Homeless in Heathrow

Posted: June 2nd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Brian | 2 Comments »

The airport is, arguably, the most important new architecture of the 20th Century. It exists as a non-place: a space of transit that the traveler doesn’t leave, removed from the context of its surroundings. For example, few people claim to have “been” to a place if they had only spent a few hours in its airport. This is probably why architects are so interested in designing airport terminals: they are fully immersive environments that hoards of people must sit in or pass through in a predictable way. At the same time, to borrow from Gertrude Stein, there is no “there” there.

London Heathrow, which has the highest amount of international air traffic in the world, is a quasi-public space for transitory people, experienced by many travelers as a layover between long, exhausting flights. Accordingly, it is a place where travelers- people who “belong” there- sleep on benches next to their luggage. Unlike any other public space that I can think of, sleeping in public is accepted, if not acceptable. Vagrancy is okay because it is only temporary.PhotobucketThis is where homeless people come in. According to the Daily Mail, there are over 100 homeless people who live in Heathrow, camouflaged as tourists. They pull around suitcases and wear suits or Hawaiian print shirts, hide behind newspapers so that security doesn’t recognize them. Some of them have lived in the airport for years. It’s kind of like the Tom Hanks movie Terminal.sleepiez
I remember imagining this phenomenon when I worked loading planes at BWI Airport. I took a nap on a bench after I got off a late-night shift and got in trouble for sleeping in my work uniform. With all of the homeless people living in downtown Baltimore, I wondered if any of them took the short ride on the light rail and slept in the air conditioned, quiet airport waiting rooms. Maybe no one really thinks of the airport as a destination besides its workers, or maybe BWI is just too small for this tactic to work.


2 Comments on “Homeless in Heathrow”

  1. 1 sukjong said at 12:02 pm on June 13th, 2008:

    ah you’ve begun the journey. which means many more transit space posts to come i hope (bus stations, train stations, ferry terminals…)

    thanks for posting on this- i’m still thinking about how smart this is (however driven by necessity): homeless person dressing like an itinerant tourist in order to crash the airport and inhabit it. and maybe in the US with all the canceled flights it gets more and more plausible. i hope the suitcases contain many amazing costume changes.

    my new summer strategy: dress like a glitzy tourist and crash 5-star hotel lobbies. not that i didn’t do that all last year in manila. new york: the next frontier.

  2. 2 11 « Secure Airports said at 11:59 pm on January 14th, 2010:

    […] “Homeless in Heathrow“ […]


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