Networking from a First Class flight

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So over the last weekend, I had a trip down to Salt Lake City, the highlights of which would be written down in a more complete journal entry later. With regards to being seated up front in an airplane, I am a newbie at best since I really started finding ways to fly upfront in the last few years. For this flight, I was actually booked on Economy but by virtue of my complimentary ‘Gold’ preferred status with US Airways, I was given an upgrade for both my flight to Phoenix and the connecting flight to Salt Lake City.

Being seated in First Class is a privilege and sometimes you do get some interesting sightings of industry leaders and celebrities. While seated in First Class in an Asian airline means privacy and really lots of personal space, domestic First Class in a US-based airline normally means a packed cabin and it is unlikely you would get both window and aisle seat.

For my flight to Phoenix, I was seated on the window with a middle-aged gentleman on the aisle. As you may have know from my previous experience on this route, the route is a pretty scenic one that will bypass snow-capped mountains of Washington state and the canyons of Utah and Arizona. As such I was glad to relive that experience and was snapping photos during the flight. At this point, my seat-mate started a conversation with me with regards to the photos I took and it followed up to talking about what he was doing in Vancouver.

Turns out he manages a food branding and distribution network out of Arizona and was travelling with his children to Whistler for a skiing vacation. Anyway we discussed our work and was surprised when he asks me to send him my resume since I was indeed looking for a job. But that got me thinking that maybe a First Class flight can indeed turn out to be a networking opportunity.

In fact this was not the only time I experienced this. On another First Class flight out of Jakarta to Singapore, I was enjoying breakfast in the Singapore Airlines First Class lounge when a prominent Indonesian tycoon walked in. Another passenger seems to recognize him and granted they knew each other but for entrepreneurs or professionals, such chance meetings can start the way for other business opportunities.

It has to be mentioned though that the culture of flying premium classes might be slightly different in Asia where the cabin are usually much more empty. For example in that Singapore Airlines First Class flight, the cabin was relatively empty with no seat mate beside me at all so this might reduce the chance to speak over extended periods of time. Naturally the fact that most passengers in an airline lounge and an airplane are there doing nothing most of the time, many might try to make the time more productive by seeking networks or discussing business opportunities. This opens out the avenue for networking within the premium cabin environment.

There are some drawbacks though in trying to network in an airline lounge or in an airplane. That is the things you discuss might be out in the open and that person you are trying to network with might not be in the mood especially if he is on his way to a holiday (I probably would not be keen to discuss business on the way to the Maldives for example…). And sometimes you might not even meet someone interesting since passengers in the premium cabin can range from retirees on a golfing holiday to an expat housewife bringing 2 kids back home to visit their grandparents!

However this experience left me wondering that maybe there is some ‘value’ after all for sitting up front and for businesses to pay for their senior managers to fly in premium cabins. In today’s business, companies pay a premium to participate in meetings, exhibitions and conferences, so why not in an airplane cabin or lounge. Granted that the networking is not focused on any particular trade or opportunity, but as in life’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you may get!

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