Airplane!? What is it? It's a big white thing with wings, but that's not important right now.Airplane!
is a comedic remake of an old disaster film, Zero Hour
(itself based on the TV movie Flight Into Danger
, where Ted Striker (Stryker in Zero Hour), an ex-military pilot, has to get over his personal traumas to pilot a commercial plane after the crew is stricken by food poisoning, and reconcile with his estranged girlfriend at the same time. Hilarity Ensues
. Take that basic plot, and have a silly joke every three seconds. In fact, that is partly what makes the film work: if a joke falls flat, move on to the next one
. Of course, further analysis of the jokes will just hurt the humor of it all
. Just see the film for yourself. Along the way, it singlehandedly destroyed
the Disaster Movie
as a serious genre for over a decade.
It was followed by a sequel called Airplane II: The Sequel
in 1982, which didn't have any involvement from ZAZ.
Surely, these aren't examples:
examples, and don't call us Shirley!
- Arson Murder And Life Saving: In one of the many non-joke lines taken directly from Zero Hour and played straight, Rex Kramer tells Stryker at the end that "that was probably the worst landing in the history of this airport" before offering to buy him a drink and shake his hand.
- Artistic License – Military: Ted Striker says that he was in the Air Force, but the flashback in the Drambuie bar has him wearing a US Navy dress uniform. Of course, had he been wearing the dark blue USAF dress uniform, the subsequent Saturday Night Fever joke wouldn't have worked. He later shows up in an Army hospital, although that could've been justified if he was in WWII, in which he would've been part of the US Army Air Corps, but he's too youngnote , and they didn't have disco back then...ahh, screw it and enjoy the movie!
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: There are two lighted signs in the aircraft where the Spanish is just phonetic English. "Fasten Seatbelt" is written in English in one shot. Underneath it is "Putana da Seatbeltz" ("put on the seatbelts"). Then during a dive, there's "Return to Seat" / "Gobacken Sidonna" ("Go back and sit down").
- Aside Glance:
- Early in the movie after Elaine has rejected Ted, Ted turns to the camera and says "What a pisser."
- In the last scene, after Otto the Autopilot gets a female companion he turns to the audience and winks.
- Victor the navigator smiles at the camera when Randi sings "River of Jordan".
- Attack! Attack! Attack!: The attitude of the donation-seekers in the airport to Rex Kramer's Foe-Tossing Charge. One unusually dense fellow tries no less than three times, with different pitches. "How about Buddhism?" "Scientologyyyyyyy!"
- Autocannibalism: The Spinning Newspaper segment includes the gag headline "Boy Trapped in Refrigerator Eats Own Foot".
- Bad-Guy Bar: The Magumba bar in Drambuie, featuring fighting Girl Scouts and disco dancing.
- Bar Brawl: Between card-playing Girl Scouts, no less. But nobody pays any attention to them.
- Bar Slide: During the Bar Brawl, a Girl Scout is thrown down the bar and crashes headfirst into a jukebox, which starts playing "Staying Alive".
- Beat Still, My Heart: Played for laughs as a transplant heart hops off of a table while Dr. Brody is calling from the Mayo Clinic.
- Bedmate Reveal: Captain Oveur's wife... with a horse.
- Bestiality Is Depraved: Mrs. Oveur cheats on her husband... with a horse
- Billions of Buttons: A slow pan across an endless array of buttons, knobs and switches, which is a control panel from a real four-engine jet.
- Bilingual Bonus: The woman translating into sign during a TV spot doesn't think much of the woman speaking.
- Bland-Name Product: Trans American Airlines isn't TWA. Nope. Nothing like it at all. It doesn't have a W in its name for a start!
- Blatant Lies / Gag Nose: While Dr. Rumack is talking to the passengers, he lies so blatantly that his nose starts to grow, Pinocchio style.
Rumack: There is no reason to panic. It's true the pilot is ill. Slightly ill. The others are doing just fine and they are handling the controls, free to live a life of religious fulfillment.
- The Bore: Ted Striker. Whenever he comes out of one of the Flashbacks into his past, the person he's sitting next to is dousing themselves in gasoline, hanging themselves, et cetera....
