Nathan Heller’s New Yorker piece, “Air Head,” combines the writer’s personal experiences with overall societal insights to produce a memorable, insightful, and elegant piece. In his article, Heller articulates a central problem, evidence, and argument to frame the article’s structure. The central problem, as defined by Heller, is the increasingly obsolete nature of the American flight industry. While other countries, such as China and India, are currently experiencing the boons of the air travel, Heller points out that America’s glory days for flight are long past: “India, the United Arab Emirates, and China have great eras coming, bigger and more majestic than T.W.A. in 1964” (Heller 10).

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Throughout his piece, Heller cites evidence to support the existence of this problem, such as the increasingly ponderous security restrictions in place since 9/11, the fact that American air travel has largely remained technologically stagnant since the middle of the 20th century, and the way that digital communication and technology have supplanted the physical need to actually travel to foreign destinations: “When physical travel cedes to digital exploration, a certain style of discovery falls away” (Heller 10). This latter insight forms Heller’s main argument as well, since the entire piece is framed by the idea of America’s changing social consciousness, how newer generations are finding the advantages of the internet and digital technology to be more alluring than the desire to physically travel to exotic destinations.

Heller concludes with a brilliant and poetic section about the early-morning sights he encountered along the Mediterranean in Nice, a view that, despite all the travails he encountered to get there (including air strikes and cancelled flights), was worth it all and could not have been gained from a smartphone: “I was watching something people were not supposed to see: the world undressing itself” (Heller 12). Heller’s argument comes from a space of nostalgia for what he sees as a dying industry and a distinct way of life, i.e., the iterant flight junkie, that may well become a thing of the past.

  • Heller, Nathan. “Air Head.” The New Yorker. 1 Feb. 2016.