Airplane Mode: An Irreverent History of Travel (Hardcover)
December 2023 Indie Next List
“A thought provoking read about the origins of travel and how it intersects with class, race and colonialism. Habib interweaves her life experience with her own migration and travel. This is subtitled as irreverent — it’s anything but.”
— Audrey I-Wei Huang, Belmont Books, Belmont, MA
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals of Excellence
This witty personal and cultural history of travel from the perspective of a Third World-raised woman of color, Airplane Mode, asks: what does it mean to be a joyous traveler when we live in the ruins of colonialism, capitalism and climate change?
The conditions of travel have long been dictated by the color of passports and the color of skin.
The color of one’s skin and passport have long dictated the conditions of travel. For Shahnaz Habib, travel and travel writing have always been complicated pleasures. Habib threads the history of travel with her personal story as a child on family vacations in India, an adult curious about the world, and an immigrant for whom roundtrips are an annual fact of life. Tracing the power dynamics that underlie tourism, this insightful debut parses who gets to travel, and who gets to write about the experience.
Threaded through the book are inviting and playful analyses of obvious and not-so-obvious travel artifacts: passports, carousels, bougainvilleas, guidebooks, trains, the idea of wanderlust itself. Together, they tell a subversive history of travel as a Euro-American mode of consumerism—but as any traveler knows, travel is more than that. As an immigrant whose loved ones live across continents, Habib takes a deeply curious and joyful look at a troubled and beloved activity.
About the Author
SHAHNAZ HABIB is a writer and translator based in Brooklyn. She translates from her mother tongue, the south Indian language of Malayalam, and has translated two novels, Jasmine Days, winner of the 2018 JCB Prize, and Al Arabian Novel Factory. Airplane Mode is her first book.
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals of Excellence
Amazon, A Best Biographies & Memoirs of the Month
Debutiful, A Most Anticipated Book of 2023
"Now lands Airplane Mode, by Shahnaz Habib, a lively and, yes, wide-ranging book that interrogates some of the pastime’s conventions and most prominent chroniclers . . . Habib [is a] ruthlessly honest and funny observer." —Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times
"Should be required reading." —Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times
"The frequent fliers in your life are likely to be enlightened and entertained by United Nations consultant Habib’s witty look at travel and tourism." —Michael Schaub, The OC Register
"Insightful, funny, moving, politically astute . . . Habib’s book is rich and her narrative voice analytic, historically informed, and passionate . . . Habib compels us to engage in the politics of travel." —Nalini Iyer, International Examiner
"Thoughtful and thought-provoking . . . It’s both a welcome addition to the existing library of literature on travel and a resonant critique of much of it—and it may well leave you thinking more about your own experiences making your way across the globe." —Tobias Carroll, InsideHook
"Habib is great at establishing a sense of place and crafting damn good sentences." —Robyn Smith, Bust
"Airplane Mode can make anyone’s imagination take flight." —Caroline Leavitt, The Ethel (AARP)
"An enlightening and entertaining debut essay collection." —Lauren Kiniry, Smithsonian Magazine
"A memorable and unique travelogue that explores what it means to explore the world through the lens of colonialism, capitalism, and climate change." —Adam Vitcavage, Debutiful, A Most Anticipated Book of 2023
"Airplane Mode, brimming with curious travel facts filtered through Habib's witty, conversational style, is an insightful literary companion for explorers of all stripes." —Shahina Piyarali, Shelf Awareness
"With a perceptive eye and in fluid, intimate prose, Habib nimbly demonstrates how 'the more we dig into the history of modern tourism, the more the pickax hits the underground cable connection with colonialism.' Jet-setters will be captivated and challenged." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Habib’s analytical tour of travel’s history invites readers to engage more thoughtfully with their journeys and to consider who is and is not able to take part in these adventures." —Carla Jean Whitley, BookPage
"A timely reframing of what it means to travel." —Alan Moores, Booklist
"A wide-ranging, politically acute inquiry into the history of travel and tourism . . . Enlightening and entertaining." —Kirkus Reviews
"This work shows that militourism, colonialism, capitalism, and climate change shape how and where people travel. With a sharp wit, the book unearths travel truths with a humorous bent that delivers several laugh out loud moments . . . Fans of travel writing, history, and travel writing itself will find this quick read a delightful, eye-opening one that fuels more insatiable wanderlust." —Holly Hebert, Library Journal
"Shahnaz Habib has written a travel book like few others, weaving her strong opinions about tourism’s consumerism, environmental degradation and condescension into a memoir of her own travels. Alternately jolting and insightful, Airplane Mode raises many critical questions about how and why we travel." —Elizabeth Becker, author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism
"I read Airplane Mode while traveling for work and was thrilled to find it reignited my love for travel memoirs. In interweaving the personal and political stakes of traveling as a migrant, Habib gives us an urgently needed reimagining of the genre." —Jessica J. Lee, author of Two Trees Make a Forest
"Airplane Mode is a captivating and comprehensive history of travel. Part cultural study and part personal account, it engages with the troubling legacy of colonialism and the particular experiences of brown and Black people traveling. I know of no other book like it, a thrilling read that feels like a whole education in the history of why and how bodies moved across this not-so-lonely planet." —Kazim Ali, author of Northern Light
"Nuanced and thought-provoking, Airplane Mode is an exemplary piece of work that asks important questions about our current concept of 'travel writing.' Shahnaz Habib expertly blends personal anecdotes with external research to interrogate typically romanticized ideas of travel and immigration, and how our personal definitions of those subjects change depending on, amongst other factors, the passports we are born holding. I will be recommending this book to anyone I know who's ever set foot on a plane, in another country, or has dreamt of a life of 'traveling'—so essentially, everybody." —Pyae Moe Thet War, author of You've Changed
"Shahnaz Habib’s Airplane Mode incisively explores, and exposes, the assumptions and prejudices that underpin so much of documentary and travel writing. This elegantly written, erudite collection acts not only as a much-needed corrective but as an exemplar of what the travel essay can truly accomplish." —Hasanthika Sirisena, author of Dark Tourist
"A fascinating, wide-ranging and insightful travelogue that poses some of the biggest questions of all: who gets to travel and what is it that makes us so keen to travel in the first place?" —Annabel Abbs, author of Windswept