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Airport dating: Love at first flight?

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By Eoghan Macguire

(CNN) — When a delayed flight left Steve Pasternack stranded at Miami Airport in early 2011, he settled into his departure lounge seat and cast a curious eye across his fellow passengers.

“I noticed a lot of people at the bar looking for something to do,” he says, “and I thought it’d be great if I could get them to meet each other.”

A web entrepreneur by trade, Pasternack resolved to create Meetattheairport.com — a dating website that enables travelers to connect at the departure gate.

Since launching in May 2011 the platform has attracted roughly 20,000 members worldwide, he claims.

The concept works by prompting users to enter their personal interests, flight details and departure airport before matching them up with individuals with similar interests and travel arrangements.

So far the keenest uptake has been in the United States, Mexico and Germany, although Pasternack says members have joined from all over the world.

“What better time to meet somebody new than when you’re sitting in an airport?” he asks.

“This person could be a travel companion [or] they could be from the place you’re going. It could turn into a friendship, a romance, it could work out for business, many things.”

Although somewhat of a pioneer in this field, Pasternack is not alone in exploring the possibility of transforming airports into social meeting places.

Vantaa Airport in Helsinki, Finland, recently considered the possibility of introducing an airport speed-dating service.

According to Rachel Greenwald, dating strategist and author of the book “Have Him at Hello,” these ideas are a natural progression of the popular niche-dating-site concept.

Since first coming to prominence in the mid-90s, online dating has exploded in popularity, becoming increasingly specialized in the last five years or so, Greenwald says.

A report from web-business industry body Subscription Site Insider found that more than 25 million people registered for online dating sites globally in April 2011 alone.

“[There are now] dating sites for wine lovers, tall people … there’s also another which connects people on their book tastes,” Greenwald explains.

“[Many] young professionals in their 20s and 30s are constantly traveling as they build their careers,” she says. “They simply don’t have time to date when they’re at home, so this [airport dating] could be very efficient.”

But while curious as to how the concept develops, Greenwald cautions that ideas like airport dating will likely be inhibited by the same factors that limit online dating.

This includes their impersonal nature and the idea that pairing individuals with similar interests is all it takes to make a good match, rather than personal chemistry between two people, she says.

There is also the degree of blind trust required to accept that the person on the other end of an email chain really is who they say they are.

While recognizing this risk, Pasternack argues there are few safer places to personalize a blossoming online relationship than in the tightly policed environs of an airport.

Greenwald agrees, although she points out that Meetattheairport may still struggle to compete with other modern dating platforms — such as group dinner dates or theater trips — which provide earlier face-to-face meetings.

“Airport dating still isn’t solving the underlying problem of online dating, which is that it can’t predict chemistry,” she says.

Until sites can master this concept, airport daters will be choosing who they meet on “two-dimensional impressions based on a photo and some words … rather than three-dimensional personal chemistry.”

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