TAKEAWAY: Let’s not let technology and social media interfere with who gets to seat next to you during your next long haul flight. Surprises welcome!
Whatever happened to serendipity?
Yes, that is one of my favorite words in the English language. In fact, it is difficult to find a translation for it in other languages with which I have come in contact.
Serendipity is, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “ the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for”
As , for example, the person sitting next to you on that 12 hour flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok.
God knows I have had good and bad serendipity with my seatmates on flights over the past 30 years.
Those of us who fly often know that when good serendipity comes, it is real pleasure aloft. When the bad serendipity rears its talkative, boring head, it is time to reach for the earphones and pretend the non existent music is great. I have found myself even rocking my body a little, to let the person next to me pretend that it is good dancing music.
With the new technology, social media, and airlines trying to do their darn best to please us passengers, it is now possible to even select the seatmate you wish to have for your long haul flight.
This month, the Dutch carrier KLM began testing a program it calls Meet and Seat, allowing ticket-holders to upload details from their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles and use the data to choose seatmates. Read about the program Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Miami, when, suddenly, Richard himself appeared. We talked media, the new definition of news, people who knew in common, and, to this day, we stay in touch. I watch him nightly, and he contacts me from time to time when he needs information about my side of the media. We promise visits in London, or New York, and it all started because serendipity planted him on seat 83C the day I had seat 83A on that Lufthansa 747-400.
But fame and common interests have nothing to do with it.
I have had fascinating conversations with surgeons, textile manufacturers, antiquarians and even a monk. My profile would have never in a million years matched me to have any of these people as seatmates. The experience was pleasant, positive and instructive.
And, how about the young Argentinean man sitting next to me on the way to the burial of his father, who had died suddenly of a heart attack?. It was a Miami to Buenos Aires flight on United, almost 15 years ago. But I remember our conversation as if it was today. First, he cried, and I was the shoulder he cried on; then he jumped from that to happy reminiscing (his dad playing soccer with him, their trip together to Disney World, what his dad meant to him), then it was the sudden realization that as the oldest of his siblings, he had a new role to play. During eight hours of that flight, I listened, provided some advice, and we bonded. He hugged me when we landed. I never heard from him again.
But it was not necessary. We had met and had spent time together when he needed it the most. He could have been my own child. It is no accident that I was the passenger on 8B, and he was 8A. Again, the new technology would have never made us a match.
Powers wiser than technology did the matching.
I would like to keep it that way in the future.
When serendipity of the good kind fails, those earphones are there to take care of the situation.
It was 50 years ago on this day that I arrived in the United States as a child refugee from Cuba. It is the type of days that mark you, impact you and affect the rest of how your life would be.
It has been an exhilarating, fun and educational 50 years of adapting to a new land, learning a new language and becoming an American.
I recounted the experience of that first day in the US in my “career memoir”, 40 Years/40 Lessons, that you can read here:
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