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: See Aside Glance, above.
- Brick Joke:
- Ted's cab's passenger, who is left with the meter running at the beginning of the film, shows up again after the credits.
- The donation-seekers at the airport who accost Elaine and Ted try again with Kramer, with much less fortunate outcomes.
- As McCrosky and Kramer are speaking after Kramer first arrives, an Indian spear hits the wall next to him, from the ones who were chasing him earlier.
- The Girl Scouts are still fighting long after the disco bar has closed.
- The Cameo: The directors (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker as the ground crewmen who crash a plane into the terminal), Barbara Billingsley, Ethel Merman, Howard Jarvis, and Jimmy "JJ" Walker (as the window washer). According to the director's commentary, Walker was the only "comedy cameo" they accepted. Paramount wanted many of them. The Zuckers' mother is the woman attempting to put on lipstick during the crash landing.
- Camera Abuse: During the girl scout fight.
- Camp Gay: Johnny is exaggeratedly camp in mannerisms and speech, Played for Laughs because nobody else seems to notice. Actor Stephen Stucker, who played Johnny, was actually like that in real life. He once described himself as being "so flamingly gay" that one could light cigarettes off of him.
- The Cast Showoff: Robert Hays juggling during the Magumbo Bar dance sequence.
- Casting Gag:
- Character as Himself: Otto the Autopilot.
- Christmas Cake: Randi
"I'm 26 years old and I'm not married!"
- Cigarette of Anxiety: Steve McCroskey, ground support, picked the wrong week to quit smoking (which he says as he lights up a butt). Also the wrong week to quit drinking, taking amphetamines, and sniffing airplane glue.
- Circling Vultures: They're not circling, but a bunch of vultures perch over the Heroes as they prepare to crash-land.
- Circular Drive: Used to multiply the emergency vehicles. The circle is obvious, the film is sped up, and as it goes on more and more incongruous vehicles (including a beer truck and a farm tractor) get added in.
- Closest Thing We Got: Ted Striker, resulting in Falling into the Cockpit.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Johnny, who always has a... different... take on the action than the people around him. He's the only character who seems to realize that he's in a comedy.
- Comically Missing the Point: The Running Gag of people misunderstanding the question, "What is it?"
- The Comically Serious: The key to the movie's charm. David Zucker made a conscious decision to give the comedic roles to actors known for playing serious, tough-guy characters: Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and, believe it or not, Leslie Nielsen.
- Companion Cube: Otto the automatic pilot, who's a blow-up inflatable doll.
- Completely Different Title:
- In Finnish, it's "Hey, We're Flying!". This led to a whole series of imported American comedies being titled Hey, We're [insert verb here]!
- In Polish it's "Is there a pilot with us?".
- France went with the similar "Is there a pilot in the plane?"
- In Brazilian Portuguese, "Fasten Your Seatbealts, the Pilot has Disappeared!"
- In Italian, it's "The Craziest Airplane In The World".
- German has "The incredible voyage in a crazy Airplane".
- Australia has 'Flying High!'.
- In Spanish, the film was released as "So where is the pilot?" in Latin America and "Land [as well] as you can" in Spain. From then on, almost every movie that had Leslie Nielsen in its cast was released as "So where is X?" and "X as you can".
- Conjoined Twins: Stan and Terry, who McCrosky tells to go upstairs to the tower to retrieve a map and check on the emergency equipment on the field, respectively.
- Contamination Situation: The mysterious sickness gets both the pilot and copilot.
- Continuity Nod: The Counter Point guy that says "I say, let 'em crash!" is John Fitzsimmons, introduced in the AM Today segment of The Kentucky Fried Movie.
- Cool Old Lady: The "I speak jive" lady.
- Crash Course Landing: Even though Ted was a pilot, it was as a fighter pilot, so he still needed help with a commercial airliner.
Ted: It's an entirely different kind of flying altogether!
Dr. Rumack and Randy together: It's an entirely different kind of flying.
- Crazy Cultural Comparison:
- Parodied when Ted Striker, upon meeting the African tribesmen he and Elaine would be working with for their time in the Peace Corps, teaches them how to shake hands. This being accepted, he goes for a "gimme five" and gets punched out for his trouble.
