As international corporate travel continues to evolve, one thing stays constant: the need to fly. Enduring a long-haul flight with a poky bathroom is as much a part of business travel as deciding what shoes to pack.
Most travellers see flying as a necessary, but unpleasant experience. In fact, 66.6% of international passengers say it’s their biggest source of travel stress.
Others, however, see a 15-hour flight as 15 hours of opportunity.
For example, those in the tech world know Lufthansa Flight 455 from San Francisco to India as the ‘Bangalore Express’ - a 22-hour networking festival where salesmen and CEOs trade cards and clients.
Some say the best business deals are made on the golf course, but with masterful in-flight networking strategies, better business deals can be made in the air.
Below we outline in-flight networking best practices so you can cement profitable business relationships before even reaching the ground.
In-Flight Wi-Fi is Changing the Game
In February 2016, Qantas announced it would introduce free in-flight Wi-Fi on domestic flights, at speeds fast enough to stream movies, live sports and television shows.
A few months after Qantas’ announcement, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti also assured passengers that domestic and international flights would have in-flight Wi-Fi by mid-2017. Virgin America passengers have been enjoying the service since 2009, so for Australian corporate travellers it’s a welcome (if not delayed) addition to the in-flight experience.
It’s also an addition that takes the art of in-flight networking to new heights. While there have been well-documented security concerns surrounding in-flight Wi-Fi services in the US, the technology offers a lot to corporate travellers who see the merit of incorporating online portfolios, case studies and social media into their in-flight networking pitch.
The traditional mid-flight business card can serve you well, however research suggests that 88% of business cards handed out are thrown away in less than a week. Instantly connecting on social media will give you a better chance of staying front-of-mind.
To bring credibility to your claims of success, nothing beats a well-designed online case study delivered with expertise.
In-Flight Etiquette: Networking Dos and Don’ts
Corporate travellers who try to network in the air have to tread a fine line between being engaging and being annoying. Remember, flying is the most significant source of travel stress, so not every business passenger will be open to conversation.
In-flight networking is, predictably, most prevalent in business class cabins. However, travellers in economy seats can also engage in worthwhile networking conversations. Dutch carrier KLM even offers a ‘Meet & Seat’ program whereby travellers connect their seat number to their social networks, opening the door for other passengers to approach a networking interaction.
Likewise, Delta’s ‘Innovation Class’ campaign in 2014 aimed to sit ordinary business travellers next to high-profile business leaders on the plane.
But how should flyers approach a networking conversation mid flight?
The same general rules of effective networking that apply at conferences and social events can be adapted for in the air:
in-Flight Networking Do's
1. Have a pre-prepared introduction that engages the passenger and incites meaningful conversation.
2. Make it easy for the passenger to stay connected with you should they like to re-engage on land.
3. Stimulate interest by asking about their role, their reason for travel and what they hope to achieve on their journey.
4. Provide value in the form of links to relevant articles or white papers that they would enjoy reading on the plane.
However, there are a few unique challenges that in-flight networkers face:
In-Flight Networking Dont's
1. Interrupt if they are otherwise engaged, especially if wearing headphones or have their eyes closed.
2. Inconvenience other passengers by speaking too loudly, crowding the aisle or leaning over them.
3. Continue conversation if they aren’t engaged. If they offer defensive or abrupt replies, you can assume they aren’t interested in speaking.
4. Be overbearing with your business card. Offer your card only when appropriate, to allow them to connect when on land.
Flying in economy cabins can still present networking opportunities, through initiatives like KLM’s ‘Meet & Seat’ program, however the more spacious and private business cabins are far better suited to in-flight networking conversations.
Travel managers who see the comfort and networking benefits of business class seats can locate savings opportunities in other areas of the itinerary, by using an effective travel management platform.
Is your business spending too much on corporate travel? Calculate your potential savings using our Travel Savings Calculator below: