The bods at Heathrow Airport in London are reported to have hired author Alain de Botton as a writer-in-residence. The idea is to give de Botton unfettered access to the airport so that he can write about the modern experience of airport life. As de Botton says in the article, airports are a good microcosm of the global themes of human life (ok, I paraphrased a bit here).
However, de Botton will only have full access to Heathrow Airport for a week so perhaps the tag writer-in-residence is a little on the exagerated side. I guess that the term short-term publicist doesn’t have the same sort of public interest as writer-in-residence for those high brow types in London. But let’s wait and see what de Botton gets to the bottom of at Heathrow first before speculating any further as to the outcome of the exercise…
I suppose the bods at Heathrow Airport are hoping that de Botton can write something positive about the airport experience since it has continually underperformed passenger expectations. The opening of Terminal Five last year was a disaster. And when I travelled through Heathrow in 1986 on the day Terminal 4 opened, there was a baggage handlers strike and the best part of the Heathrow experience back then was leaving it!
Yet now in this modern age I am surprised that de Botton wouldn’t just blog or tweet about his airport experience. The fact that he has been contracted to write a book based on his one week tour of duty at Heathrow smells suspiciously like a publicity stunt to me. Moreover, the chap needs to be given more time – let’s say a writer-in-residence for three months. We all know that one week doesn’t make a summer!
So de Botton will write a book that will be published and all will be revealed then – hopefully including the answers to many a passenger problem at Europe’s busiest airport epicentre.
But speaking of answers, Heathrow Airport should just listen to the thousands of customers that use the airport each day if they really want to know what goes on in the airport and what people really think. Having a well-known author intermediate these airport experiences in the 21st century is no longer necessary – go straight to the source and get the information direct from the people using your services and respond accordingly. I am sure there would be plenty of narrative fragments (stories) that could be collected from customers and suppliers,and then aggregated to identify common patterns or themes that the airport owners would need to address.
That is, of course, if you’re really serious about understanding the true airport experience.