A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton
A couple of things you should know about this book: firstly, it was paid for by BAA as a promotional tool, although de Botton was given free reign to say what he wanted. And, secondly, it was written over the course of just a few weeks, in between de Botton’s stint as Heathrow’s writer-in-residence in August and its publication in September. While these facts don’t do justice to de Botton’s elegant prose, his evident curiosity about the subject matter, and his gentle exhortations to notice beauty even in the drabbest of surrounds, they do explain why it’s so upbeat, so wordy, and so short.
De Botton admits that he often longs for his plane to be delayed so he can spend a few more hours in Departures. A week spent wandering around Heathrow, chatting to passengers and staff must have been heaven, then: he even rhapsodises about the unsurpassed poetry of the room-service menu. Most people, on the other hand, enjoy hanging around at airports about as much as they enjoy getting their teeth pulled, and reading about other people hanging around at airports isn’t much better – no matter how many references to ancient philosophers they throw in or how charming they insist Heathrow’s arrivals screens are.
Ten thousand free copies of A Week at the Airport have been handed out to Heathrow passengers, and it’s in this context the book is most likely to work, as an aid to lowering blood-pressure and looking at the place with fresh eyes. De Botton’s run-ins with priests, shoe-shiners and pilots provide a nice glimpse behind the scenes of a familiar facade, but don’t turn to the book for industry analysis, journalistic dirt-digging or flashy first-person writing: it’s as chipper and soothing as an air stewardess.