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Delta’s brand new Innovation Class poses a (theoretically) interesting question:

“What if you could turn a 3-hour flight into a mentoring program at 35,000 feet?”

With the idea in mind that normally busy airplane passengers who are seated next to one another have a rare opportunity to make a meaningful connection, Delta has recently begun to invite mentors (leaders and up-and-comers in a variety of industries) to take a compensated flight to a special event they were already planning to attend, and leaving the seat beside them unfilled. Mentees (innovators in either that mentor’s field or a related field) who want a chance to connect with the mentor are invited to apply for that empty seat by  allowing Delta’s mentee selection committee to access the info on their LinkedIn account.

Here’s a video that spells out the Delta Innovation Class concept:

In order to see which mentors will be in the air and vie for a seat, a potential mentee has to visit the Delta Innovation Class website. Upcoming flights will be listed with a travel date, destination, event, and a link to the mentor’s bio; a potential mentee has to click the blue “Apply For This Flight” button on that listing.

Listing for the next Delta Innovation flight, on May 5th
Listing for the next Delta Innovation flight, on May 5th

The mentee will then be asked to provide the login info for their LinkedIn account (or have the opportunity to create one). Once this step is completed, you’re in the running, and within a few minutes you’ll receive an e-mailed confirmation of your application. You’ll get another email if you’re shortlisted, then another if you’re chosen for the empty airline seat.

Provide your login info to your LinkedIn account, and you've applied
Provide Delta Innovation Class with the login to your LinkedIn account, and you’ve applied

Winning mentees are given a stipend, a free flight, a ticket/entrance to the same event the mentee is attending, and a compensated hotel stay. For example, the mentee who wins the May 5th flight with Charleston, South Carolina chef/restaurateur Sean Brock, a semi-finalist for this year’s coveted James Beard Award, will be given a  $5,000 check as a stipend for participating, the flight for free, a ticket to the James Beard Awards, and a 2-night hotel stay in New York City. (Mentees are responsible for all applicable federal, state, and local taxes.)

The only future Delta Innovation flight mentioned (with, as yet, no exact date or mentor)  is to San Francisco TechCrunch Disrupt, which will take place September 8-10, 2014. Potential mentees are invited to submit their email for announcement of this and other future Delta Innovation flights.

Potential mentees can submit their email address for future flight updates
Potential mentees can submit their email for flight updates

On the site, you can also sign up to be a mentor, or suggest others to be a mentor. It’ll be interesting to see who applies to be a mentor in the future – if anyone.

Originally I thought this was going to be a large scale promotion rolled out to help people in a ton of industries and not compensate them, but simply allow people to network. Though it is pretty clear that this is a big PR thing for Delta to position themselves as the airline for innovators and industry leaders. Still, the winners get a bunch of free cash and great networking, so I see this as a win-win for all involved.

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Curious to see your answers!

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