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Love in the air: how to pick up on a plane

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At cruising altitude, as the seatbelt sign switches off and fellow passengers start reaching for a good book, their iPod or a trusty laptop, Kevin D. is reaching out to them. In friendship, initially. But three times so far, it's turned into something more.

"It's not like I'm going to try to pick up women on a plane; I just happen to be around planes quite a bit," says the 44-year-old Los Angeles native, an international development aid consultant who lives and works now in Kenya (and doesn't want to give his last name). "Where else am I going to meet somebody?"

Kevin D. once dated his seatmate, whom he got to know after their flight to Washington, D.C., was stranded on the tarmac during a snowstorm. Another girlfriend: a flight attendant returning from a vacation in Thailand. And a simple "So, where are you headed?" directed to an attractive stranger at a snack counter in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol a few years ago was all it took to unbridle a day of meaningful conversations in the terminal, capped by a spicy make-out session at the gate.

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As easy as Kevin D. makes it seem, though, frequent fliers who live out of suitcases and eat alone in hotel bars complain often that their solitary, transient lifestyle makes it harder to date, let alone nurture a relationship. But experts agree that the consultant's carpe diem approach is ideal for finding love in the air.

"There are two types of people: the ones who take advantage of every opportunity to meet somebody and others who go on automatic pilot as soon as they board," says P.J. Osgood, a franchise owner with It's Just Lunch, which sets up drink dates for busy professionals worldwide.

During a flight, introduce yourself to seatmates instead of pulling out the in-flight magazine. Pre-select a middle seat if you can, to guarantee a potential date on either side. Carry gum, since raunchy breath isn't attractive, and keep a handy supply of business cards as a neutral way to give out your number, Ms. Osgood advises.

And after touching down, consider sharing a ride into town - it's a tip the matchmaker herself tested six months ago in Chicago, when she was approached in the taxi line by a guy who ended up inviting her to a couple of "very nice" dinners.

Many of Ms. Osgood's clients are requesting dates in every city they fly to. But Patty Shapiro, founder of Dating a la Carte in Montreal, thinks it's more genuine to date monogamously, in one city at a time: "When you see somebody once a month in another city, it's all about the sex," says Ms. Shapiro, a self-described old-fashioned matchmaker, who is also a corporate headhunter. "You're going to get right down to it because time is so precious."

New data this month from the British pollster Skyscanner seem to support suspicions that sex is still the most sought-after airborne encounter. Twenty-one per cent of 400 respondents said they've already joined the Mile High Club, often with a stranger they met on a flight. And 94 per cent were keen to join - especially with someone other than their romantic partner. A naughty 6 per cent fantasized exclusively about the cabin crew.

To maximize compatibility and weed out daters who aren't interested in a serious relationship, frequent fliers should consider mates who share their jet-setting ways, and steer conversation toward finding out if both are "on the same level, morally, socially, financially, religiously - every aspect," Ms. Shapiro says.

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Weather delays, technical problems with a plane or a missed connection are all effective icebreakers. In Clio Sinclair's case, it was something even more banal: Flying from the Netherlands to London several years ago, her seatmate asked if she liked the book she was reading. So began their eight-month courtship, which ended when Ms. Sinclair, 26, a British and Dutch dual national, moved to The Hague.

Another highly effective manoeuvre to get small talk going, Kevin D. says, is paying a compliment to someone you're interested in. If the advance is met with awkward silence - or you're not keen on someone else who is putting on the moves - there's always the legitimate excuse of having a plane to catch.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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