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Airline social seating: Coffee, tea or me?

A nonstop flight to Mumbai from New York is 15 hours. A lot of folks have different ways of coping with the challenges of air travel. Some swear by their noise-cancelling headphones, their compression socks or sprays that disinfect, humidify and mask odors.

Since I have a fear of flying, the kind where my heart rate shoots up at take-off and landing, I rely on an assortment of prescription pills. Actually, the pills are a last resort; my initial strategy is to convince myself I’m on a giant bus. So I situate myself so I don’t accidentally look out a window and carry lots of eye candy like travel magazines and suspense novels.

After incidents such as the deadly Asiana flight last weekend, my commute to India is a little more nerve-wracking. Colleagues and friends who have flown with me know about my bus strategy and even help feed my delusion.

But travel is so much less horrible with a friendly seatmate. Friends and clients have been very supportive of my flying challenges. In fact, multiple people sent me clippings and links to a New York Times article on air travel safety published earlier this year. The article cited a study by the Aviation Safety Network proclaiming 2012 the safest year for air travel since 1945 and included other statistics on why flying on a commercial jetliner has never been safer.

But statistics don’t make me feel better – being seated next to someone compatible does. Talkative people and people with little children don’t bother me but I abhor people who constantly point to things outside the window or share turbulence horror stories. So I was intrigued when I learned about “social seating.”

Meet & Seat is a program offered by KLM Airlines, which allows KLM passengers to use LinkedIn or Facebook to find out about others on board their flight. Passengers can select a seat next to someone of interest. For business, this can be a great feature for people traveling to the same business conference or trade show.

KLM isn’t the only airline embracing “social seating.” Malaysian Airlines has MHBuddy, which enables passengers to find other Facebook or LinkedIn users who may be on the flight and where they are seated.

So now passengers cannot only select their seat but their seatmate, too.