United Airlines' Writers-in-Flight Program Canceled

J. Simon Karl

United Airlines, which has experienced numerous publicity setbacks in recent months that necessitated a series of public apologies, has now canceled its troubled Writers-in-Flight residency program. Launched two years ago, the project was dropped due to what the company termed "unforeseeable circumstances."

The five writers currently in the program "are in transit" and "accounted for," UA said in a statement, though details of their exact whereabouts were not immediately available. According to social media, several of the writers are in hiding on United planes, fearful of being dragged off.

Writers-in-Flight was inspired by similar programs in recent years, including the Amtrak Residencies as well as writers-in-residence at airport terminals, most notably Alain de Botton's 2009 stint at Terminal 5 in London's Heathrow Airport, which was chronicled in A Week at the Airport.

Unlike those efforts, however, Writers-in-Flight has been beset by challenges from the start, with participants occasionally stranded for days at airports nationwide (and, in at least two cases, internationally); repeatedly bumped from overbooked flights; and, in recent months, having articles about their less-than-thrilling airborne experiences rejected by Hemispheres, UA's in-flight magazine. One writer who had been living in the United Club at Philadelphia International Airport for a week was forcibly evicted by authorities earlier this year.

Last Thursday, mystery author J. Simon Karl broke his NDA by live-tweeting a serialized serial killer story-in-progress from a UA plane stranded for nearly five hours on the runway at O'Hare. UA subsequently issued an apology for Karl's use of passengers' real names and photos in his otherwise fictional portrayal of the serial killer murdering fellow passengers in a crowded plane stuck for hours on an airport runway. --Robert Gray

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