2009-12-24

Would you like to spend a week at the airport?

If BA crew were allowed to go on strike as planned during Christmas, tens of thousands of passengers would have to spend days at the airport, stranded. Just like those at the Eurostar terminals. What a nightmare!

Surely, there is another, much more pleasant, way to spend a week at the airport. How about BAA, Heathrow's owner, appointing (and paying) you as writer-in-residence, promising you unlimited access to all areas of the gigantic complex? All you have to do is to write a book about the experience. You are promised total editorial freedom to write whatever you like (though BAA is planning to give thousands of copies of the book to terminal users). How about that?

Well, BAA approached Alain de Botton, and he agreed to do it. He spent a week at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in mid-August 2009 and the book A Week At The Airport - A Heathrow Diary came out in September.

Is this a sell-out? Has de Botton reached "de botton" as a writer by accepting this commercial deal? Well, if you are open and frank about it from the beginning, instead of doing a "Fay Wheldon", I don't see what the fuss is all about.

But I do have an issue with the quality of the literary outcome of this commercial deal. I am disappointed as a reader. De Botton may have never "written a dull sentence in his life", but A Week at the Airport, though very slim at just over 100 pages, lacks structure (I guess that's why he calls it a diary) and purpose (very few people want to read other's rambling diaries). I don't doubt that de Botton genuinely enjoyed his week-long stay at Heathrow. But I am quite sure that given his talent, he would have written a much better book had he given (or been given) more time to digest the experience.

The Guardian regards the book "as perky as an air stewardess", and I think this is a fair comment, provided that the air stewardesss in question is a BA employee.

Judge for yourself.


- Heathrow airport hires Alain de Botton - Philosophical author begins work as airport's writer-in-residence (The Guardian, 09-8-18)
- A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton - Alain de Botton's airport diary is as perky as an air stewardess, says Jessica Holland (The Guardian, 09-10-4)
- Are Writers Selling Out to Marketers? Alain de Botton’s “Heathrow Diary” (Design Mind, 09-9-27)
- A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary, by Alain de Botton (City of Sound, 09-10-24)
- alaindebotton.com: A Week at the Airport