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Flirting on the fly

The modern-day traveler now seems comfortable having a haircut, a massage or a manicure at an airport. So why not a date?

“I’ll pick you up at eight. Gate eight.”

The modern-day traveler now seems comfortable having a haircut, a massage or a manicure at an airport. So why not a date?

I asked several single women what they thought of this idea, and most replied, “Why not?”  “In fact, given some of the guys I’ve been set up with,” one gal told me, “it would be good to know they’ve been screened for weapons at the security checkpoint.”

OK, so maybe the airport isn’t your idea of a romantic spot for a first date. But, as relationship expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz and AirTroductions founder Peter Shankman explained in a recent column, airports and airplanes offer unique opportunities for striking up conversations with  strangers that might lead to off-airport dates. You just need to be willing to take a chance.

And now, just as the holiday travel season is reaching its year-end frenzy, comes word of a survey evaluating the best and worst airports for flirting on the fly.

StrategyOne surveyed more than 800 people and evaluated the offerings at 37 airports on behalf of AXE (a brand of men’s grooming products) and Sperling’s Best Places. According to the survey, nearly one in ten adults “has gone out with or knows someone who has gone out with someone they met at the airport or during a flight.”

That sounds about right to me. I’ve overheard plenty of post-flight dates being made. I have friends who’ve dated men they’ve met on airplanes. I even know one woman who had a romantic date in Paris with a man she first spotted on the flight over and then again on the train into town.

Are these just unusual examples of the cosmic connections other people are making out on the road? Perhaps. But if you’re single and heading to the airport this time of year, it’s a good idea to dress smartly, mind your manners and keep the results of the AXE/Best Places survey in mind. Especially if you happen to be traveling to or through Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). Of the 37 airports evaluated for the survey, Philly’s topped the list as the best airport for singles to mingle.

Why PHL?  Well, it does have those comfortable rocking chairs scattered about, not to mention a great selection of permanent and temporary art exhibits, occasional live music and a wide variety of pleasant shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. There’s even an upscale hotel connected directly to the terminal.

But, according to the survey, it’s not just the amenities that make Philadelphia’s airport such a great place to meet people. The airport tops the list because of all the flight delays: 32 percent of all flights are delayed, and those delays average 60 minutes or more.

That also sounds right to me: while waiting out a creeping three-hour delay on my last trip through PHL, I noticed plenty of mixing and mingling going on in the gate area and at the two bars nearby. And even I ended up promising to pass the business cards of two eligible bachelors along to my single friends at home.

Not heading to Philadelphia’s airport anytime soon? Don’t worry. Other amenity-rich but delay-plagued airports near the top of the survey include Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR),  Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA).

Remember, any airport with a well-stocked bookstore, a sports bar, a wine bar or a gadget-filled gift shop offers plenty of opportunities for striking up a conversation that could lead ... who knows where?

And don’t think all the action has to take place on the ground. While there’s no sure-fire way of ensuring your seatmate is both single and scintillating, the folks at Sky Europe Airlines have figured out a way to increase the chances of making an in-flight connection.

Last June, the budget airline inaugurated its SkyDate program by inviting singles between the ages of 25 and 40 to speed-date their way between Brussels and Vienna. Since then, the airline has offered speed-dating on flights to Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Portugal.  Additional SkyDate flights are promised for next spring.

How does in-flight speed-dating work? “The rules are the classic speed-dating rules,” according to Yves Paneels, a public-relations advisor for the carrier. “Brief encounters of 5 minutes. No exchange of personal contact details during the SkyDate event. The matches are communicated by e-mail within three days after the event.”

For some, mixing flying with dating just seems like a frightening blend of two of life’s most stressful activities. But perhaps it’s the romantic multi-tasking wave of the future. Consider this: On the last SkyDate flight — which combined the speed-dating event with an overnight hotel stay and a guided city tour — three couples were formed by the end of the trip.