Tech: Focus on social seating

New social seating service Seat ID is targeting airlines, but founder Eran Savir tells TTG how it could also prove revolutionary for agents

Airlines have long offered passengers their choice of seat; even the no-frills have got onboard recently, albeit some of them charging a fee. But now social media allows you to see exactly who’s already booked the seat next door. Carriers such as KLM and Malaysia Airlines have been testing “social seating” for a while, and now non-aviation companies are also venturing into the arena.

Seat ID is one of these, co-founded by entrepreneur Eran Savir in Tel Aviv - a city that’s fast becoming known for technological innovation.Savir started Seat ID at the end of 2011, after a colleague complained about a “terrible experience” on a flight having to cope with a passenger with hygiene issues. “He told me it didn’t make sense that you have to suffer, when there is all of this information on social networks,” says Savir.

With Seat ID, passengers are able to see the information in fellow passengers’ profiles who have opted in. “Apart from adding fans and using Twitter for customer support, airlines are struggling with social,” he claims.

Savir and his team researched the idea by talking to airlines around the world, which were hooked by the information they could garner about customers. While hygiene issues may be difficult to spot, the key benefit is the opportunity for onboard networking.

Onboard personalisation

Seat ID gives reports containing customer information, such as partner’s birthday or wedding anniversary, to respective airlines. Savir explains: “All this can help airlines personalise their service because they get to know passengers better. They may be able to get basic information from their passports or a frequent flyer scheme, but we can give them more.”

The opportunity to upsell is a bonus. Savir predicts the tool will encourage users to upgrade to business class if there is a particular passenger they want to meet, for example.With the technology also showing different schedules, sales professionals may begin to pick a particular flight based on the type of passengers.

But does this mean the system can be abused by those with stalker-like tendencies? Savir says it isn’t fair to brand this social intrusion. “Out of choice, I’d rather choose than not be able to choose. Not everyone likes to talk a lot during a flight, but if I saw someone who was in the same industry as me…”.

Privacy, he adds, is paramount. Once opting in, users are given four choices, regarding who they can see, or be seen by: just “friends”, from LinkedIn for example; friends of friends; people onboard with similar interests; or anyone at all.

With the launch planned for September - the airlines involved are still under wraps - the question is how it’s going to make money. Having gone direct to airlines instead of via GDSs to save time on integrating the software, Savir says only consumers are expected to pay. “We need a button on the airline’s website asking: ‘Want to see who else is onboard?’ and then users will pay $2 per ticket.”

Agent advantage

If it’s successful, Seat ID aims to expand it to other forms of transport, sports events, concerts or “wherever you have to book a seat and want to be near to your friends”.

The potential for agents and operators should not be underestimated either. Since the Seat ID product can be ported easily on to other retail websites, OTAs selling flights could incorporate it to give customers the ability to see exactly who is onboard. Operators, meanwhile, could use Seat ID to show prospective clients the social profiles of others already booked on their next group tour or cruise.

“No other company is doing what we’re doing,” Savir insists, adding that similar B2C companies “lack the social aspect of exploring”. “Merging social with real world; that’s where the magic is,” he says.

Other social seating services

Both KLM and Malaysia Airlines offer in-house social seating, with “Meet and Seat” and “MHbuddy” respectively. Danish company Planely allows users to see profiles of fellow flyers, while Tripalaong lets users pick seats, as long as they have booked via MakeMyTrip. Satisfly is the social service for airBaltic. Meanwhile, British Airways wants to find out more about its own passengers with “Know Me” - a Google Image-based programme.

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