After spending a good week or two chewing on KLM’s new Meet & Seat program, I can’t decide if it’s brilliant or ridiculous. It’s probably a bit of both.
The idea, which is being tested on a few long-haul flights to and from Amsterdam, is simple: individual passengers have the option of connecting their Facebook or Linked In accounts to their booking. Then, they can choose their seats based on other passengers’ profiles and interests. In theory, this lets you avoid sitting next to a flatulent chatterbox, unless a flatulent chatterbox is your dream companion. (In which case, you can snoop someone’s Facebook profile to see if his interests include farting. Kismet!) Realistically, people will probably maneuver themselves next to someone they can chat up, whether for friendship, networking, or flirtation.
Rationally, I can’t see a reason not to get behind this idea, especially because it’s an opt-in program. Personally, I value my privacy and time too much to throw my name and information out to a bunch of strangers. But if you don’t want to do Meet & Seat, you don’t have to. And yet, I can’t help but think that as we click our way to knowing more about people, we’re missing the spontaneous joy that develops from connecting to someone on a whim. Getting to know someone, to delight in unpredictable commonalities, creates not just a more pleasant connection but also a more meaningful one. (Even if you’re stuck next to a bore or a boor, that’s what noise-reducing headphones are for.) Facebook and Linked In aren’t about discovery as much as they are about finding; there’s a difference. When we link ourselves to strangers by shared musical tastes or professional interests alone, we reduce our selves into easily searchable, sortable lists. People are more complex than that.
If you’re a Foursquaring, tweeting, social networking type, Meet & Seat is probably a godsend. So have at it. Enjoy it and Like it and Bump your seatmate. But if you like the randomness of travel, of coincidences and surprises, go the old-fashioned route. The best seat in the plane might be the one you wouldn’t choose through a social media profile. (As long as it’s not next to the bathroom. Those are the worst.)