Solutions – sort of – for some solo travelers

For’s Overhead Bin site, I’ve been researching two new, and two very different, tools for solo travelers.

Invite for a Bite

While it’s likely to draw disappointed traffic from travelers plotting Twilight and/or vampire-themed trips, Invite for a Bite is actually a new online social network for women who don’t like to eat out alone.

Site-founder and Cheltenham, England-based jazz piano teacher Cressida Howard created the site after hearing a group of women on a BBC radio program agree that eating alone was one of the major downsides of traveling solo.

“It’s a problem I’ve had myself in the past,” Cressida explains on the Invite for a Bite site, “Most women aren’t comfortable going into a bar or restaurant on their own, especially in the evenings when they’re surrounded by romantic couples, or drunk men with not very romantic intentions.”

Her solution: a website where solo women travelers can make plans to meet other women for a shared meal.
Once signed up on the site, a woman can create a profile and post a “definite” or “maybe” meal invite that includes a specific date or date range and other details such as what’s brought them to town. T

The site has only been live since early March, but there are already more than five pages of invites for shared meals in cities such as Boston, Paris and Perugia, Italy.

Miss Travel

A very different site for solo travelers was launched this week by Brandon Wade, CEO of the controversial “sugar daddy” sites and

Wade’s new site, Miss Travel, is advertised as a travel dating website to connect “the broke and beautiful” with “generous benefactors” willing to fund “dreams of travel.”

The site invites “Attractive Travelers” who are “open minded people who loves [sic] to travel, but lacks the budget to do so,” to sign up for free. “Generous Travelers” willing to pay the travel expenses of attractive travelers may also sign up for free, but must pay a fee if they want to communicate with any of the beautiful-but-broke travelers profiled on the site.

Is Miss Travel a good way for women to find a great date and a perfect travel buddy?

The experts don’t think so.

“Relationships steeped in equality, mutual respect and intimacy do not begin with ‘Fund my travel experience because I’m hot.’ Some relationships are transactional, and this is no different; slapping a fancy name on it doesn’t change what it really is,” said sexologist and relationship expert Logan Levkoff.

“It sounds like it could be a form of prostitution, said Pepper Schwartz, Chief Relationship Expert at “Or if no sex happens, an escort service.”

Schwartz advises those seeking a relationship or free travel steer clear of this service and urges both ‘generous’ and ‘attractive’ travelers who go ahead and use the site to consider doing criminal checks before leaving home.

“Of course a really thorough check might cost a couple of hundred dollars, which is sort against the point of the journey for the attractive hitch hiker, but it doesn’t take a PhD to see both parties could be in jeopardy.”

Seatmate soulmates?

While websites such as Flights from Hell are filled with stories of devilish and disgusting seatmates, there are plenty of people who have dated and gone on to marry someone they met on a plane.

Charles Lindbergh-themed Valentine


But what if you’ve spent a cross-country flight successfully flirting with a seatmate whose contact information you neglect to secure as you exit the plane?

A new website hopes to give shy and forgetful fliers another chance. was created by Will Scully-Power, the co-founder of a marketing analytics company in Sydney, Australia, who met his current girlfriend while flying from Thailand to Malaysia. The lovebirds exchanged email addresses before leaving the airport, but Scully-Power suspected many other travelers skip that step and go home with a “what if?” feeling.

He was right.

“After analyzing Google’s search data, we found over 4,000 people were searching daily for someone they’d met on a plane. Yet there was no website or service availability to help facilitate a reconnection,” said Scully-Power.

In the name of love, Scully-Power launched his website in early January and began gathering stories.

Travelers seeking to reconnect with a seatmate can either post their story and hope that the cute seatmate spots it, or search the site for a seatmate’s story using a flight number, year, month, date, origin or destination. If a reply is posted, the site sends out an alert. There’s also an option to spread the word using Facebook and Twitter.

So far, only about a dozen stories have been posted and no romantic reconnects have been made. But Scully-Power notes that the site is young and still in the beginning phase.

He said the next iteration will have more social media features and ways for people to connect with one another, as well as iPhone, iPad and Android apps.

And, while love is grand, Scully-Power is also eying ways to marry the pleasure of his site with business.

