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What happened to social seating on airlines?

By | Business trip, Feature | One Comment

Because the current seating system for planes, trains and seat-allocated bus journeys entails a largely randomised selection process, you always run the risk of sitting next to someone who will make that journey feel twice as long. But then came an alternative. At one point, social seating looked like it could become the next big thing in travel, but almost as quickly as it appeared, the social networking innovation seemed to die out. So what happened, and is the end for social seating?

What is social seating?

Social seating is a social networking concept that enables guests to choose their seatmates based on personal preference, or, to have your seat chosen for you based on the similarity of your social profiles to other guests. The process can be applied to any number of situations. Picture being able to choose who you sit with at your next conference based on who you most want to network with. But whereas social seating at a conference assumes a shared purpose, applying the same concept to your next long haul journey comes with a few more assumptions, not to mention a whole host of new risks.

View from plane window as sun sets

How does it work?

The process of social seating depends on a lot of variables, including where the airline and the passengers are based. Social seating usually requires a passenger to share either their Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profile. From that, information about upcoming events, friends, noted interests, followed accounts, employment history and more are collated to draw up a profile of interests (most likely using an algorithm).

Using this profile, airlines can ‘pair’ passengers together, the assumption being that common interests will equal a more enjoyable journey. Alternatively, some airlines give passengers the option to choose their own seating based on perceived common interests. This can be done by individuals personal social channels or through a custom profile set up on the official airline website.

So what happened?

Despite its initial popularity, social seating lost a lot of fans as online security increased and the novelty aspect wore thin. When it first launched, social seating was trialled on some of the leading airlines, including Malaysia Airlines, AirBaltic and Finnair. With the notable exception of KLM, most of the airlines have since abandoned it.

This is partly a result of increasing concerns over privacy and partly due to the inevitable push back against the categorisation culture. Whatever the reasons, social seating has taken a backseat and is in need of a makeover if it hopes to become a part of the airline experience again.

Sun viewed over the wing of a plane using social seating technology

The advantages

For leisure travel

Social seating is about more than just seat selection. It can also alert passengers to other guests that may be attending the same event or staying in the same hotel. This gives passengers a platform from which to develop new friendships, but it can also come in handy when trying to arrange travel plans once on the ground.

For business travel

In the future, TMCs could let clients choose flights based on which day their “friends” are flying, which is useful for colleagues looking to get some work done together during a long-haul flight. The real draw of social seating, of course, is the promise of new connections. After all, networking opportunities abound when you can see the business profiles of your fellow passengers.

For airlines

Social seating can also benefit the airlines too, providing there’s enough uptake from customers. KLM’s Meet & Seat allows passengers to post their flight status online to friends, including details of any upgrades. The thinking behind it was clear: if you see a friend has bought a seat upgrade, you’re more likely to buy that upgrade, too. The reality has been somewhat different (they wouldn’t release figures on how many additional upgrades resulted), but it has created more dialogue around the brand.

Passengers using social seating onboard a flight with seatback screens

The downsides

There’s a strong argument for letting nature take its course and just hoping for the best. Some people have argued that having control over the people you meet will stunt your development, that perhaps we are supposed to sit next to people we feel we have nothing in common with. As Danish behavioural scientist Pelle Guldborg Hansen put it, people fear to become “victims of a social colonisation of what used to be private.”

For leisure travel

Of course, by integrating profiles into the booking process, airlines are only getting a superficial snapshot of a passenger’s interests, but it does go some way to limiting the potential for mid-air discomfort.

A major reservation for passengers considering social seating is privacy. Some people are concerned (perhaps understandably) about the idea of sharing their flight details online with strangers. It’s an important obstacle to developing social seating as a viable option for flights, although some argue it’s not as serious a concern as people might think. Eran Savir, the founder of social seating service SeatID, argued that as the personal information garnered from social seating is equivalent to that gained when a passenger ‘Likes’ the Facebook page of a company, airlines only additionally learn where a passenger is sitting.

For business travel

There are some obvious downsides to the ‘networking on a plane’ angle too. No doubt there are people who want to use their flight to kick back, read a book or have a nap. It’s unlikely that you’ll look back with fondness on a flight where your seatmate spent the entire time talking to you about business opportunities while you tried to catch some shut-eye.

Airlines point out that to avoid this predicament, passengers need simply not sign-up for social seating, but this misses the point. What one passenger might interpret as a means to pass the time, another might see as an exciting networking opportunity. One or both of these passengers will likely be disappointed when it becomes clear they are looking for different things.

For airlines

Airlines using social seating face a few dilemmas in actually accurately pairing together passengers. Rather than with a random allocation of seats, airlines that pair passengers together who then don’t get along face accusations of poor seat planning and open themselves up to the scrutiny of their seating process.

Man looking down aisle of plane with onboard social seating

So what’s next?

There’s an obvious appeal in gaining control over your own seating arrangements. After all, if you can minimise the risk of awkward silences at 35,000 feet, why wouldn’t you? So how can airlines get beyond the ‘gimmick’ angle and convince passengers that social seating is worth it?

Well, for one, airlines have to understand the kind of information people are willing to share, and why. Whereas some might be comfortable with sharing their age, occupation and more online, others will refuse to engage unless they can control the amount of detail they provide.

Simultaneously, there are concerns surrounding the harvesting of personal data, and to what ends personal data will be used. If the social seating revolution is to get back on track, there must be reassurances from travel companies that the information gathered will not be used for any purposes other than seating like-minded passengers together (as KLM has already promised).

