The story of Flight refers to historical events in the relations between Native Americans and European Americans. These vary from the ambiguous mention of a time or place to a specific Indian reservation. The author did not always refer to real events, but sets up parallels that point to historical events.
The character of Hank Storm is an FBI agent in the 1970s, who becomes involved at the Red River reservation, where there is tension between Native Americans who want to embrace traditional ways and FBI agents. Historically there was a major conflict and stand-off between agents of the U.S. Government and Lakota at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The American Indian Movement (AIM) was an activist group at the time, encouraging Native Americans to draw strength from their own traditions, and emphasizing their rights and sovereignty.
Next Zits is transported back to the day of the Battle of Little Big Horn. This historical battle marked one of the last of the Indian wars, and the one in which Native Americans inflicted the highest rate of casualties against U.S. forces. The armed engagement lasted from June 25–26 of 1876 and was an overwhelming victory for Lakota and Northern Cheyenne fighters led by Sitting Bull; General Custer led his men to utter defeat.
Zits enters another volatile situation with Gus, a nineteenth-century Indian tracker. In the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the westward expansion of pioneers created a powder keg in the form of crowded Native American tribes and nervous white settlers. This erupted in a series of battles and massacres in numerous states. Flight refers to a retaliatory massacre on the Colorado River. This could refer to the Sand Creek massacre conducted by US forces. It caused outrage and disgust among white Easterners. After Sand Creek, military- sanctioned retaliatory massacres declined and eventually stopped.
Flight also refers to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the first on United States soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941. Members of Al-Qaeda highjacked four planes on suicide attacks, driving them into major buildings, and killing thousands of Americans. As a result of the attack, many Americans became more fearful and suspicious of Muslims. When Zits entered the body of the pilot, Jimmy, he recollects Jimmy's memories of his Muslim friend Abbad. Abbad shares that he suspected Jimmy feared him as a possible terrorist when he expressed interest in learning to fly. He also mentions employers who rejected him prior to Jimmy, because he was Muslim. Jimmy's worst fears, mostly unspoken, are realized when Abbad crashes his plane into a Chicago building.
Ethnic and racial tensions and relations are a central element to Flight.