How Airplanes Transformed the World

Once an invention becomes integrated into daily life, we tend to take it for granted. How often do we give a second thought to the miracles of electricity, telephones, or television, or even the relatively new internet?

Living in the Age of Airplanes, a superb documentary from National Geographic and director Brian J. Terwilliger, argues persuasively that flight is perhaps the most transformative technological miracle that we now underappreciate. We complain about waits in airports and bad food in flight, yet we can be virtually anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours—a fact that would have been the stuff of ­science fiction mere decades ago. At any given moment, a quarter of a million people are in the air; and every day brings another 100,000 takeoffs and landings.

“Since we were all born into a world with airplanes,” says Terwilliger, “it’s hard to imagine that [widespread commercial] jet travel itself is only [about] 60 years old, just a tick on the timeline of human history. But our perception of crossing continents and oceans at 500 miles an hour has turned from fascination to frustration. I want to reignite people’s wonder for one of the most extraordinary aspects of the modern world.”

Terwilliger—whose previous films include One Six Right, a documentary about Southern California’s Van Nuys Airport—achieves that goal in Living in the Age of Airplanes. The movie, which was filmed in 18 countries and on all seven continents, features fascinating narration by Harrison Ford and stunning videography. And it shows how profoundly air travel has changed our lives, our perspectives, and our planet. Though the high-definition feature runs only about 45 minutes, the Blu-ray adds nearly an hour of noteworthy bonus content.