A week at the airport by Alain de Botton


In the summer of 2009, Alain de Botton will be invited by the owners of Heathrow airport to become their first ever Writer in Residence. He will be installed in the middle of Terminal 5 on a raised platform with a laptop connected to screens, enabling passengers to see what he is writing and to come and share their stories. He will meet travellers from around the world, and will be given unprecedented access to wander the airport and speak with everyone from window cleaners and baggage handlers to air traffic controllers and cabin crew. Working with the renowned documentary photographer Richard Baker, de Botton will produce an extraordinary meditation upon the nature of place, time, and our daily lives. He will explore the magical and the mundane, personal and collective experiences and the interactions of travellers and workers all over this familiar but mysterious site. Like all airports, Heathrow (the 15th century village of Heath Row lies beneath the short stay car park) is a ‘non-place’ that we by definition want to leave, but it also provides a window into many worlds – through the thousands of people it dispatches every day. "A Week at the Airport" is sure to delight de Botton’s large following, and anyone interested in the stories behind the way we live.

In a nutshell:

I read it in: English

I liked it:  x Yes       No

For people who like: Alain de Botton in general, philosophical chatter, airports, travel

My thoughts: 

I love airports. Every time I travel by plane – provided there are no kids with me –, I try to get connecting flights that are not so close that I would have to run from gate to gate without the possibility to spend some time at the airport. So the first sentence of “A week at the airport” struck a chord with me.

While punctuality lies at the heart of what we typically understand by a good trip, I have often longed for my plane to be delayed – so that I might be forced to spend a bit more time at the airport.

From the beginning to the end this was a pleasure to read. I have always been interested in everything travel related so this book was just right for me. Working in the hospitality industry myself I very much enjoyed reading the chapters about his stay at the Sofitel and the training of customer service staff especially. When Alain de Botton describes how beautiful the meals on a hotel menu sound, a beauty that surpasses that of any haiku of the masters; when he wonders about the “scribe” who comes up with those flowery descriptions; and when you then start to think about a colleague of yours who sits in his small chef’s office writing his menus for the day, you can’t help but chuckle.

My line of work has made me very receptive to passages like this one which is all too true:

Though one can inculcate competence, it is impossible to legislate for humanity. In other words, the airline’s survival depended upon qualities that the company itself could not produce or control, and was not even, strictly speaking, paying for. The real origins of these qualities lay not in training courses or employee benefits but, for example, in the loving atmosphere that had reigned a quarter of a century earlier in a house in Cheshire, where two parents had brought up  a future staff member with benevolence and humour – all so that today, without any thanks being given to those parents […] he would have both the will and the wherewithal to reassure an anxious student on her way to the gate to catch BA048 to Philadelphia.

Alain de Botton describes his week at the airport starting from departure to airside to arrivals in small chapters and paragraphs talking about this and that covering a lot of topics, none of them in depth but enough to make you wish to know more. As far as I am concerned the book could have been much much thicker. A mere 107 pages wasn’t nearly long enough. I would have liked to read on and on.

Location: Heathrow Airport, England, UK

heathrow1 heathrow2 heathrow3 heathrow4

All images from wikipedia

Product info and buy link :

Title A week at the airport
Author Alain de Botton
Publisher Vintage
ISBN 978-0307739674
I got this book from Birgit at The Book Garden as a RAK
Buy link Buy A Week at the Airport
More info Heathrow’s website
and more Alain de Botton’s website
and more 5 minutes with Alain de Botton interview


Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

3 Comments Write a comment

  1. You must be the first person I ever met who loves airports … personally I despise them as much as long-distance flights. Then again, I do go through this little private hell to be able to travel to far away places, and ultimately it is worth the pain for me.

    P.S.: Glad you liked the book 🙂 !


  2. 🙂 Well, I didn’t enjoy the book as much as you did, and I still prefer his other works, but it’s interesting to see someone appreciating airports that much 🙂 I always get all panicky when I am in one, worrying about my luggage being lost or delayed (but it has never happened to me, yet) then it is a crowded place and I don’t like it, plus it can look dangerous. My heart stopped when I arrived at Istanbul’s international airport and had to take a domestic flight to Antalya and there were dozens of armed soldiers everywhere…
    Ally’s last post ..How do yo like your eggs?


  3. Ah, come on, you two! Don’t you appreciate the buzzing atmosphere, all the travellers coming from everywhere and staying in the same place for a short period of time before they get scattered all over the world again? I find this fascinating!

    Birgit, remember, the journey is the reward!


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