Will Social Seating Selection Kill the Airplane Meet-Cute?

There are two dueling propositions when boarding any plane nowadays, beyond, obviously, getting to your destination safely and in a reasonable amount of time.

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There are two dueling propositions when boarding any plane nowadays, beyond, obviously, getting to your destination safely and in a reasonable amount of time. One is, will I sit next to some fill-in-the-blank awful -- smelly, loud, obnoxious, drunk, talky, screaming (as in babies), or worrisome in whatever way -- person? Please God, no, don't let that be the case. And two is, especially for singles with a romantic bent, Will I perhaps be seated next to the man or woman of my dreams, or... just someone cute? Because crazier things have happened! And wouldn't that be a story to tell the grandkids.

As these things work out, though, there are far more chances to be seated next to the awful passenger than the dream one. And with the cramped quarters of modern airplanes -- you're really only closer to a stranger when you're packed on a crowded subway train or elevator, and that's for minutes rather than hours -- it seems people have begun to consider an alternative you might call preventative seating. In today's New York Times, Nicola Clark reports that this month, KLM began testing its "Meet and Seat" program, which allows passengers to "upload details from their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles and use the data to choose seatmates."

It's worth noting that this idea isn't new: Other airlines, from Air France to Virgin Atlantic, have tried to create social networks from frequent flier memberships with varying degrees of success. Malaysia Airlines, for example, has an app that allows ticket holders to check whether any of their Facebook friends are on the flight via the carrier's Facebook page. A Danish in-flight social network called Planely allows passengers who submit itineraries to see the Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of other passengers. And a Hong Kong network called Satisfly does perhaps the most helpful thing: You can submit your flight "mood," like whether you want to chat or sit in silence with your headphones on, for seat assignment purposes.
But, mainly, at least to this blogger's ears, seatmate self-selection sounds like another breed of online dating:

On a flight from Amsterdam to São Paulo this week, for example, you could have chosen the director of a British answering service, who has a passion for reggae and jazz; an Italian chemical engineer fluent in Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese; or a Norwegian alternative-rock fan en route to visit family in Argentina.

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 — anonymous — online platform.

Of course, with planning and orchestration comes the loss of that certain frisson of excitement -- or dread -- as you scan the rows and head toward aisle 20, seat D. It's one of the few places left in which we Internet-age people who leave virtually nothing to chance may be actually surprised. Beyond that, there's something a little creepy about choosing ahead (or being chosen), and thereby being committed to your choice. Not to mention, would you want the stranger on a plane, or the airline itself, to have access to all of those Facebook photos from your wild twenties? (Check your privacy settings, stat.) And, given questions of privacy, personal and professional, the idea may not have enough groundswell to—sorry—take off. 
If it does, you can bet there will be a Hollywood rom-com with seat selection as a plot point. You had me at "Please turn off all electronic devices..."

Image via Shutterstock by Blend Images.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.