Every frequent flyer knows how annoying other passengers can be, so being able to choose who you sit next to on your upcoming 12 hour flight might sound like a dream. But what if you had to share all your personal information in return? And what if that one annoying Facebook friend then asks to sit next to you, do you say ‘yes’ and hope for a normal conversation or do you say ‘no’ and maybe come across as rude?
A number of airlines have experimented, or are experimenting, with ‘social seating’, a concept that gives passengers the freedom to choose who they sit next to based on similar interests. The concept links to one of the five Principles of Engagement Marketing from Marketo (n.d.): engaging people based on what they do. This means that companies do not engage clients by their demographics, but by what they are actually interested in. There is no better way to find out what that is than to use their social media data and linking that to others.
Opinions on ‘social seating’ are divided, even some psychologists weighed in on the discussion. Pelle Guldborg Hansen, a Danish behavioural scientist, fears our society will become a victim of “a social colonisation of what used to be private.” A professor at the MIT School of Management, Lotte Bailyn takes it one step further and states that the concept of ‘social seating’ “makes us rigid and incapable of […] out-of-the-box thinking.” Of course there also those who are completely on board with the idea. One of them is Nick Martin, the founder of a startup company called Planely, which strived to connect travelers with other travelers on the same flight. Nick said: “What people don’t like is meeting and talking to people they don’t have anything in common with. What they love is spending time with someone who is like-minded.”
Planely was founded in 2010, together with a few other companies that had the same goal. During that and the following year the media went crazy over the idea, but how many of us have actually used this option up until now? Planely, SeatID and Satisfly, three companies purely focused on social seating, either do not exist anymore or changed their business model. Not only those companies but also Malaysia Airlines, Iberia, AirBaltic and Finnair adopted and then abandoned the social seating concept in the last couple of years, travelers were simply not into it.
The only major airline that still offers this option is KLM. Their Meet & Seat service has been used by 65,000 passengers since its launch, and by 30,000 in 2014. This might sound like a big number, but it is nothing if you compare it to the 26 million travelers KLM carries per year (Moskvitch, 2016).
Author: Eva Manrique
- Marketo. (n.d.). The 5 Principles of Engagement Marketing. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from
- Moskvitch, K. (2016, January 29). Now you can pick the perfect plane seatmate. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160128-now-you-can-pick-the-perfect-plane-seatmate