Social Networking Makes Inroads in Travel

Social networking is reaching new heights as frequent travelers are connecting virtually to chat, exchange tips, and even arrange to share Taxis while in airports or planes.

Now that more people are traveling with laptops and smartphones and airports and airplanes are wired for Internet access, a new Traveler 2.0 community seems to be springing forth, and social networking sites and carriers are scrambling to harness the momentum.

Apps such as the Lufthansa Miles & More App, which works on iPhones and will soon work on BlackBerrys, allow people to connect with people in their vicinity. A built-in GPS in the app allows users to find fellow travelers—or “flier talkers” as they call themselves—and arrange to meet so they can share taxis, sit next to each other on planes, or share itineraries.

In addition, Virgin America, which has all of its planes wired for Internet use, has in-flight seat-to-seat instant messaging service. This allows people to chat with fellow passengers via the screen on the seatback.

According to an article in the New York Times, more than 10 airlines in North America, including American, Delta, and Southwest are wiring their planes for Internet access, and as many as 1,200 commercial airliners will have Wi-Fi capability by the end of the year.

Airports and airlines typically charge fees ranging from $5 to $10 dollars for Wi-Fi access, though some airports allow access for free.

A site called FlyerTalk.com allows people to post their itineraries so that other travelers can access them virtually. This helps travelers to connect while in transit to exchange tips, pass time, or meet up.

The prevalence of these communities was underscored during the eruption of the Icelandic volcano earlier this summer. Stranded travelers communicated amongst each other virtually to offer alternate flight diversions or share rental car rates.

Even hotels have begun to tap into Travel 2.0. The Sheraton Hotel now features a Microsoft based community called Link@Sheraton, which is in every hotel. Link@Sheraton allows guests to log on and share magazines, watch games, and communicate in general with guests staying at other Sheratons across the world.

With these features guests can befriend fellow guests and meet up for a cup of coffee or a night on the town, or simply exchange tips about where to go in the city. And the sites mentioned above aren’t the only ones. Thorn Tree, AirlineMeals.net, TravelPod, and Virtual Tourist all provide portals for travelers to jump into the Travel 2.0 bonanza.

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