Few would disagree that traveling by plane is now a chore. Sure you might have a few brief moments of wonder as you view the earth from 30,000 feet up. But oh the travails of getting to that window seat: checking in, passing through security, struggling with your luggage all while putting up with your fellow travelers. Truly, the airport is one modern-day environment that most of us would like to avoid.
What a surprise then, that the author Alain de Botton willingly spent a whole week at London’s Heathrow airport and lived to tell the tale. The book that resulted, A Week at the Airport, is a unique and surprisingly insightful read. Seemingly mimicking the short attention spans we have in such places, the book is a slim volume with engaging photos. It could easily be consumed while waiting for the next flight out.
Hired by British Airways to be an “artist in residence” de Botton was provided with a desk on the terminal floor, lodging at the airport hotel and carte blanche to write whatever he wanted. The observations he makes, while definitely quirky and humorous, are primarily his attempts to apply philosophy to everyday living. After observing a man having a screaming fit at the ticket counter he states:
I was reminded of the Roman philosopher Seneca’s treatise On Anger, written for the benefit of the Emperor Nero, and in particular of its thesis that the root cause of anger is hope. We are angry because we are overly optimistic, insufficiently prepared for the frustrations endemic to existence. A man who screams every time he loses his keys or is turned away at an airport is evincing a touching but recklessly naive belief in a world in which keys never go astray and our travel plans are invariably assured.
Whether you agree with the author’s conclusions or not, A Week at the Airport offers a unique perspective on an often frustrating place.