It’s not uncommon for many business executives to spend more time in the air and onsite at meetings or conferences than in their office HQ so making the most out their time in the air can be a top priority. While many businesspeople use flight time and the spotty in-flight wifi to catch up on work, this Inc. article suggests that your time will be most productively spent on another activity. “Consider stowing away your laptop in favor of the newest trend in corporate air travel: mid-flight networking.”
Companies are catching onto this trend and optimizing seating arrangements to bring seatmates closer to networking opportunities with each other. Delta’s new Innovation Class, for example, functions as an “intellectual matchmaker.” Applicants accepted to the class get the chance to sit next to visionaries and industry experts during their flight. Take a look:
Similarly, when choosing a seat, South African Airways, and Dutch airline KLM’s Meet and Seat program which allows passengers to view each other’s Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to search for professional similarities. There’s even an app for on-flight networking. Here on Biz uses LinkedIn to connect airport goers who share the same job title, profession, or alma mater.
All programs give passengers a choice to participate so that the business class passenger who just wants to use their flight time to relax and decompress won’t be disrupted by seatmate who wants to network or talk business. One tech company is centering their business around the idea that passengers have different objectives and expectations of their flight time. The company allows passengers to check what “mood” they are in–whether they want to network and chat with their neighbor, quietly listen to music or read, or sleep during the flight.
For passengers who do wish to network during their time in the air, here are some in-flight networking etiquette guidelines:
Make sure your seatmate is willing to talk
If you’re not on a flight where you’ve pre-selected your in-flight “mood” then making sure your neighbor wants to engage in conversation as well is important. While it’s a little more difficult to read the body language of a person who’s sitting down, there are still signs. Avoiding eye contact, answering in short responses, reading, checking emails, wearing headphones, and a reclined seat are all signs that your neighbor has plans for their flight-time that don’t involve conversation.
Don’t start with a business strategy integration
Meaning, ease your way into the business talk the way you would at any other networking event. This article advises “starting with a warm hello and establishing your presence as a friendly, agreeable person. Then, broach a common topic, like the purpose of your trip. To guide the conversation towards business, show genuine interest in his or her role, professional life, and goals upon reaching your shared destination.”
Marketing and sales expert Ken Sterling notes, “Social seating is redefining the notion of air travel ROI. With the right attitude, app, and a little bit of tact, your next professional connection–or record-breaking deal–might be just a tray table’s length away.”