Books: 20th Century Waiting Rooms

AIRPORT by Arthur Hailey. 440 pages. Doubleday. $5.95.

Rebecca West once observed that "the railroad stations are the cathedrals of America." She was referring to the architecture—and romance—of another era, and it seems unlikely that she would accord the same accolade to that waiting room of the mid-20th century, the nervous, noisy jetport. For travelers in a hurry, it is all too often a place for enforced contemplation, while airlines catch up with their weather-beaten schedules. Novelist Hailey gives airports his familiar Hotel treatment, and the result may permanently ground all his readers.

In the space of a single night at the mythical...