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Using social networking to find a plane buddy: for or against?

By admin   7 January 2011 4:36pm Europe/London

Whom you sit next to on a plane can make or break an 8-hour flight. Until now, it’s been mostly up to fate to decide whether you’ll wind up next to your soul mate or your soul destroyer.

But all that could change. Planely is a social networking service that aims to match you with a flight buddy – basically, hooking you up with a stranger who’s on the same flight as you.

Giving destiny a hand? Or just plane weird? The office was divided, so we thought we’d have a debate. Planely: good idea or not?

FOR: Tom Hall, UK travel editor

This house believes that Planely will make travel better. If watching Chilean miners emerge from weeks of captivity was last year’s reason to have hope for the future of humanity, 2011’s must be Planely.

‘Tell Planely which flights you’re traveling on and Planely will tell you who else is traveling with you…Together we hope to change the airline industry for the better by connecting you with the greatest untapped resource of knowledge and entertainment on your journey – your fellow fliers.’ So says the sign-up site for Planely. These few words alone are rich in the humanity, compassion and tolerance that are missing from our excessively speeding lives.

With one simple idea, that connecting with your fellow travellers is fun, the angry suit that rams their seat back onto your knees becomes a real person. That young family wrestling with a fractious toddler as you try to get some work done is like you at another stage in your life. And Planely will help you to find it out.

Doubters will mock it and say that flying is stripped of privacy enough as it is, and that weirdos might use it to annoy you before, during and after your flight, but this misses the point. A plane is a public space, where your fellow humans are waiting out there to be met and made friends with. Planely makes it easy to do so.

With one sign-up, friends can be made, happy hours passed, and the world – inside often impersonal metal tubes hurtling through the air – is made a better place. I’ve signed up.

AGAINST: Vivek Wagle, Head of Digital Editorial

My esteemed colleague would have you, dear reader, believe that Planely fosters the empathy and bonds that are missing from our frenetic days. It does just the opposite.

Our lives are a patchwork of fleeting, superficial connections. We momentarily chuckle at 140-character pronouncements from associates of colleagues of friends. We flip through photos of the offspring of people who hated us in high school. We fix our faces in painful grins at cocktail parties where the three people we know are talking to someone else. No matter where we are, we feel that we are missing out if we are not constantly forging and reforging attachments.

Ah, but the airplane is a respite from this networking hurlyburly. It is one of the few public places where we are allowed to be private. In an airplane, we begin to understand Thoreau, who ‘never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude’. Gone is the necessity to greet, to nod, to mutter banalities. We enjoy this isolation without guilt, for it is enforced by circumstance.

And, if we do make a connection, it is a real one. It is sparked by a shared laugh, a mutual interest in an amazing novel, or a sly wink. It is the product of human chemistry that transcends all the obstacles an airline flight can throw at us.

It is this – on the one hand, the solitary realisation of one’s own soul; and on the other, the genuine and profound connection between two humans – that is precluded by an algorithm matching two names in a database.

Bring a book.

And now, dear readers, we throw the floor open to you. What do you think?