Romance at 30,000 feet: AirDates wants to be your inflight dating app

Why let a flight get in the way of your dating efforts?

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
4 min read

Would you look for love on your next flight?


I exist today because one day in October 1983, my parents did something I try to avoid: talk to strangers on airplanes.

They sat next to each other on an hourlong flight from Dallas to Houston, and soon began bonding over a conversation about their lives and their backgrounds.

When they landed, there was a taxi strike, so my dad ended up giving my mom a ride. Little did he know how much his life would change.

Wise, settled people have a common refrain for their anxious single friends: These things happen when you least expect it.

So I figure, hey, I'm sitting in the Louisville airport on a Sunday morning, flying to the TechCrunch Disrupt tech conference in San Francisco. I might as well dispense with the romance, wistfulness and class of it all and see what's out there.

I fire up the App Store and download AirDates, an app that wants to be the only inflight dating app. I've got 2,000 miles and two more airports to go. Let's see what happens.

Looking for life's co-pilot

AirDates launched its "public beta" last year and has about 10,000 users, so my prospects might be slim to begin with.

You set up a profile using a Facebook account, tell it what types of people you like and then you're on the prowl. The app has a map that looks like a radar that shows who's around. If other users are actually on your flight, you can chat without Wi-Fi as long as they're within 230 feet (basically the length of most aircraft, though a first-class/coach pairing gets challenging on especially large planes).

Five minutes in, I already have so many questions, like: What rules of etiquette govern how you approach a potential beau in seat 22C? Do you walk over to someone and say, "Hi, this is random, but would you mind switching seats with me? I just met the guy you're sitting next to on an airline dating app and I'd like to chat with him for a bit."

Or, if you've chatted for long enough in-app, do you take the plunge and tell the other person you're in seat 6E? "Stop by. I've got an extra drink coupon, if you're interested."

Also, how do I specify I'm not interested in manspreaders?

As I sit at the gate for my first flight, I notice there are four potential AirDates around me. I keep looking around thinking how I'm privy to their secret desire for a little more than a window seat.

Almost immediately, I recognize one of them from the baggage-check line. He has the absurd hair of a Christian rock musician from the early 2000s. Then I realize he may have a wife, as I watch him round the corner with a blonde woman and wedding band. Not my jam, buddy.

I shoot him a disapproving stare and put my phone in my back pocket.

Welcome to San Francisco

Making my way across the country, I keep checking AirDates. There's a smattering of folks in the Denver airport and a promising herd on arrival in San Francisco (this is tech land, after all). Sadly, none of them were on my flights.

As I oscillate between curious and disappointed, I keep thinking about how I'm surrounded by all these nondigital, naturally occurring pockets of small talk between strangers, families or friends. You know, in the real world.

It's pretty easy to scan the airport and eventually lock eyes with someone, offering a come-hither look and a stale joke about the TSA. Or peanuts.

If small talk happens so easily, why would anyone want to use AirDates?

CEO Michael Richards tells me on the floor at TechCrunch Disrupt that he got the idea while he was traveling a lot himself during a break from work.

"I was using a lot of Tinder and all that, but never in flight," Richards said. "It was a pity losing so much time inflight."

People are intrigued enough by the idea of a chance meeting, he said. Throw in anonymity, ephemerality and the fact people meet in airports in movies and television all the time, and AirDates is born. After all, George Clooney kinda sorta found love in 2009's "Up in the Air."

Richards is not going to guarantee you my parents' blissful 32 years of marriage, a charming daughter and an emotionally unavailable cat, though.

"We're much more party than wedding," he says coyly. Maybe I judged rockstar hair guy too harshly.

Now, AirDates isn't the only airport- and travel-centric social or dating app. With Skycheckin, you -- that's right -- check into flights and talk with others who have done the same. Or there's Miss Travel, which aims to help you find a travel companion.

And on the topic of companions, you don't have to be in a dating mood to use AirDates. You can also just use the app to meet up with other travelers on a friendly basis, Richards says. Suuuuure.

There are more features in the works, he adds. Soon you'll be able to share Spotify songs, Instagram photos and Pinterest pins. He's also working on a version for Android.

As for my return trip, maybe I'll just stick with my headphones and a nap.