Alain de Botton: A Week at the Airport


For one week, writer Alain de Botton worked from his desk in the middle of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, and wrote a book about it, called A Week at the Airport.

He wrote an outstanding essay about his experience -- and the effect of architecture and interior design on one's mental well-being -- at Herman Miller's Lifework site.

For most passengers, I was simply a terminal employee and therefore a useful source of information on finding the customs desk or the cash machine. Those who realised my role found it more appropriate to consider the desk as an opportunity for confessions. I was approached by a man embarking on what he wryly termed the holiday of a lifetime to Bali with his wife, who was months away from succumbing to incurable brain cancer. She rested nearby, in a specially constructed wheel chair laden with complicated breathing apparatus. She was 49 and had been entirely healthy until April, when she had gone to work on a Monday morning complaining of a slight headache. Another man explained that he had been visiting his family in London, but that he had another one in Los Angeles who were ignorant of the first. He had five children and two mothers-in-law but his face bore none of the strains of his itinerary.
Ideal Live/Work Space: Alain de Botton


  1. This is the part of the article that fascinated me:

    “I was invited to the airport to be a Writer in Residence (and later wrote a book about the experience, A Week at the Airport).”

    Writer in Residence? At Heathrow? I was wondering how the heck he got permission for this, and/or how he enjoyed the daily detainment, cavity searches, and taserings from airport security.

    1. I admire Alain de Botton. How he dealt with these challenges puzzles me. He must have applied his ability to take his time and enjoy 29 line sentences that he discusses in How Proust Can Change Your Life.

  2. I’ve just read a couple of books by Alain de Botton and he’s a really fantastic writer. In particular, his book “The Art of Travel” is really phenomenal. I would highly recommend picking up that book. He has a way of writing out his thoughts that are at once insightful, interesting, non-pretentious, and eloquent. I can’t wait to pick up this book.

  3. I’m really tired of gimmick books. I think de Botton is a good writer, and enjoyed what I’ve read from him, but it seems that every other nonfiction book now has to be about some stunt that the writer did and What It Means About Modern Life.

  4. The part about the airport was mildly interesting, but his project where he’s trying to make contemporary residential architecture more accessible by renting them out for vacations is an excellent idea.

  5. I enjoyed a couple of Alain de Botton’s other books, and would like to check this out, though there is a moderate risk of it turning out to be fluff.

  6. This looks cool. Status Anxiety is one of my all time favorite books. (At least the first half, I found the second half about art and philosophy to be kind of boring.)

  7. I’m surprised Alain is allowed in airports and isn’t featured highly on no-fly lists. He did after all, confess to murdering his wife (with a rare silver salt cellar if I recall) whereupon he packed her into his luggage and flew to Switzerland to dispose of the body. He then returned to Italy with a carton of non-duty paid cigarettes.

    If this doesn’t define the kind of person the TSA should be preventing from travelling I can’t imagine who does?

  8. An interesting premise. I haven’t read the book but am going to. Writers are, after all, people watchers and what better place to observe all manner of folks? I have always been fascinated by the people watching opportunities in places like Las Vegas. Where else can you see portly tourists from the midwest (complete with black socks and shorts) followed by a bride in full regalia trailed by a centurion in full armor? In addition to people watching, the author tells some of their stories.

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