecomers to the social media party, airlines are quickly becoming sophisticated users of online networks, not only as marketing tools, but as a low-cost way to learn more about their customers and their preferences.
With Facebook alone claiming nearly 500 million daily active users - more than 60 times the 8 million people who fly each day - KLM and others are betting that many of them would be willing to share their profiles in exchange, say, for a chance to meet someone with a common interest or who might be going to the same event.
KLM’s service is available only to travelers with confirmed reservations who are willing to connect their social profiles to their booking. After selecting the amount of personal information they wish to share, passengers are presented with seat maps that show where others who have also shared their profiles are seated. You can then reserve the seat next to anyone who seems interesting - provided it is available - and that person will receive a message with your profile details.
While it is not possible to reject a person who has chosen to sit with you, you can select another seat as long as two days before the flight. Those feeling awkward about moving can delete their data and select new seats using the standard - and anonymous - online platform.
Not everyone is enthusiastic.
Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder of a website for parents traveling with young children, said she found the trend puzzling.
“My goal is to get through the flight without losing my mind - or either of my children,’’ said Bhojwani-Dhawan, 32, who recently traveled from San Francisco to India and Dubai with her 3-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter. “I can’t imagine being very good company, nor am I particularly interested in sitting next to another mom with kids so that we can compare notes.’’
KLM, a member of the SkyTeam alliance, also plans to share feedback from the trial with its partners, which could choose to offer the service, as well.