The Guardian yesterday published five things Alain de Botton learned from spending a week in Heathrow‘s terminal 5. BAA hired the Swiss philosopher a month ago and granted him unlimited access to all areas in the terminal. Here is what he found:
1 A surprising number of people die at Heathrow every week: around two a terminal. The 20 minutes after you’ve got off the plane are especially hazardous to your constitution. Then again, given the tenderness that parting couples show one another at the barrier, the prospect of death en route can do wonders for any fractious relationship.
2 There’s a British Airways check-in employee at Terminal 5 who, if you manage to be especially rude to her, will pretend that her machine has suddenly designated you for an upgrade. Then, just as she observes your scowl turn into a deferential smile, she will take a second look at her screen, sigh empathetically and announce that sadly the system has mysterious changed its mind and there won’t be an upgrade after all. “That’s a lesson that normally lasts a lifetime,” she reckons.
3 It’s a good deal more interesting to study how an airline meal is made than to eat one. Every weekday at around 4am, a mile from Terminal 5, in an aluminium shed owned by Gate Gourmet, a woman called Leyla sets to work grilling the hundred lamb cutlets that will, a few hours later, face Emirates business-class passengers on EK008 to Dubai.
4 What spoils our experience of airports is that we tend to go there only to catch a flight. We’d be wiser to start going with a view to doing nothing other than have a look around, as people used to do in the 1960s – and which we will probably have to relearn to do, as we wake up to the extraordinary environmental impact of even the most advanced aeroplane engines.
5 To judge by the continuing success of airport-based company Caviar House, homo sapiens manifests a special proclivity for the creatures of the sea as it prepares to take to the skies. Our sea-based appetites perhaps result from a semiconscious desire to savour man’s triumph over both the oceans and the skies, the overworld and the underworld, this duality perfectly reconciled in a man who can in the same afternoon eat a dozen oysters and board a 747 to another continent.
Alain de Botton’s new book, “A Week at the Airport” is available here (Profile Books, £8.99). In addition, Passengers can get one of 10,000 exclusive copies distributed for free at Costa Coffee stores in all 5 London Heathrow terminals.
[Picture from the Guardian]