Airline Passengers are learning they don't have to stop social networking just because they left Terra Firma and are hovering at altitudes of 30K above the ground. Virgin America is the first to introduce a Bluetooth-style seat-to-seat chat system that allows passengers to connect with fellow travelers throughout the aircraft.
Social networking is a phenomenon that has a firm grasp on the global zeitgeist. Everyone can relate, even those that are not daily users. Facebook is scaling to 500 million users with most of that growth within the last 12 months. So it's very understandable why a seat-to-seat chat system would be an option that many passengers would vie for, particularly on longer flights.
Virgin America, which has wired its 28-plane fleet for the Internet is receiving an uptick in another revenue stream - WiFi service - where airlines are charging as much as $13 for the service. So for the traditionalists that want to stay connected in the air, this is the obvious choice. But for those souls that are a little bit more adventuresome, Virgin's seat-to-seat messaging is a new way to whittle away the hours, while flying the friendly skies.
According to a recent NY Times report, the airline has even teamed up with the dating site, Match.com to create a party atmosphere on specific flights - and reportedly at least one couple who met this way became romantically involved - enough to get engaged.
Similar to privacy issues on the ground, with this new entertainment feature, airlines will need to find ways not to infringe on some passengers desire for peace and quiet. Porter Gale, Virgin's vice president of marketing said in the case of their airline, there were built-in safeguards against abuse and that a passenger could simply turn off the messaging function. Also, passengers are required to tap through Virgin's 'code of ethics' and agree to the terms of service before they begin a chat.
Similar to conference calls, the system also allows for 'group' chats. With this function, you can choose a screen name and select as many numbered seats as you would like to join the group. While users are allowed to deny the request, the group that remains can continue to chat in the group or break-off according to interests, into smaller groups. Now how social is that? What' next, buying a 'round of drinks' for your chat group?
How this will evolve as other airlines gravitate to this service is easy to imagine. Video could be added for visuals - so you can get a good look at the folks you're chatting with. Perhaps airlines will develop special theme trips where the actual flight "becomes the destination" and individuals decide on purchasing certain fights based on special interest such as sports fans, gamblers or swinging singles.
Why, there could even be a "Chatroulette" flight for those passengers who are willing to let it all hang out! And if you don't like who you're chatting with, you can always "next" them! Just a thought!
Chatroulette - Use the F9 Key to "Next" someone