Will selecting our seatmates enhance our flying experience?
It was 1986 and I was riding on a bus to Regina with my mom. The girl across from us, Penny, was in her late teens. She gave me a penny to remember her name and let me listen to her walkman. The song blaring through the headphones was “Walking on Sunshine” and I still remember that bus ride whenever I hear that song.
It was that chance meeting with Penny that began my fascination with meeting strangers on planes, busses or trains. With serendipity at work, you never know who you’ll meet, what information you will gain from or pass along to them, what memory you’ll be left with decades later.
Making skies friendlier?
After reading Nicola Clark’s New York Times’ article, “Selecting a Seatmate to Make Skies Friendlier”, I started to think about how social media could potentially affect our plane rides. With KLM Airline’s “Meet & Seat”, you can find out who will be on your flight prior to boarding by viewing other passengers’ Facebook or LinkedIn profile details. You can then choose your seat accordingly. Planely, another similar platform, states that it’s launching a “social flying revolution” where you can plan a “social flying experience”. While airlines allow you to pick a seat, they do not allow you to pick a seatmate. Planely aims to solve this issue. After entering your flight details you can use Planely to see others with overlapping itineraries, look for neighbors with the same general interests and contact those who are staying at the same hotel as you, so you can arrange to share a cab (or maybe find a stalker).
More than checkboxes
Judging from the number of times I’ve sat across from friends trying to figure out why their relationships weren’t working even though “he’s so good on paper”, I can tell that human interactions are not just about what boxes we check off. While it all seems very convenient to construct our interactions this way, it does not always work. I have been on planes around the world and sat with people I should have had lots in common with but the conversation fizzled quickly. Conversely on recent flights, I’ve met a bank auditor, a professional poker player and a retired couple who were heading away for the winter. Given the choice, I probably wouldn’t have opted to sit with them but was glad that I did.
Unfortunately, not every seatmate has been a pleasant surprise. There are the seat kickers, the tiny bladders, the snorers, the drinkers. A woman in front of me reclined her chair back so far that her hair dangled over my food. However experiences like that can teach us patience, or even better, allow us to engage in some conflict resolution.
Experiences aside, will Planely and Meet and Seat affect our social skills? With everything so conveniently laid out for us, will we stop using our social cues to see if someone is interested in talking to us or would rather be left alone? After all, “they did check in saying they’d like to chat…”
The “I can’t read clues” blues
Platforms like this may undermine our ability to read non-verbal cues. Of course it requires generalizing but I can use lots of clues to see if we have anything common. The Lonely Planet Guide to wherever you’re highlighting, the baby socks you are knitting, the fact that you’re wearing a Packers Jersey and watching, “When Harry Met Sally” on a portable DVD player. All these things give me reasons to talk or not to talk to someone near me. His/her reception to me helps me know whether I should keep talking or stop.
I am not quite sure when life became about avoiding every inconvenience or awkward situation. For every time I’ve had my seat kicked repeatedly or sat beside someone who asked for “one more glass of wine”; I have also met someone with a list of books I should read, or had a baby peek between the seats and giggle.
Or had someone play me a song like “Walking on Sunshine” for the very first time.