How to pick the perfect plane seatmate

How to pick the perfect plane seatmate

If I could choose whom to sit next to on a long-haul plane journey, I’d pick Albert Einstein. I’d chat to him about general relativity, quantum entanglement, wormholes, you name it. The problem is, not only would Einstein have to travel in time, he’d also have to create a LinkedIn or Facebook account, and then book the same flight with one of the few airlines currently experimenting with a concept called ‘social seating’.

This is the concept programme offered by just a handful of companies allowing passengers to choose a seat buddy based on interests. “A lot of people travel alone, and it's typically a very unsocial experience,” says Nick Martin, founder of social seating start-up Planely. “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.”

Some, however, find that very thought abhorrent; they fear becoming “victims of a social colonisation of what used to be private,” says Danish behavioural scientist Pelle Guldborg Hansen. And Lotte Bailyn, a management professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, agrees. She believes that constantly seeking to connect with others, especially when it has to do with work, “makes us rigid… and incapable of creative out-of-the-box thinking”.

Is this what conversation-starved passengers have been waiting for? Or is the idea of an algorithm choosing who we sit next to from London to Singapore a social experiment too far?

Right now, most of us are at the mercy (or grace) of the serendipity of discovery.

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