As part of its “Artists on the Fly” program, Southwest is hosting readings on some of its flights. Eric Greitens, author of the new release Resilience: Hard-won wisdom for living a better life, is the first to promote his book in the in-flight program which has received mixed review.
Alluding to the fearsome experience air travel has become in the post-9/11 age of Germanwings, Slate Senior Editor Jonathan L. Fischer noted that he and his wife sighed after Greitens announced over the intercom that he had a “surprise” for passengers. “I’m generally of the opinion that there are no good surprises on an airplane.” Los Angeles Times Book Critic David Ulin described the airline’s reading series as a “fresh hell” that only exacerbates the general feeling of being “trapped… hurtling through the sky in a metal tube at 600 miles per hour”.
Their critiques duly noted, with tweaking, “Artists on the Fly” could offer writers a fresh and welcome opportunity to engage with readers.
Instead of couching it as a surprise, it should be presented as a perk to those who want it, with those who opt for it sitting in a special roped-off section so passengers who want nothing to do with it don’t have to deal. There should be flights specially designated for the readings so customers always know to choose or avoid it, and they should be promoted with an angle that makes sense, e.g. Edan Lepucki reading from her bestseller California on a flight to/from L.A., or Hillary Clinton doing a reading and Q&A on a flight to D.C. The airline could also offer discounts to attendees of writers conferences like the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, Harlem Book Fair, Brooklyn Book Festival, or L.A. Times Festival of Books and host in-flight author readings.
Kind of like Starbucks’ well-intentioned but poorly thought-out and poorly executed #RaceTogether campaign, Southwest has something here. They just need to figure out how to make it a welcome add-on to the in-flight experience.