Why we travel

Airports, Alain de Botton argues, are the imaginative centres of our civilisation. He spends a week at one and writes a fascinating account.
A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton.
A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton.

A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton is a short, fascinating read. Published by Profile Books, the book documents De Botton’s reflections as he spends a week as “writer-in-residence” at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5.

An unprecedented brief, De Botton takes the opportunity to not only reflect on travel as a central condition for modern life, but also to reveal the behind-the-scenes workings of what we take for granted in the airport experience. Of airport food, for instance, he comments that “it is a good deal more interesting to find out how an airline meal is made than how it tastes.”

Writing with his idiosyncratic observation of detail and empathy for the human condition, A Week at the Airport is an unusual book, the type of which one wishes there were more. As De Botton comments near the end, “I dreamt of other possible residencies in intuitions central to modern life – banks, nuclear power stations, governments, old people’s homes – and of a kind of writing that could report on the world while still remaining irresponsible, subjective and a bit peculiar.”