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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary
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on 30 October 2009
Customers who buy Alain de Botton's books always know they are in for a thought provoking read, so this book was no exception, Its not just about airports per se but a book about life, people and how we choose to live. I thought the stories from behind the scenes were fascinating. The only fault is the actual book, its a poor quality paper back, the cover split from the rest of the book on first opening the book. Fans would much prefer a small neat hardback.
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on 14 August 2010
After not being very engaged in the last 2 books of Alain de Botton's I have read, I was quickly reminded of why I love his writing and his observations in this far-too-short-for-me [I could've read more and more...:] book.

As Heathrow's first-ever writer-in-residence, from his desk in Terminal 5, as well as his wanderings around the airport, de Botton takes us on a journey, physical and mentally, into the airport and what it, and travel, says about us. As someone to whom airports have an attraction [partially the fact, as de Botton writes, that it feels as if any exotic destination is within reach:] I was constantly engaged and entertained by his keen observations and analysis on subjects ranging from why we travel to our often-felt disappointment with holidays to the farewelling and greeting of travellers to the staff who keep things running, and much, much else. This is truly a most wondrous examination and one that re-introduced to me the wonder of one aspect of modern society that I often take for granted and do not stop to consider.

If this appeals I'd also highly recommend his book The Art of Travel; I saw the DVD in an ABC store the other day and snatched it up -- I was unaware there had been a series: looking forward to watching it.
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on 22 March 2011
This compact book is an interesting insight into goings on at Terminal 5. Alain de Botton was appointed to be the Writer-in-Residence of BAA (the owners of Heathrow Airport) and was asked to write about what goes on at Heathrow. de Botton only agreed to do this if what he found could not be censored or controlled by BAA themselves. He needed free reign.

De Botton looks at a variety of areas of the airport and focuses both on operational things as well as the people who work at and/or use the airport.

So why only 3 stars? Several reasons - the book was too short - I was left unsatisfied, wanting more. As an airport lover, I also found that there wasn't enough about the airport itself for my interest. Comparing it to the admittedly fictional book "Air Babylon", I thought Air Babylon was much more entertaining.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 December 2009
This is my first experience of Alain de Botton's writing and after devouring this book in less than 2 hours (partly due to it's brevity and partly because I enjoyed it so much) I'll be looking to read more of his work.

I'm probably a little unusual in that I love airports and attempt to arrive much earlier than is really necessary so I can get airside as soon as possible and begin to immerse myself in the world of the terminal. I've never been to terminal 5 but the world that de Botton describes could be any large airport terminal; it feels very familiar.

I loved 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 meets a variety of people and captures their essence in a few short words; impressive observational writing. The photographs by Richard Baker make the book and it wouldn't be as good or feel as complete without them.

This little book is thoroughly enjoyable for the high quality writing and high quality photography. It's one of my favourite books read this year and I'll be getting The Art of Travel soon!
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on 14 January 2014
Perhaps poignantly after just returning from a long and splendid transatlantic Christmastime holiday, and getting back into routine in the return to work, I finished Alain de Botton's book, A Week at the Airport.

A Week at the Airport is a short and compact book ("Slender enough to pack in your carry-on", Daily Mail). It can be considered an addendum of sorts of his previous book, The Art of Travel (from which one learns that de Botton is a home bird, really; see my separate review).

I've always liked Alain de Botton's use of illustrations and imagery interspersed with his narratives. In this case, Richard Baker adds wonderful value with his insightful photographs.

A Week at the Airport is just that -- the chief executive of BAA granted the author unrestricted access throughout the world's busiest airport, Heathrow.

"In such lack of constraints, I felt myself to be benefitting from a tradition wherein the wealthy merchant enters into a relationship with an artist fully prepared for him to behave like an outlaw; he does not expect good manners, he knows and is half delighted by the idea that the favoured baboon will smash his crockery."

Thankfully de Botton does behave himself and doesn't offend the airport staff, or perhaps more importantly, the security folk at the Border Agency.

The book is divided into four sections, reflecting the main dimensions of our airport experience -- Approach, Departures, Airside and Arrivals.

I like de Botton's philosophical insights into the otherwise mundane, or at least those aspects of daily life that we usually don't think twice about.

For example, airport hotels. Even with their poetic menus, which de Botton does his best to elevate, an airport hotel is functionary; unlike their countryside siblings, you don't select an airport hotel for its environmental surroundings.

Though there's no harm in trying to appeal to aesthetic beauty. Terminal 5 "wanted to have a go" at replicating the experience of arriving at Jerusalem's elaborate Jaffa Gate, to welcome those who have travelled great distances to the promise and prospect of a new country.

