Decolonizing the Sky: Global Air Travel at the End of Empire

Abstract: Drawing on a range of case studies from the French and British empires, this article argues that the expansion of global air travel in the second half of the twentieth century was intimately bound up with the decolonization process. These intersections crystallized mid-century as an increasingly diverse group of travelers took to the skies, forcing colonial authorities to reckon with ongoing segregation on the ground. After independence, air travel and tourism offered new states an opportunity to craft national identities and forge transnational solidarities. In certain instances, however, efforts to expand these industries reinforced economic dependence on their former colonizers. Racism, too, continued to shape the experiences of tourists from recently sovereign nations as they made their way through the world using transportation networks that remained deeply embedded in imperial structures.

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