In addition to mining his database for information that can be used for targeted and behavioral-based marketing, Scully-Power said he’s also seeking an exclusive global airline partner for his site. “Think mystery flights. And flights designed specifically for meeting new people.”

(This first appeared on Travel)

KLM’s “Meet & Seat” social networking program

On Friday, KLM launched a new social networking program that allows passengers to link their flight reservations with their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, find out who else is on their flight and make a seat selection or other flight-related plans using that information.

“This new service connects passengers and aims to give them a more inspirational journey,” said KLM managing director Erik Varwijk in a statement announcing the new “Meet & Seat” program.

The program will eventually be available on KLM intercontinental flights, but for now is being tested in a pilot program on flights from Amsterdam to San Francisco, New York and São Paulo.

Here’s how it works: Using KLM’s ‘Manage My Booking’ section, passengers flying on intercontinental flights choose personal information from their Facebook or LinkedIn account to share with other passengers and then link their flight reservations to their profiles. The reservation program allows passengers to choose a seat between 90 days and 48 hours before departure.

“They can find out whether someone they know will be traveling on the same flight, or discover who else will be attending the same conference in the USA,” the airline said in a statement explaining the program. “They might arrange to have a coffee before their flight, select adjoining seats or decide to share a taxi afterwards.”

Raymond Kollau, founder of, an industry and consumer research agency, liked the program. “The concept makes perfect sense as people like to surround themselves with like-minded persons,” he said. “It will certainly apply to specific demographics, such as a generation Y, who are more interested in meeting new people, as well as business travelers en route to a conference. Singles will of course also be interested.”

Although KLM claims that it is the first airline to integrate social networking into its regular flight process, this is not the first social seating effort in the skies.

Malaysia Airlines’ MHbuddy program not only allows passengers the option of booking and checking in for a flight on Facebook, it also offers travelers the option of seeing pictures and seat numbers of Facebook friends on the same flight. Alaska Airlines’ Flying Social program also integrates Facebook.

The social seating trend isn’t just for the skies. Last August, Ticketmaster rolled out interactive, Facebook-integrated seat maps that allow ticket buyers to tag their seat locations and see where their friends — or potential friends — will be sitting in a venue.

“We’ve heard stories of seat tagging reuniting fraternity brothers at college football games and making the planning of live event outings much easier,” said Ticketmaster spokesperson Jacqueline Peterson.

Airline branding consultant Shashank Nigam notes that independent companies Satisfly and Planely enable passengers to find and book seats next to others with specific interests across airlines. Nigam said some travelers may feel such programs are “creepy.” He also questioned how quickly or frequently travelers will adopt the service.

Still, he noted that “Meet & Seat” is the first social seating effort led by a major airline. That’s why, he said, “there is excitement around it and chances are good that it might work.”

(My story: “KLM wants air travelers to get social in the sky” first appeared on


SAS proves Love IS in the air with same-sex, in-flight weddings

Gay and lesbian couples wed on SAS

Giving a new meaning to the phrase “walking down the aisle,” on Monday, December 6th, weddings for one gay couple from Germany and one lesbian couple from Poland took place on SAS Airlines flight SK903 traveling from Stockholm to New York.

Within the first 20 minutes of the flight, after the fasten seat-belts signs were turned off and while the plane was still in Swedish airspace, a Swedish representative from the European Parliament presided over two brief marriage ceremonies.

SAS holds first same-sex, in-flight wedding

The sky-high nuptials took place in the business class cabin with a large, heart-shaped floral wreath as backdrop, first for Aleksandar Mijatovic and Shantu Bhattacherjee, a gay couple from Germany, and then for Ewa Tomaszewicz and Gosia Rawińska, a lesbian couple from Poland.

SAS host first same-sex, in-flight wedding

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Sweden since May 1, 2009 and while same-sex couples may enter registered partnerships in Germany, they may not do so in Poland. “So this ceremony is not only for us,” said Ewa Tomaszewicz who first met her partner, Gosia Rawińska, on a soccer field and got to know her through spirited political debates on the internet and, later karaoke. “It’s also a small victory for all those who believe that one day in Poland we’ll have a normal country where everyone who loves each other can just get married.” 

For the in-flight wedding, as in many traditional weddings, rings and teary personalized vows were exchanged, toasts were made, champagne was poured, a first dance was danced, and a multi-course wedding dinner was consumed. Finally, a multi-tiered wedding cake was rolled out to be cut and tasted by the wedding couples before the dessert was served to guests.