But baggage retrieval and finding your car in the parking lot (or silent taxi transfer) quickly erases such euphoria.

de Botton's strength is inserting the human condition in every aspect of life. Lest you think he doesn't really recommend airport travel, de Botton is an unfailing romantic (and thankfully so). When he describes our human encounters -- in this case with hotel staff, fellow passengers, border control agents, and those we're departing and reuniting with -- de Botton evokes the universality of our existence. At least those of us who have ever experienced airports.
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VINE VOICEon 20 February 2011
I read this little book with great pleasure. Absolutely unpretentious in its aim and content, Alain de Botton very candidly relates his week spent at the terminal 5 Heathrow as 'writer in residence'. Inevitably, A de B. being bent on 'philosophying', it becomes a little more than just trite observations. Meditating on the nature of airports and their transit functions, it is also an occasion to reflect on travels, life and aspirations. I particularly enjoyed Alain's encounter with the various people working at the airport from cleaner to director, and his gentle spying on travellers...It reads quickly but is substantial enough to give you some good food for thoughts, it is lively, engaging and way more interesting than its premise might lead you to believe... Anyone who has travelled and used airports will know the subtle fascination these springboards to adventures possess and will relish finding that someone has spent some time trying to decipher the odd attraction...
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on 26 December 2009
Firstly, it was very kind of Alain to dedicate this book personally to me. Thanks Alain! :-)

I review this as someone who's spent nearly 25 years working at airports and flown 1200 times. So, I'm biased, but I loved this book because:

1. de Botton made me stop and think about airport and travel scenarious that I'd never considered before e.g. the children's toys in the Immigration Detention Interview Room, or that moment when you open the door for Hotel Room Service naked except for that ubiquitous white 5* dressing gown.

2. It's short yet perfectly concise. No sentence is uninteresting - Jan Morris' words and so true, I re-read the whole book after completing an initial read.

Flying soon?
Buy this book now and enjoy observing the Airports you pass through from a completely new perspective.
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on 3 January 2010
I liked this book. It is the third book on Heathrow in my possession. The other two are the Airlife guide to Heathow, essentially a photo-guide to the great place and Jeremy Spake's delightful and homely "Jeremy's Airport", based on his time during the BBC docu-drama "The Airport". It is also my first De Botton book. The author is a philosopher / writer who seems particularly interested in the philosophy of travel. The author was invited to spend a week as "writer in residence" in the new Terminal 5 building during the summer of 2009. The book may be something of a surprise to those who normally buy books about airports / aircraft. We are taken on a journey from arrivals to departures to airside and finally to arrivals. On the way we meet staff and travellers, and learn something of their story. Amongst the people in the book is Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways. Rather than discussing the problems with BA at the time of writing, the author and Mr Walsh discuss aircraft, and this is fantastic. Mr De Botton deserves credit for this. There are plenty of reflections - some sad, some funny, but one does learn something of the operation of one of the World's most well-known airports.

The photography in the book is good. A photograph on each page enhances the text and gives a good rendering of Terminal 5 life. All in all it is a very decent book, although a tad expensive (the reason why I gave it 4 rather than 5 stars). It should please airport / transport buffs, and is interesting enough for the general reader. I will certainly look to read more of Mr De Botton's work.
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on 29 September 2009
Alain de Botton has been on my list of `authors I should read but haven't quite found the moment'. I hate flying, and airports, but as I have a forthcoming trip via Terminal Five this was obviously the right opportunity. I really enjoyed it, especially the way some passengers seem to have used the author's desk (he set up camp in the terminal during a week as `writer in residence') as a kind of confessional, and the personal stories of the anonymous members of staff you see at the checkin or in security. (There's a cleaner who's also an opera singer) Even the head of BA Willy Walsh who you would expect to come across as rather corporate turns out to be a rather appealing nerdy type. Definitely worth a read. The pics are good too.
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on 14 September 2013

What a disappointment. As someone who is fascinated with the sub-culture of airports, I wanted this book to deliver so so much more than it did. I wanted it to resemble something like the old 'Airport' or 'Airline' shows on BBC / ITV, now on endless repeats on a Freeview channel. I wanted to hear about funny incidents that happened like delusional people trying to smuggle a monkey onto a plane or a list of weird items confiscated by customs.

Sometimes he mentions things but does not go into enough detail. For example one way in which the book was lacking is the fact that the author talks about doing a walk of the runaway in the middle of the night to check for debris and yet we do not get told if he found anything and if so, what.

The book was mainly a description of the terminal and although beautifully done, wasn't really informative as it's something we can all notice for ourselves when visiting Terminal 5 (well, maybe not the Concorde lounge but a girl can dream right?!).

I suggest Mr de Botton goes back to Heathrow and lives there for a month or two so he can get us the juicy stories we want and do a sequel to this book.
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