Once upon a time, the airline map was divided up just like a political map: Germans had their Lufthansa, Brazilians their Varig, and every emerging postcolonial nation-state its own Cameroon Airlines or Biman Bangladesh to fly the new flag around the world. Only Americans, with our cacophony of private carriers, stood out. But today, the jet-age world is in disarray: Once emblems of nationalism, airlines have entered a Cold War between dueling global alliances. You might book a flight on Alitalia but board a jet bearing the logo of its SkyTeam partner Korean Air. Meanwhile, privatization has undercut the national identities formerly at the heart of air travel. Proudly Dutch KLM is owned by Air France; low-budget RyanAir, which happens to be based in Ireland, is vastly bigger than its officially Irish competitor Aer Lingus. And, inevitably, there have been casualties, notably Swissair, which bit the dust not long after Sept. 11. Michael Steiner’s Grounding tells the story of the doomed carrier’s last days, which play out like Downfall in an aircraft hangar. It may just be about an airline once known for its perfect on-time record, but it’s really about nation and identity in a globalized world.
The film shows at 6:30 p.m. at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW. $4–$7. goethe.de/washington. (202) 289-1200.