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de Botton’s A Week at the Airport

In reviewing Edmund White’s The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, I mentioned in passing Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, which calls for a free spirit to wander around wherever a trip takes a traveler. He tells us how to approach our journeys and some useful tools on achieving a much more meaningful and rewarding experience—mainly not to see everything under a rationing of time.

With the imminent trip, I’m snapping into a travel mood. Spotted at the bookstore is yet another de Botton book: A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary. I love airports—where people of all stations in life, races, genders converge as transients under one roof. People on business. people on vacation. Honeymooners. Families with kids in tow. First-time flyers. Overpackers. Arrivals and departures. Comings and goings. We all spend longer than we would like waiting around in airports, spend more than we like eating bland or unhealthy fast food, but we rarely discover anything about our fellow travelers or those who work there.

In the summer of 2009, however, having accepted an invitation from British Airways to spend a week at its home, Terminal 5 of Heathrow, he is given unprecedented, unrestricted access to all the parts of the airport that travelers don’t generally see. So, along with the shopping areas and arrival and departure and baggage-claim areas, he wanders into the huge stations for airplane repairs, the vast storage areas for rejected samples for cabin paraphernalia, the behind-the-scene offices, and the massive food-preparation areas.

de Botton spoke with everyone from airline staff and senior executives to travellers passing through, and based on these conversations he produced this extraordinary account of life at an airport and what it says about modern existence. I thoroughly enjoy de Botton’s perceptive writing and his incisive and insightful look at the lifeblood of the airport. The book is funny, interesting and very engaging. He writes in a conversational tone as if he is thinking aloud. This is a book truly about an airport–nothing more, nothing less. It won’t tell you how to score an upgrade, but will give an insight to how the airport staff works to ensure smooth travel for all. I’m glad to have read it because I’ll transit at London Heathrow to Paris.

5 Responses

  1. I almost never mind a bit of a layover when I’m flying somewhere because airports offer some of the best people watching going. Everything from checking out what everybody’s reading while they’re waiting and wondering where everyone’s headed and why have always made airports a fun place to be for me. I’ve seen this book around, but haven’t managed to lay my hands on a copy yet. Sounds like a must read for me!

  2. Hmmm, interesting idea. I do love flying, though, I’m not a huge fan of the layovers and waiting about in airports, themselves. Maybe this will change my mind?

  3. I have de Botton’s The Art of Travel on my shelf and I will certainly be reading it before I embark on my next big trip! I really want to get a copy of A Week at the Airport at some point because it sounds like such a fun idea and I’m sure de Botton has tons of interesting insights and anecdotes to share!

  4. I’m always fascinated by the world of the airport. This book appeals to my sense of curiosity about what happens behind the scenes at the airport.

  5. I would love to see behind a major airport like this! It sounds fascinating.

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