“Alain de Botton, author of popular books including ‘How Proust Can Change Your Life’ and ‘The Art of Travel”’… in what apparently is both a literary and aeronautic first … is serving a one-week appointment as Heathrow’s ‘writer in residence.'” – New York Times
Dear Mr. de Botton:
Congratulations on your appointment as Heathrow/Terminal 5’s first writer in residence. Even though Heathrow’s owner, BAA, has granted you complete editorial freedom, as public relations professionals we would like to emphasize a few talking points to ensure a successful enterprise for everyone involved.
First, Terminal 5 is not actually underwater, despite the animation on the British Airways web page. The tropical fish, eagle rays and sea turtles gliding through an aquatic concourse are merely messaging, to emphasize the gliding ease with which passengers can get on their way “quickly and hassle-free.”
Reminding people that the terminal isn’t filled with water would prevent real public relations problems: the fear in the minds of non-swimming passengers, the anger and self-esteem issues if women think we’re comparing them to sea turtles … that sort of thing.
Worse, passengers could easily mistake Terminal 5’s wave-form roof or its aquatic-themed web page for the unlikely event of a water landing, and we definitely want to avoid any panic about whether or not their seat cushions will work as flotation devices.
Second, anything you could do to bolster the public’s image of the Terminal 5’s state-of-the-art baggage system would be a huge benefit. Entre nous, it seems like picking scabs to bring back those uncomfortable memories of 5,000 stranded and furious passengers, losing 28,000 pieces of luggage, canceling 500 flights, etc. etc.
We hired a writer instead of a historian because we want to go forward, not back—and we are going forward, the future inspiring winged prose and all that. (That phrase isn’t half bad, is it? Feel free to use it, giving credit where it’s due, of course.)
Speaking of phrasing, while extolling the Heathrow experience, please exercise restraint in your artistic impressions. You’re no doubt above Douglas Adams-type japes about how no language on Earth has ever produced the phrase “as pretty as an airport.” But it’s all too easy to craft a simile comparing passengers’ Waiting for Godot experience to the hot dogs eternally spinning on those metal rollers. Also, take it from us that it’s best to avoid attempting any description of luggage finally emerging from dark orifices and plopping onto conveyors.
Third, musings about Baudelaire and Nietzsche are all very comforting for when reading by the fire, but is there anything in the writings of those dead Euros that counter aviation’s current perception problem? Not just the passengers broiling on tarmacs in aluminum gulags, or the bovine indignity of being whisked like so much solid matter through the airstream. But also environmentalists’ gloomy reminders that a single jet jaunt to Hong Kong has a bigger carbon footprint than several African nations.
Perhaps you could wordsmith an astute philosophical observation to address this? Something like “There is no greater happiness than a ruddy-cheeked Englishwoman fresh from holidays in Mallorca who enjoyed one of BAA’s customary on-time arrivals” ought to do the trick.
Fourth, you will visit our unique mall experience and its added cachet of international travel, not to mention the great, wide tapestry of humanity who will come to relish it. We are particularly interested in the part of the tapestry eligible for our exclusive Concorde Room, with its bespoke furnishings, ensuite bathrooms and private cabanas. Is there any way you could sing the room’s praises without fomenting class hatred? That would be a real bonus.
Finally, remember that as an employee, after using the lavatory you must wash before returning to work.
The BAA communications team