SAS hosts first same-sex, inflight wedding

Airline as wedding planner

Scandinavia airline SAS is owned by the governments of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, which were amongst the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage or partnerships. SAS spokesperson Anders Lindstrom says it was because of that, and because of the widespread focus on love created by the wedding of Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria earlier this year, “It just hit me that SAS should be the airline to host the world’s first same-sex wedding in the air.”

To choose which same-sex couples would be married on the historic flight, SAS created a “Love is in the air” social media contest and launched it in September, 2010. 300 couples from around the world, many from Poland and other countries where same-sex marriage is forbidden, entered the contest and campaigned aggressively for supporters and votes on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and elsewhere.

“We’ve been living together for six years and wanted to be married in an interesting way. So for six weeks of our lives we reduced our normal work so we could promote ourselves,” said contest winner and newlywed Aleksandar Mijatovic. “We had very good competitors,” added Mijaztovic’s husband, Shantu Bhattacherjee, “They inspired us to do more and push ourselves forward so we did videos and promotions on the internet, in magazines and newspapers. It just grew bigger.”

More than 450,000 visitors viewed the airline’s contest site and more than 350,000 unique votes were cast. As top vote-getters, the couples from Germany and Poland each won an in-flight wedding, designer wedding rings and other gifts, and a honeymoon package in New York and Los Angeles. (A couple from North Carolina also won a trip to Sweden that includes a land-based commitment ceremony and honeymoon package.)

Publicity stunt or meaningful marketing?

While SAS is the first airline to host a same-sex, in-flight wedding, it is not the first to reach out to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.  In the United States, that community includes about 16 million adults, or about 6.8% of the country’s population. And, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the LGBT community spends an estimated $70 billion a year on travel, or about 10% of the U.S. total.

Air New Zealand’s Pink Flight, in 2008, celebrated the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and featured live performances by drag queens, music, contests and screenings of classic gay-themed films and was emceed by comedienne Kathy Griffin.

In May, 2010, JetBlue’s JetPride flight #1969 flew from San Francisco to Long Beach to celebrate Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride, a major pride celebration. The flight number commemorated the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the birth of the pride movement, while in-flight festivities included entertainment, gift bags and pink cocktails.

When he learned that SAS planned to host a same-sex, in-flight wedding event, Ian Johnson, founder and CEO of the marketing and consulting firm Out Now Global, asked event organizers if they planned to include feather boas, drag queens “and other stereotypical elements too often associated with ‘gay’ promotional events.”  He was relieved to learn that nothing of the sort was planned.

“Their whole approach recognized this is not a game. It is about real people, real lives and their genuine love for each other. The SAS approach has been clever from a marketing standpoint, but far more importantly consistently respectful throughout to offer recognition and support to provide a life-changing memory for the winners of the competition.”

Clark Massad, European ambassador for the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), a major gay and lesbian travel trade association, agrees.  As SAS flight SK903 began its descent into Newark Liberty International Airport, Massad said “Today there are a lot of companies going for the gay or ‘pink’ dollar and they think it’s sufficient to just hang a rainbow flag outside their business. Well, it’s not. And we can take a lesson from how sincere SAS was in conducting this same-sex, in-flight wedding.”

“It’s been like a fairy tale,” said SAS newlywed Shantu Bhattacherjee, “Alexsander and I both lost our mothers several years ago. But it’s nice to be married up here, close to them in the clouds where they have the option to be here and be part of the ceremony.”

(All photos by Harriet Baskas. This story was prepared for

German gay couple weds on airplane

Air New Zealand Matchmaking Party – kisses all around

Last night, acting, looking, and in a few cases smelling like a bunch of junior high kids embarking on their first prom, about a hundred of the Americans who flew to Auckland on Air New Zealand’s Matchmaking Flight joined 150 nattily-dressed Kiwis for the Great Matchmaking Party.  As billed, it was a night of inter-hemisphere mingling, complete with dating games and dance performances, including a repeat of this choreographed dance the flight crew performed in the holding gate at LAX airport.

Were matches made?  You bet. Were lives changed? Time will tell… but at least everyone has a great story.

Air New Zealand Match Making Party