Initially called 'The Surly Bonds of Earth', Arthur Hailey's one-word title, 'Airport' was 1968 biggest selling novel. "I think every writer has one good book in him," Arthur stated, "I think 'Airport' was mine." After reading 'Airport', John Barkham of 'The Victoria Advocate' acknowledged, "No question about it – this novel has the magic words 'best seller' written all over it. And if you're already a Hailey Fan, you will know that there’s a specific additional bonus you can expect from him, and this, too, is present in full measure. That bonus is insider's information of a type you're not likely to find anywhere else, the product of prodigious research."
Published by Doubleday & Company Inc., the 440-page book (price $5.95 in 1968) was made into the highest-grossing film of 1970 (earning $40 million). Producer Ross Hunter told 'The Times-News, Hendersonville, North Carolina' in 1975, "I wanted to make a movie of Arthur Hailey's book because I've always been curious of what goes on behind the scenes at an airport. What and who are the people who work there. I felt, with the increased air travel these days (in 1975), the public would also share my curiosity."
At the time, 'Airport' was ranked the 3rd most profitable movie in motion picture history after 'Gone With The Wind' and 'Sound of Music'. Ross recalled, "The thought of hiring a dozen big stars was mind-boggling but that uphill slope toward realization of this enormous production seemed a little less steep when I was able to bring George Seaton to our team as writer-director." The 3-hour blockbuster picture was also said to be the highest-grossing film in Universal's history (until that time) after 'Spartacus' (1960; earning $22 million).
Arthur Hailey made the comment in 1968, "I'm 48 now. If I can do 4 more (books, at one book every 3 years), I’ll be 60 then. And I doubt I'd want to work much after that." When Arthur Hailey died in 2004, he had written 11 books, published in 40 countries, translated in 38 languages and with 170 million copies in print. Born in 1920, Arthur Hailey emigrated from England to Canada in 1947. Dick Kleiner of 'Newspaper Enterprise Association' reported in 1968, "World War II broadened his horizons – he was an RAF pilot – and, afterwards, he suddenly decided there was no future in England and left for Canada."
Set in the fictional Lincoln International Airport, in Illinois - Chicago's O'Hare Field equivalent - Borden Deal of the 'Herald Tribune' added, "Friends who have been intimately associated with present-day commercial aviation tell me that the book is completely authentic in background and detail." The big-budget movie began filming in 1969 around the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
John Barkham continued, "When you've read 'Airport' you'll know what goes on behind those doors marked 'Airline Personnel Only.' It's fascinating stuff. Hailey doesn’t just throw his nuggets at you. He works them into his plot at appropriate places and lets you stumble on them without warning. We are taken into every department, meet flying and ground crews, passengers and counter personnel. Each person's job is described, and the various sub-plots are laid out for us."
Borden Deal believed, "The documentary novel is an important element in American fiction and, with the increasing interest in non-fiction, it is becoming perhaps more ubiquitous than ever. I think it is a valid and effective form for, quoting from the essay called 'Writing The Documentary Novel' (published in the September 1968 issue of 'The Writer'): 'The emotional truth is more nearly the real truth than bare unadorned fact, and this is true especially in the documentary novel. The novelist wishes to present not an event but a feeling about an event.'
"I would recommend 'Airport' highly for those readers who enjoy this sort of documentary writing in fictional form. Arthur Hailey is certainly one of the leading practitioners of the documentary novel at the present time (in 1968). He really takes the reader behind the scenes; in addition to the documented picture of an airport in operation, we're told about the inside facets of airport life. The book, on balance, an excellent novel. Certainly anyone who has flown our commercial airlines will learn much information, while discovering a great deal of enjoyment and recognition in this documentary novel about the separate world of those who keep our planes flying."
Miles A. Smith of 'The Evening News' made the observation, "As in 'Hotel', Hailey is writing on 2 levels. The reader gets flurry after flurry of fast action in the narrative. He also gets a lively picture of what goes on behind the scenes in a major enterprise – the real inside color. It makes a popular combination." In 1973, Universal Studios sold the TV rights of 'Airport' to ABC for $5 million. Ross Hunter recounted, "I think television will create a little more intimate feeling. I think the feeling for the story may hit harder on the small screen than in a big theater. Everyone has seen the movie so many times, it will be interesting to see how many people watch it again.
"I've heard from people who say they are going to make a party of it. Have the kids over and not be afraid of what they see. The motion picture business is in for a revival. I think people are demanding more selective entertainment. As a result, the studios are stressing quality rather than quantity. They're measuring films to see what they offer people. 'Airport' came along at a time when most pictures were caught up in the 'Easy Rider' syndrome. It’s a picture about nice people."
Ross Hunter told Harold Heffernan of 'North American Newspaper Alliance' in 1970, "I must admit that George Seaton who wrote the film treatment and directed, and I were anxious to learn how he (Arthur Hailey) would sit through the screening we had arranged for him in New York. But we had no reason to be concerned. We got an immediate wire reading: 'Congratulations. I am proud to have my name on such a fine motion picture.' Unlike so many authors, Arthur Hailey is not drawing a percentage of the gross or the net from the picture. We paid him a flat $450,000 for the story. This is a lot of money, but still nothing to compare with what he would total had he been in on the theater take."