- Later, as media outlets around the world are reporting on the runaway aircraft, a stereotypically Polynesian reporter with very little technology at his disposal relays his story by drumbeat. There is a child's drawing of an airplane on the drawing board behind him, instead of a newsroom graphic. Then he's handed a different pair of drumsticks for his next news report, and turns to a different camera.
- Credits Gag
- Creepy Changing Painting: A comedic version in the inflatable "Otto" pilot doll. Although the face of an inflatable doll receiving a blowjob is still fairly creepy.
- Crew of One: Ted Striker flies (and lands) a modern jet airliner by himself.
- Deader Than Disco: Invoked. The plane symbolically kills off the entire genre by crashing through a Chicago radio tower (hilariously, right after the deejay has just boasted that disco will live forever).
- The movie itself did this to the entire Disaster Movie genre, which wouldn't get taken seriously again until Independence Day in 1996 (which only got through by combining disaster with Sci-fi and a bit of comedy).
- Deconstructor Fleet: The whole movie.
- Developing Doomed Characters: No one cares about Ted's backstory.
- Disaster Movie: It's a parody of the genre, but is heavily based on one that plays it straight.
- Doctor Doctor Doctor: Spoofed:
Tower guy: We're all ready sir. This is Captain McCrosky, Captain Roberts, Captain Kramer, Captain Kolosomo. Captain Henshaw, this is Captain Gatz. Captain Kramer, Captain Gatz. Captain Henshaw, Captain Roberts...
- Door Focus: Leslie Nielsen's famous Running Gag of sticking his head into the cockpit repeatedly and declaring "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you." And Subverted once with a Not What It Looks Like moment late in the film.
- Dressed to Heal: Dr. Rumack is introduced wearing a stethoscope for no reason, first shown right after he's asked if he's a doctor. In a later scene, he's giving an OB-GYN exam for no apparent reason - yes, in flight. With stirrups. And holding a vaginal speculum at the ready.
- Driven to Suicide: Three people commit suicide rather than listen to Ted Striker's reminiscing.
- The elderly woman hangs herself.
- A Japanese man commits seppuku.
- Double subverted with the third case; the man drenches himself in gasoline and lights a match, then blows it out in relief when Ted leaves his seat, only to explode anyway.
- Driving a Desk: Rex Kramer's drive to the airport. Parodied viciously as he runs over a bicyclist and passes everything from traffic accidents to raiding Indians on horseback, with only his terrified passenger reacting to what's notionally going on. During another portion, the background shows fast-motion footage of a drive down a winding, hilly road, while Kramer holds the wheel completely straight and still the whole time.
- Droste Image: McCroskey stands in front of a framed photograph of himself, striking the exact same pose as in the photograph, which itself contains the same framed photograph in its background. They took it one step further in the sequel.
- Even the Girls Want Her: An old lady comments on Elaine to Ted.
- Epiphany Therapy: Ted Striker is cured of his fear of flying and saves the day after a Rousing Speech.
- Exact Words: Ted Striker has a drinking problem: He always misses his mouth.
- "Nervous?" "Yes." "First time?" "No, I've been nervous lots of times."
- Excited Show Title!
- Face Cam: Elaine and Ted Striker during the dance scene in the bar.
- Falling into the Cockpit: Ted Striker must pilot a multi-engine jet airliner even though he has only flown single engine fighters.
- Fanservice Extra: The buxom Francesca "Kitten" Natividad pulls uncredited duty here as the jiggling passenger in the white T-shirt (She later confirmed that she was not the naked woman who appears directly in front of the camera from out of nowhere for no real reason while the rest of the plane is panicking). She makes another blink-and-you'll-miss-it uncredited appearance as the jiggling woman in the "Moral Majority" T-shirt in Airplane II.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Listening to Ted's exposition about his guilt and failed relationship with Elaine.
- Flashback: Ted and Elaine (meeting in the bar, in the Peace Corps, in the hospital, rolling on the beach), Ted's war memories.
