There’s something appealing about chatting online with another human sitting in the same enclosed space, breathing the same recycled air. In most situations, where strangers are gathered together, there’s really no reason to start a conversation, and even if you do, there’s always the risk that they might never stop talking to you. Chat rooms are nice because you can just log off or mute them if things go bad.

In many ways, an airplane is a perfect place for a chat room. There’s really no need to have one in the air, but the idea makes sense for a few reasons…

Worldbuilding

I like flying because it can make you feel like the whole world is far away, which is pretty much true. The airplane creates a small cramped microworld made up of 185 other humans. The onboard chat app is literally based on this real-world situation. What if more chat apps were built around existing conditions in this way. I think that this is partly why group chats are so appealing. They are often based on real-world constraints or preexisting relations. For example, a chat room that only includes the members of a house or a group of friends on a trip together. Group chats are often linked to these microworlds.

Intimacy

When Twitter first launched, I remember friends telling me that they didn’t know how/didn’t want to have to broadcast their personality to the world. Chat apps were an alternative to this. They brought intimacy back to social media. What I like about the idea of an in-flight chat system, is that it’s a bunch of strangers sitting in the same space talking online. It would be hard for anyone to get 185 of their followers on social media to all get together in the real world/online in this way.

There’s also not a lot to do on a plane. You could watch a movie, read a book, work, or you could chat with a complete stranger. In a lot of cases, I think I would opt for the chat room. The idea is so strange and the proximity so disorientating that it’s kind of compelling. You are chatting with another human in an enclosed bubble at 30,000 feet. What would you even talk about? The weather? The clouds outside?

Accountability

In the plane’s in-flight chat world, there’s some accountability based on your seat number without revealing your real name. This is important because privacy and responsibility are more or less intact. It’s hard to think of a platform that offers both of these things on the ground.


The potential of intimate chat systems tied to the real world is exciting. I’d love to see more chat apps directly tied to some real-world space, event, activity… microworlds existing both online and off.

I’ll leave you with a few conversation starters if you ever get stuck on an airplane with a chat room:

Hello fellow travelers, what are your final destinations?

Did you see that big cloud out the right window?

How many miles do you have?

What’s in the plane's water? Pretty good stuff. Maybe it's the altitude?

What’s your favorite flying beverage?

Any plans after this flight. Another flight?

What’s your favorite airport?

What do you think of this chat room? Do you use chat apps regularly?

I typed this on a flight from SEA to OGG…