Airline using Facebook to make flying friendlier

Flying Friendlier

Credit: WFAA

Airline using Facebook to make flying friendlier

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on February 28, 2012 at 11:15 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 29 at 3:40 AM

DALLAS — If life is not about the destination but the journey, why not spend it with someone you enjoy?

A nice thought, but for many airline passengers, their travel companion has been largely left to luck.

"I've had seatmates who talked non-stop. I've had seatmates where their hygiene is a little different," said frequent flier Aaron Kokoruz of Dallas. "If I'm going to be on the plane for nine or 10 hours, of course I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, who am I going to sit next to?'"

KLM, the Dutch airline, is trying to take some of the fear out of that question.

In February, the carrier began letting its passengers choose not just where they sit, but who they sit next to.

The program, called Meet & Seat, lets customers upload information from their Facebook or LinkedIn pages into the airline's reservation system and share it with fellow passengers.

The customer then scans a map of the plane, clicks on a seat and can see details about that passenger. You can then reserve the space next to someone you find interesting (assuming the seat is available).

"I think that would be awesome to control who I sit next to," said Kokoruz, 30, who works in public relations. He said he would gladly share his information if it improves his chances of finding a seatmate with common interests.

"I mean, I’ve developed friendships in a lot weirder places than airplanes,” he said.

Erik Varwijk, KLM’s managing director, said in a statement the airline is taking "social networking a step forward" to give passengers "a more inspirational journey."

The carrier thinks the social media link it's a great way to connect travelers who may be heading to the same convention, for instance.

KLM, which carries 23 million passengers a year, even encourages seatmates to meet before the flight for coffee in the terminal or to share a taxi once they land.

Dallas-based travel agent Jim Gray sees problems with Meet & Seat, ranging from privacy concerns to hurt feelings.

"It's only going to take one stalker to kill this," he said. Gray has found most of his clients treasure silence on flights and — if possible — solitude. Consider a passenger, he says, who posts that he's a lawyer.

"If you're an attorney, then somebody goes, 'Oh, I need free legal advice!' The next thing they know, they're now giving legal advice for four hours on an airplane," Gray said.

Both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines said this is a program they are not considering at this moment.

Tim Smith, an American spokesman, added in an e-mail to News 8, "We can't say we've formed any absolute opinions yet. Our Social Media team is aware of it, and is closely monitoring both the airline marketplace as well as our customers."

KLM, a member of the SkyTeam alliance, is one of the few airlines to let customers merge their social media pages with its reservation system. The program is only available for confirmed passengers on intercontinental flights.

The carrier is currently testing it on flights from Amsterdam, San Francisco, New York and Sao Paulo, but it plans to add other cities soon. KLM offers seasonal flights between Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Amsterdam.

A traveler doesn't have to share his or her social profiles. While a passenger can't "reject" who sits next to them, they can change seats or hide their information up to two days before departure.

"I think it's an experiment for now," said analyst Rick Seaney, who founded the travel Web site FareCompare.com. "I guess what they're trying to do is make flying fun again. If this thing works for KLM, you can rest assured other airlines will follow suit."

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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