Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton

Lowdown: Musings invoked during a week at Heathrow.
I would have a hard time answering you what my dream job is, but I can easily tell you which of the jobs I actually had was my favorite. Working at an airline has its perks, like the occasional free flight or the ability to quickly catch a plane for an exotic weekend , but there is more to it. There is something truly special when giant 747s park closer to your office window than your car is; something magical about working at a place where you know each takeoff, spaced only minutes from its predecessor, requires the effort of hundreds and some $100,000; something enchanting when you pass by a passenger jet taken apart for maintenance on your way to lunch; and something emotional when, on a daily basis, you witness the automatic doors taking in people who just departed from loved ones and other doors opening up so that families can reunite.
I miss working for an airline. In many ways I am annoyed with myself for ever leaving, a quality I seem to share with others who have had an airline job in their past.
My love affair with the world of civil aviation meant I could not step aside upon learning that pop philosopher Alain de Botton, famous for his multiple R-Ward wins (here and here), has released a book about his experience being locked at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 for a week. Upon hearing of this book I ordered its Kindle version, and given its short length (estimated at about 100 normal paperback pages according to my private reckoning) I started reading it at once. There is a mighty advantage to reading short books: you can get into all sorts of many different worlds at the same time a lengthier book would take you to just one. A Week at the Airport does even better by incorporating the brilliant photos of Richard Baker (de Botton’s regular partner in crime, it seems) into the plot: even on the Kindle’s screen, limited to 16 shades of gray, these photos look great.
The story behind this short book seems almost trivial. Commissioned to do so by British Airways, de Botton dutifully spent five days at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 without ever stepping out to the big wide world, and wrote about his experience. To his credit, de Botton visits everything the airport has to offer: departures/arrivals, the parking lot, maintenance facilities, management, security, shops, an airport hotel (where he also slept), and even the first class lounge. More credit goes to him never kissing British Airways ass: wherever he goes, de Botton tells us what is on his philosopher’s mind in a manner very similar to his previous book – The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. If anything, you can regard a Week at the Airport as a direct sequel to its predecessor with a focus on having a head up the clouds.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I like de Botton’s writing in general and I find myself repeatedly illuminated by his insight. In those short hundred or so pages de Botton manages to capture not only a lot of what takes place at the airport but also a lot of what takes place in society as a whole, contemporary one in particular. By looking at the extremes of the airport environment de Botton takes us apart to find what makes us tick.
Overall: Exciting, interesting, often illuminating – and short. Highly recommended at 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Richard Baker said...

Thanks for that mention Moshe.

I haven't actually seen a copy of any of our books on a Kindle or any other electronic reader so am somewhat encouraged that it/they look ok - always a worry when you send files off into the big publishing unknown!

Best wishes,
Richard Baker.

Richard Baker said...

Thanks for the recognition of my pictures in the Heathrow book! I have still to see any photography of mine on a Kindle, let alone another digital book. Rgds, Richard Baker,