First published on 21 Mar 2012. Updated on 22 Mar 2012.
Were you approached by [Heathrow Airport owners] BAA about doing the book because of your interest in workspaces and architecture? They put out a general word among literary agents in the UK saying that they were looking for someone to write about life at the airport, and my agent said, "I'm sure you won't be interested in this, but I'll mention it anyway." And I said, "No, I'm completely interested in this!" I've had a longstanding interest in airports and I've written about them at different times, but I've always found access to them incredibly hard. Airports, especially these days, are just not places you can linger. What made this project immediately appealing was that there seemed to be a chance to get good access to the whole place.
Interesting in what way? They're interesting partially because of the technology that is on display there. We get told that we live in the 'modern world' and that the 'modern world' is all about speed and interconnection, but those things can just sound like weird abstractions until you come to the airport and you think, "Oh yes, the world really is modern." Many of us still live in houses and on streets that were laid out in the 19th century, and a lot of life goes on in physical environments that are not recognisably modern; whereas airports really are about as contemporaneous as you can get. They're places that immediately forget their histories; they're absolutely rooted in the here-and-now.
You describe people in the airport almost treating your desk like a confessional... People were very, very keen to tell me their stories. There were a lot of members of staff that wanted to tell me their grievances, you know, that people didn't understand them or that passengers were rude to them or whatever. And usually passengers just wanted to share where they were off to. I think because airports are such anonymous places, and many people are travelling alone, they can breed in some people a desire to speak to people, even strangers. People have got very complicated love lives. You realise there are people travelling to meet mistresses and second families and all kinds of arrangements that are not in the normal imagination of things. And also, generally, airports are places where there isn't a forum for discussion. There are bars and things, but generally people don't talk to one another. And here I was with a badge around my neck that said, "Come and talk to me if you want to," so people did.
There are some points in the book where I wasn't entirely sure if you were discovering the poetry of the mundane, or just taking the piss. [laughs] The whole airport; it does have an undertone of comedy sometimes. One minute it's all very grand and amazing, beautiful machines, it's all very sophisticated, and then it's brought right down to earth. You're just thinking about how great it is, and then you see how the meals are made... Generally, I hope it comes across as warm humour rather than nasty. Andrew P Street
A Week at the Airport is out now through Allen & Unwin.