March 2011 | Malaysia Airlines in partnership with technology provider SITA have launched a new Facebook application, called MHbuddy, that allows users to search, book and pay for flights with the airline directly through Facebook. Malaysian is not the first to introduce such functionality (see “Delta first airline to sell tickets on Facebook”), but the airline has gone several steps further by integrating the booking process with the user’s Facebook profile, allowing members of the popular social network (over 800 million active users worldwide) for example to identify friends who might be on the same flight.
Says Amin Khan, Executive VP Commercial Strategy at Malaysia Airlines, “Our passengers are spending more and more time using social networks. […] With MHbuddy we are pleased to provide our fans an easy way to book a ticket without having to leave Facebook. In doing so, we have also opened another distribution channel for ticket sales.”
The Social Flight
During the search and booking phase, Facebook users can open an additional box to see if any of their Facebook friends are on the same flight or expected to be in the same destination during the selected period. Users can then send a message to notify friends of their trip plans.
For the outbound flight, passengers can also check-in from within the Facebook module, and obtain an email booking reference and boarding pass or, on domestic routes, an SMS mobile boarding card. And here it gets really inventive: At this stage users are also shown any seats which have been selected by friends who are travelling on the same flight, so they can choose to pick nearby seat. With this feature Malaysia Airlines and SITA take a first step towards Internet guru Jeff Jarvis’ concept of ‘The Social Flight’, an idea which is also behind social network Satisfly.
According to travel tech blog Tnooz, the sharing of flight data and seat selection via MHbuddy is automatically defaulted to non-share, meaning that such information will only be displayed on a user’s network with their permission. Tnooz also reports that Malaysian and SITA plan to add more functionality to the MHBuddy app over time, including some of the existing services on the main Malaysia Airlines website, such as redeeming loyalty points and meal selection.
Estonian Air ‘Flight Book’
In November 2010, Estonian Air was the first airline to allow passengers who fly the airline to view who is on the same flight with them. Called ‘Flight Book’, the Facebook application allows passengers, who have explicitly indicated that they want their name and flight date to be shared publicly, to contact other passengers, communicate with them and agree on sitting next to each other.
KLM ‘Meet & Seat’
KLM is the latest airline to allow passengers to pick their seatmates using a social network. The airline’s upcoming ‘Meet & Seat’ scheme, set to launch in early 2012, will encourage passengers to pick seatmates by checking out social media profiles of fellow passengers who link to their profiles during check-in. The idea is that flyers will be able to browse other passengers based on interest, or occupation. KLM says the social seating tool will work with Facebook and Linkedin, but not Twitter. The tool will be opt-in only, to allow the many travellers who view flight time as private time to wind down after boarding. It is unknown if both people will be required to accept a seat pairing.
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