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A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary    by Alain de Botton order for
Week at the Airport
by Alain de Botton
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2010 (2010)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Since he is an unabashed airport aficionado, Alain de Botton jumped at the opportunity to be the writer in residence at one of the busiest airports in the world. The British Airports Authority created the post to allow de Botton to spend a week at its newest passenger hub, Terminal 5 at Heathrow.

During the week, the writer was given access to every aspect of the airport's operation, and the result is this behind-the-scenes look at the busy flight facility. From the luggage conveyor system and airport hotel to the kitchens of the flight caterer and the aircraft maintenance hanger, de Botton roams wherever he wishes. His unvarnished impressions and wry observations are the substance of this entertaining book.

Sharing his conversations with travelers, pilots, baggage handlers, the terminal chaplain, and a host of other individuals (coupled with his observations on what is unfolding) allows de Botton to create a unique narrative where factual descriptions of how things work flow into more philosophical comments on the nature of travel.

As he explains in the book's first chapter, de Botton was given explicit persmission to be rude about the airport's activities. And, although he doesn't engage in airport bashing, he is candid and honest in the appraisal of what he comes across. For example, when he is talking about how airline meals are prepared, we get this little acerbic comment 'It is a good deal more interesting to find out how an airline meal is made than how it tastes a good deal more troubling.'

The short book is divided into four sections (Approach, Departures, Airside and Arrivals) and Richard Baker's color photos accompany the text.

Those familiar with the author's previous books know he often gets caught up in his own prose. Describing a walkway being moved into position so the passengers can disembark from a jumbo 747 jet, de Botton writes that the mobile walkway 'rolled forward and closed its rubber mouth in a hesitant kiss over the front left-hand door.'

Would I pay $15 for this book? Certainly! And, if I had time to kill waiting at an airport because my flight was delayed, this might possibly improve the dark thoughts about air travel that would be clouding my mind!

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