The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

You ain't nothing but a network in the sky

Fill it up with your Facebook friends.
Fill it up with your Facebook friends.
Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images

Good story from the New York Times for anyone who considers him or herself a road warrior and dislikes losing potentially productive travel time to a random conversation with a seatmate: airlines are beginning to allow passengers to use their social-networking profiles to choose seat companions. Here's a salient section:

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 eight 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.

The idea is catching on. Last year, Malaysia Airlines introduced MHBuddy, an application that allows users who book and check in via the carrier’s Facebook page to see whether any of their “friends” will be on the same flight or in their destination city at the same time. The platform, which claims 3,000 monthly active users, also enables existing friends to select seats together.

And airlines are not the only ones betting on the concept.

Planely, a Danish start-up, allows registered users who submit their itineraries to view the Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of others who will be on flights with them. Since it began in late 2010, Planely has connected more than 1,500 travelers, according to its chief executive, Nick Martin.

Really, why not? There's no reason why this shouldn't be a real selling point to business travelers, for whom five or six hours of flight time on an SFO to LAX cross-country jaunt could be at least partially devoted to the kind of real-world networking that still plainly beats virtual-world networking. LinkedIn is great, but it's even better if you can spend facetime with an actual contact. 

The annoyance factor would also take care of itself. The nightmare of many a business traveler with a PowerPoint presentation to gussy up or spreadsheets to crunch in-flight is that a chatty stranger will share the row. But if Mr. McKinsey can get himself seated next to Mr. Bain, chances are both gents will know when to clam up and get back to work.

If you're excuse the pun, this is an online service that could, you know, take off.

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"Waitress in the Sky" by The Replacements. Enjoy!