Backstage at Heathrow
When the Blizzard of 2010 shut down London’s Heathrow Airport during the Christmas rush, the resulting criticism caused the executive who runs the place to forego his annual bonus. But that storm has passed, and for frequent fliers who want to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at Terminal 5, one of Europe’s biggest passenger terminals, a recent paperback from Vintage Books is just the ticket.
The arrival any book by Alain de Botton is welcome in my library, so I was pleased to find A Week at the Airport shortly after the holidays. De Botton is the bestselling author of How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Architecture of Happiness, among other titles. He’s an elegant stylist and an original thinker, with a particular knack for interpreting the mundane predicaments of modern life in ways that illuminate their underlying meanings and their importance to the individual. One suspects, in fact, that he’s describing his own works when he tells a bookseller at the airport, “I was looking for the sort of books in which a genial voice expresses emotions that the reader has long felt but never before really understood; those that convey the secret, everyday things that society at large prefers to leave unsaid; those that make one feel somehow less alone and strange.”
A Week at the Airport is illustrated with a series of subtle, yet revealing, color photos by Richard Baker. Together, the writer and photographer expose both the public face of T5, which cost $7.6 billion and took nearly six years to build, and it’s backstage geography.
On the public side of the divide, we meet David, a middle-class dad who’s spent months planning an idyllic holiday in Greece with his wife and two small children, only to find that the 24 hours prior to liftoff have been rife with family squabbles, in which he recognizes his own complicity. “As David lifted a suitcase onto the conveyor belt, he came to an unexpected and troubling realization: that he was bringing himself with him on his holiday. Whatever the qualities of the Dimitra Residence,” adds de Botton, “they were going to be critically undermined by the fact that he would be in the villa as well.”Continued on the next page