Review of A week at the airport: a Heathrow diary

Author: Alain de Botton

Title: A week at the airport: a Heathrow diary


Despite all the developments in aviation and the convenience of being able to travel from one side of the world to the other, the usual traveller is probably not often inspired by airports. The buildings are usually very artificial, and the custom areas severe. Alain de Botton is not a usual traveller. He is a writer and a philosopher.  I’m often amused by those who can come up with big ideas when considering some very ordinary things. De Botton is certainly one of these people.

Starting with the first chapter; ‘Approach’, where De Botton devises the premise for the book after being given the opportunity by an airport owner to stay at the new Heathrow airport hotel for a week. De Botton, sets out his chapters as a traveller would move through an airport – from Departure to Airside to Arrival. He writes what he sees, what he thinks and philosophises on what it all means.  

Exploring ‘everyday’ experiences such as the fear of flying, dealing with security, receiving special treatment in Concorde Room – with ‘Leather chairs, marble bathrooms, a spa, a restaurant, a concierge, a manicurist and a hairdresser’, de Botton also covers the rare scenes that a traveller doesn’t usually see, such as preparing meals for eighty thousand or processing twelve thousand pieces of luggage.  And after the author provides his insight, the idea of airport no longer makes one feel irrelevant, temporary or harsh. After all, these stories – fear of death, sadness of departure, a need for self assuredness, frustration at being monitored and joy of reunion on arrival… all these airport experiences are essentially human experiences. The book has some interesting photographs to go with the stories; however one criticism is the size of the text which did make my eyes soar.

Overall though it is a thin, easy read… perfect for the airport.