Here's a program Facebook aficionados might "like." Dutch airline KLM is testing a system that allows passengers to use Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to pick the people they sit next to on flights.
Officially known as Meet & Seat, the program works like a cross between a typical seat selection system and a computer dating service. When you call up your flight's seating chart, it indicates which other passengers have registered their profiles. You can click on those profiles to check out your potential neighbors, and once you find a seatmate who seems compatible, you can click on a seat and reserve it.
The program works from 90 days until 48 hours before your flight's departure. Should you pick a seat only to discover later the neighborhood has gone to pot - say, the seat you picked next to a fellow Minnesota Vikings fan now has become surrounded by Green Bay Packer backers - you can move to a different seat up to the 48-hour deadline.
KLM operates out of the Twin Cities in conjunction with Delta Airlines. As of now, there are only two flights to the United States using the program: one to New York and the other to San Francisco.
There are a couple of strings attached. For starters, you have to be registered on Facebook or Linked-In. But just registering isn't enough. In order to see other passengers' profiles, you have to grant them access to yours.
In the test phase, KLM has been taking a low-key approach to selling the program. In a statement issued from corporate headquarters in Amsterdam, the media relations department said, "We offer our passengers the possibility to join the service, but it's up to the customer if he or she wants to use it."
When TripAdvisor, the online travel service, sought feedback from its members, there was curiosity about the program, but only 9 percent of the respondents said they'd be likely to sign up. People tend not to see airline travel as a social event. In fact, 40 percent of the respondents said instead of finding someone with similar interests to talk with, they'd be more interested in locating a seat mate who is quiet so they can sleep or read.
So far, about 1,100 people have joined the program, which is being tested on 34 routes, according to KLM. The airline won't say what percentage of the passengers that number represents, but seeing as the test program has been operating for three months, it appears a relatively tepid response.
Carrie Caldwell, a travel consultant at Book It Travel in Minneapolis, said she isn't surprised by the lack of enthusiasm.
"I have doubts about its viability," she said. Most passengers aren't looking to share their private lives with a complete stranger in the next seat. "You hear that somebody wants to sit by you, and the first thing you ask is: 'Why?' I don't think I'd use it."