If airlines can address these issues earnestly and introduce proper safeguards to ensure everyone has a comfortable flight, social seating just might recover, and we all could enjoy our flights a little more.

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10 handy travel hacks for the business traveller

By | Business trip, Feature, Travel | 2 Comments

Travelling on business can be a stressful experience. You’re not going to soak up the sun or sample the local delicacies, you’re there to land a client, attend a conference or deliver a knockout pitch. In short, you’re there to work. But with all the rigmarole of just getting there, it’s difficult to stay on top of your game when you’re crossing time zones.

That’s why it’s essential you travel smart. Luckily, Sygnal is on hand with some top travel hacks to help you do just that, from booking to landing and everything in between.

Man stood in airport terminal waiting to board business flight

1. Hide your browsing history

Even if you’re not paying for your business trip, it helps to get the best prices. That’s why it’s important to remember that airlines often put the price up according to perceived demand when booking your flight. By using a hidden window (‘Private’ or ‘Incognito’ window for Firefox and Chrome, respectively), there’s a good chance you can find the same flight for cheaper. The same goes for your location, so opting for the non-localised version of an airline’s website (with your location turned off, obviously) can actually yield cheaper options for the same flight. Regional pricing can make a significant difference to the price depending on the location from which the site believes you’re searching.

2. Pack smart

This means, don’t just throw your kit in your suitcase right before you leave. Packing smart can save space but also makes the whole travel experience easier. For instance, placing belts in your shirt collars will keep them stiff, meaning you can step off the plane, reach your hotel and change into your shirt ready to hit the conference, board meeting or business dinner confident you’re looking your best. Likewise, putting socks inside shoes and placing shoes at the bottom of your luggage helps with balance and saves space.

Use your tablet onboard your next business flight with this travel hack

3. Have your rentals sorted in advance

If you’re planning on travelling by car when you reach your destination, make sure you’ve already arranged a hire with a reliable rental company. There’s nothing worse than arriving after a long flight to realise you don’t have the resources you need. If you’re planning on wining and dining clients, investing in an upgrade could mean the difference between a new contract and a lost sale. Inquire with the rental company when you arrive, but always have a standard option prepared in advance.

4. Have multiple copies of everything

Everyone knows it makes sense to bring multiple copies of your travel documents, but not everyone has extended this to cover different formats too. Before leaving on your business trip, ensure you send your flight itinerary, any addresses, photocopies of your passport and driving license, and any travel insurance documents to your own personal email. Be prepared to print physical copies of these documents too; your device might fail, but paper never runs out of battery!

Passport and camera laid across a map for business trip

5. Always request an upgrade

This one relies on the laws of probability – ergo, if you ask often enough, eventually you’ll be rewarded. When booking your flight, request an upgrade. The airline should mark down your booking as having requested one and, should a seat open up in another class, you’ll at least be on the list for consideration. It’s difficult to identify with any certainty the criteria required to bump yourself up that list but flying frequently with the same airline seems to increase your chances.

6. Get the airline app

Pretty much every air travel company now has a mobile app. Not only are they great for finding out about new offers, they also send up-to-date on airline delays and gate changes direct to the app, meaning no more crowding around communal departure screens in a desperate bid to find your flight. The cherry on the cake has to be paperless boarding, as you can download the ticket direct to your phone, saving you time and effort in the boarding process and giving you one less item to remember as you pack.

Woman checking phone using in-journey connectivity

7. Always try the airport lounge

Just because you haven’t booked for a lounge doesn’t mean you can’t gain access to one. There’s any number of ways to get yourself access to some of the best airport lounges in the world, including buying an international priority pass or seeking out generic, non-affiliated airline lounges. The latter may ask for payment to access the lounge, but it’s always worth chancing it if you’re looking for somewhere with a little more privacy – after all, fortune favours the brave.

8. Try to avoid bringing packed luggage

This one really depends on the length of time you’re going for and the type of transport you’re using. If you’re just catching a train to a week-long business conference, you’ll probably need that additional bag. But if you’re flying out somewhere for a two-day business meeting, your trip could become infinitely easier by choosing to only bring carry-on luggage. Most people tend to overpack but, when you’re sailing through customs and out the door ahead of everyone else, you’ll begin to appreciate the minimal approach to travel.

Boarding your business flight looking between rows of seats

9. Stay connected in-flight

With laptop and tablets banned on flights coming from six middle eastern and north African countries, this may be the beginning of the end for using personal devices on planes. However, with smartphones still acceptable carry-on technology, you would do well to invest in a micro Bluetooth keyboard. The keyboard can be connected to your smartphone, allowing you to continue work without needing to furiously tap at a tiny phone screen. Of course, you’ll have to ensure you have access to the necessary programs on your phone to allow you to keep working.

10. Get your jet lag routine in order

Again, this one is only for those flying to a business event or meeting, but sorting your sleeping pattern can mean the difference between a boardroom bore fest and a business meeting masterpiece. Try to get a gauge on the time difference when you’re booking, and slowly adjust your sleeping pattern accordingly in the build up to the flight out. Part of tackling jet lag is in figuring out your own limits and creating a ritual to get the optimum sleep. Avoid alcohol and salty foods, as they lead to dehydration and will make you feel worse. And, of course, try to avoid organising any meetings for the same day you land, nobody wants to jump off a long flight and straight into a presentation.

So there you have it! Some top travel hacks to get you through your next business trip. Got some top travel tips of your own? Let us know in the comments!

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