The hectic vacation season for London's Heathrow airport just got a little busier as it welcomed its first "writer in residence."
As part of a marketing campaign for the airport, Alain de Botton, a world-renowned author whose books include "The Art of Travel," has taken up a week-long residence in Heathrow's Terminal 5. During his stay -- which includes housing at the adjacent Sofitel London Heathrow -- de Botton will have access to the whole airport.
After his unusual stay, de Botton writing a 20,000-word book entitled "A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary". The book will be published in September by Profile Books and will be distributed free to 10,000 passengers as they pass through the airport, and after that it will be available on Amazon.com.
De Botton is currently stationed behind a desk in the check-in hall where his writing is being shown on a plasma screen behind him. Travelers, staff and anyone else who is intrigued can read the work as it is typed. While at his desk, he is frequently visited by curious tourists and airport staff more than happy to share their travel stories and anecdotes.
In addition to these interactions, while researching for the week de Botton will have unprecedented access to all other areas of the airport. He has so far visited Gate Gourmet to learn about how the meals are prepared, and he will also visit the runway once flights stop for the day, the control tower and baggage claim. He'll have access to senior officials from British Airways, including CEO Willie Walsh, whom he is meeting today.
With all this going on around him while trying to focus on his writing, de Botton stays busy all day and is only briefly able to answer a reporter's questions while others came up to share stories and watch him work.
Despite hopes that de Botton's work would debunk or confirm rumors about the airport, he has said that he is "not looking for scoops but novelistic details." That goal disappointed many who had hoped to learn the truth behind the press the infamous terminal has received, particularly after Terminal 5's disastrous March 2008 opening, which included troubled by baggage delays, canceled flights and even a suspension of check-in.
"A City of Specialists"
De Botton reportedly jumped at the chance to be Heathrow's "writer-in-residence," beating out many others interested in the opportunity, because he had "always been fascinated by airports," describing them as "a city of specialists, everyone is utterly specialized in one thing. For example, Gate Gourmet is only concerned about hygiene."
Skeptics have claimed that the work won't be an authentic take on the airport. Heathrow is paying his expenses and has already paid him an advance for the book. But some critics have been silenced by the news that the airport won't see the text before it arrives at the publisher.
Cat Jordan, a spokeswoman for Heathrow, told ABC News that the airport will be "security checking elements" but that they wouldn't have access to anything else. She went on to explain that the idea behind the stunt "originated from the [public relations] agency"
Heathrow is "trying to demonstrate to passengers that they have improved, which goes along with the new slogan 'Heathrow: Every Journey Better,'" Jordan said.
Though this is Heathrow's first writer-in-residence, other famous landmarks, including London's Science Museum and universities, have also welcomed famed authors.
The efforts behind the book are unique, but de Botton doesn't have any intention of making it into a series. For the time being he is simply describing the experience as "exciting."