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Site helps frequent fliers make friends

Jayne Clark USA Today

You can’t choose your relatives, but if a fledgling Web site takes off, air travelers will at least be able to select their seatmates.

The idea is the brainstorm of frequent flier and New York public relations rep Peter Shankman, who is seeking to move the online dating format to the aircraft-seating chart.

The idea is to connect like-minded fliers — either in the personal or professional realms — who are traveling on the same flights.

Here’s how it works: Travelers join AirTroductions ( for free and post personal and/or business profiles. Then, before taking a flight, they enter their itineraries and are notified of other members booked on the same flight. They’re given the option of sending anonymous e-mail through the site (at which point a $5 fee kicks in) to determine whether they want to meet at the airport, and, if mutually acceptable, get reassigned to adjoining seats.

The site made its debut recently and has about 1,150 members. But Shankman believes that with time — and possible affiliations with online booking sites and major trade shows — it will achieve the critical mass necessary to take flight.

Contrary to the reaction of some of his friends (“Dude, you created the mile-high club online!”), Shankman swears that’s not his intention. He envisions enabling social connections among travelers bound for the same destination and business networking possibilities for those en route to conventions or trade shows.

Shankman, an elite-level flier who travels two to three times a month, acknowledges that he has had some interesting seatmates “but they’re few and far between. You sit there and watch people come down the aisle, and it’s that pit-in-the-stomach feeling.”

Shankman recalls one particularly memorable Houston-to-Newark flight, the one that became the inspiration for AirTroductions. After he took his seat, his dread turned to elation when Miss Texas strolled down the aisle and sat down beside him.

“That was the quickest flight I took in my life,” he declares. “She sat down and 11 seconds later we landed. We just had a really nice conversation, and it occurred to me that if you’re sitting next to someone you want to talk to, the flight goes a lot faster.”

With airline load factors running high, Shankman acknowledges that switching seats at the gate could mean that one of the “matched” parties ends up in the loathsome middle seat.

“You’re not going to go from coach to first (class) or from 34A by the bathroom to an exit row. But if you’re with someone you want to talk to, it doesn’t matter,” says Shankman, who is unmarried. “If a beautiful woman e-mailed me and said, ‘I want to sit next to you,’ I would chew off my right arm to sit in 34B.”

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