Social Media and Travel: KLM launches Meet and Seat Program

KLM has finally launched its Meet and Seat program that will allow passengers to choose their seat mates before their intercontinental flights in what KLM calls the first truly social seating system for airlines. The system will match customer’s social profiles with those having similar profiles or interests. After booking your flight, you can view other passengers' LinkedIn and Facebook profiles by logging into the system with either of them. What the system has done is integrate LinkedIn and Facebook into the flight booking process to enable you connect with people of shared interests. You can choose which interests you would like to share for example First Name, Second Name, University, Company you work for, Interests, Reason for travel, languages spoken and then you will be able to view other passengers' profiles.

The system has generated debate no doubt as it's a controversial system and there are ethical and privacy considerations involved . There are people who have wholly welcomed the idea for very practical and understandable reasons in that it gives them an opportunity to meet and network with people with whom they genuinely share similar interests. If you're traveling to an internet conference in Beijing for example and it's your first time to the city, chances are that there are other passengers on the same flight going to the same conference so it can be easier to connect, get to know each other and help each other in finding your way around the city. In that way, KLM's Meet and Seat can be useful but I think you must give the passenger seat mate an opportunity to know you before the flight by for example connecting with them on LinkedIn or adding them on Facebook and saying someting like Hi, I met you via KLM's Seat and Meet, mind sharing a seat with me? since Meet and Seat can be reserved 90 days to 48 hours before the flight. 3 months to 2 days is definitely sufficient time to build a good off flight experience and friendship. Otherwise, adding people "secretly" and then ambushing them during a flight looks kinda creepy.
What Meet and Seat will look like. Photo Courtesy Simpliflying

This system reminds of another KLM/Air France social media initiative, FLYBlueClubAfrica, previously called KLMClubAfrica that enabled KLM passengers flying in and out of Africa to meet and network and build business relationships. KLM definitely wants its passengers to be one big KLM family :)

I'm yet to learn more about KLM's Meat and Seat, I have not tried it out but I have watched the wonderfully made YouTube Video which I have embedded above. Does the system for example notify the "other" person that I have selected them  as a seat mate? What if I select a seat mate and then "they" select another seat mate? These are some of the "operational hitches" that I hope the system has addressed.

Strangers rarely interact in a flight apart from a few brief niceties although in some cases you can "strike gold". As someone commented when the story first came to the fore last year, "The best seatmate is one who keeps their mouth shut. Last week was on a plane for ten hours and the guy next to me never said a word - wonderful traveling companion and I hope to meet him again ". So when you are selecting a seat mate, you are definitely looking forward to a great chat and networking during the long flight, what if you "travel partner" has other plans, like listening to music or reading a book in the duration of the flight? In that case, KLM's Meet and Seat might create some "social problems" :). Shared interests does not necessarily mean shared personalities. But I think the 3 month to 48 hours Meet and Seat reservation should give you sufficient time to know how enthusiastic or comfortable your inflight friend is to be sitting next to you.

 Then there is the issue of privacy. Who views my "private or personal" information? Well of course that information is already online and public either on LinkedIn or Facebook but doesn't this system allow for stalking? Passengers will only have access to those profiles of the other passengers who sign into the Meet and Seat system. So whoever is in the Meet and Seat system wants to be found. In that case, the question of "privacy" violation may not arise and am sure that's included somewhere in the TOS of the KLM's Meet and Seat program. Well, that's the logical conclusion since there is no way that KLM will integrate LinkedIn and Facebook profiles of all those who fly with them without their permissions.

The last controversy with KLM's Meet and Seat is what I consider to be ethical considerations/issues. Some people will end up avoiding those that they consider too fat(especially in societies where being fat is frowned upon), those they consider not beautiful enough(whatever their definitions of beauty maybe), those that are different from them(read race) and many other social considerations that our consumerist society look up to, to define how we live our lives and travel. Every well meaning system can be abused. Some may however not consider these as abuses, but a way to optimize their travel experience.

KLM's Meet and Seat is definitely an interesting and controversial system but it's something you can choose to opt out of if you are not comfortable with it. It will be interesting to see how enthusiastically passengers will embrace this travel social media innovation. For me, when traveling alone, I wouldn't want my travel experience to be that scripted.  The few times I have traveled, I have enjoyed meeting complete random strangers and they all turned out to be very wonderful travel companions, whether talkative or quiet. The next time am traveling, if I do it with KLM,  I will however use the system to check whether people I know are also on the flight :)

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