A New Twist to In-Flight Hook-Ups……….

Social Networking Takes Flight

Image Credit- Alaska Airlines

By BARBARA S. PETERSON, NYT, Published: July 12, 2010

On a flight from Newark to the West Coast not long ago, Jeff Jarvis, author of the book “What Would Google Do?” fell into a conversation with a fellow passenger familiar with his work. But it was not a face-to-face chat. Rather, it started as a Twitter post sent by Mr. Jarvis from his seat that was picked up a few rows back.

“I got a message saying, ‘I’m here,’ and before we landed we found each other,” Mr. Jarvis recalled. He said it reminded him of the days when passengers could socialize in airborne lounges, “except now it’s happening digitally.”

The mobile phone and laptop are not just tools to stay in touch with the office or home anymore. As Mr. Jarvis can attest, a growing number of frequent fliers are using their mobile devices to create an informal travelers’ community aloft.

Airlines and social media providers are scrambling to catch up. Airlines are beefing up their presence on networking channels, and travelers’ groups like FlyerTalk.com have created new applications that allow members to find one another while on the road. Business travelers can use these services to share cabs to the airport, swap advice or locate colleagues in the same city. As Mr. Jarvis puts it, “finding a like-minded person to travel with lessens the chance of getting stuck next to some talkative bozo” on a long flight.

The increasing availability of affordable phone plans and Wi-Fi at airports and on airplanes has made the travel networking possible. A survey of 84 of the world’s largest airports by the Airports Council International earlier this year found that 96 percent offered Wi-Fi connections, and 73 percent had connections throughout their terminals. About 45 percent offer the service free; the rest charge an average of about $8 an hour.

‘yes. on this flight too. seat 32c. under orange personal privacy tent. 6’1″/brn/grn/190lbs’ (pic is not from the original story. Chip thinks it’s funny)

More than 10 airlines in North America, including American, Delta and Southwest, are wiring their planes for Internet access, and major foreign airlines like Lufthansa are introducing new technology that will let customers connect on transoceanic flights. In-flight calls are still forbidden on most flights, although several airlines, including Emirates, have been testing calling on shorter trips.

As many as 1,200 commercial airliners in the United States will have Wi-Fi capability by the end of the year, according to Chris Babb, senior product manager of in-flight entertainment for Delta Air Lines. “It’s a much different world than it was a year ago,” he said, noting that on a recent flight he exchanged e-mail messages with several colleagues who were in the air at the same time.

And Virgin America, which has wired its entire 28-plane fleet for the Internet, said about half of its passengers brought their laptops with them and 17 to 30 percent were online at any given time. Like airports, most airlines charge a fee for the service, usually ranging from $5 to $13.

Some airline passengers may mourn the loss of their last remaining refuge from e-mail intrusions. But the benefits of staying connected became clear several months ago during the eruption of the Iceland volcano that grounded thousands of European flights. Facebook and Twitter set up sites for stranded travelers, who swapped ideas and offered rides to ferry terminals, and Twitter had its own thread. Based on anecdotal reports, the sites helped in getting information out faster than it might have otherwise.

For those with time at an airport, FlyerTalk.com has an “itineraries” feature that allows travelers to post their coming flights in the hope that other “flier talkers,” as they call themselves, may be heading the same way……..

Click here for the full story, New York Times.com

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