- Flashback Stares
- Foe-Tossing Charge: Kramer's brutal beatdown of the donation-seekers at the airport.
- Follow the Leader: So many films after this, it rivals Jaws and Star Wars for getting ripped off. (Of course, it also parodied Jaws itself, right in the very first scene.)
- For the Evulz: When the runway lights abruptly go out.
Just kidding! [plugs cord back in, followed by Evil Laugh]
- Free Wheel: Played for laughs when we see a hubcap rolling across the tarmac after an ambulance crashes.
- From the Mouths of Babes: "I take [my coffee] black. Like my men."
- Funny Background Event: In spades.
- The white zone/red zone argument over the PA, coupled with that baggage behind the cars that nobody actually gives a damn about. Yeah, many jokes are really that hard to catch.
- Shortly after that, Ted runs into the airport and through security. It's on-screen maybe three-tenths of a second: the security X-ray screen shows a chest X-ray.
- At the beginning of the movie, a magazine rack is labeled "whacking material." Oveur picks up from it the latest edition of Modern Sperm.
- The beating heart at the Mayo Clinic, which jumps off the desk and goes hopping around the table while Dr. Brody talks to Oveur.
- The technician changing the oil under the airplane's hood, then falls off the ladder trying to pop it shut, as the pilots are discussing the weather in the cockpit. Then we have Oveur being handed the bill for the repairs and him paying it on the spot.
- An accidental one, but still funny: When Dr. Rumack is removing eggs from the woman's mouth and cracks one open to release a bird, the bird nearly hits a passenger in the face as it flies off.
- Amongst the procession of rescue vehicles going out to the runway is a cement mixer and a Budweiser truck.
- Fun with Subtitles: The scene with the two jive dudes helpfully "translates" their conversation into English. For some bonus humor, in this "making of" clip, when the two actors are speaking about the role, some hilarious "jive" subtitles are added to their dialogue.
- Gainaxing: Bouncy, bouncy Kitten Natividad. Though her breasts are bouncing in synch with each other.
- Genre Savvy: When Kramer casually tosses a match out of the window, McCroskey immediately covers his ears expecting an explosion, despite there being no logical reason for one.
- Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: When everyone lines up to slap/punch/club/shoot a hysterical woman, with increasingly lethal weapons as the camera pans down the line.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Fellatio, cunnilingus, bestiality, paedophilia, topless women (see Fanservice Extra above), a young girl who takes her coffee black (like her men), pornographic magazines (see Funny Background Event), suicides, and repeated drug use, and it gets a PG rating? (Granted, PG-13 didn't exist back then...) Looks like the censors picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue! In an interview on Later With Bob Costas, Robert Stack was amazed A) that ZAZ got away with the 'Shit hits the fan' joke and B) that it made him laugh a lot.
- Girl Scouts Are Evil: During the Bar Brawl, which is humorous because while it's happening, nobody else seems to care about it.
- Giving Them the Strip: As Ted Striker is going through the airport, he's accosted by a religious donation seeker. He slips out of his jacket and continues on, leaving his jacket in the guy's hand.
- Glad I Thought of It
Murdock: You want me to check the weather, Clarence?
Oveur: No, why don't you take care of it?
- Glasses Pull: Captain Rex Kramer and his sunglasses. Two pairs, that is.
- Great Offscreen War: The war that Ted Striker was involved in
- Harpo Does Something Funny: As told on the DVD commentary, Stephen Stucker (who played Johnny) was given the straight lines of the characters around him and allowed to write his own lines.
- Hollywood Natives: Invoked twice.
- In one of his flashbacks, Ted talks about working with the Malombo tribe in the Peace Corps. Everyone is dark-skinned and wear cloth wraps and beads, and the men brandish spears and wear feathered headdresses and face paint.
- One appears briefly during the "news bulletin" montage, wearing a necklace of beads and horns while using Jungle Drums to deliver a news report.
- Hurricane of Puns: The entire film.
- Hypocritical Humor:
- A prim old lady refuses whiskey when offered ("Certainly not!"), then immediately proceeds to snort cocaine to remain calm.
- Elaine's oblivious complaints about Ted (not laying down roots in place, living in the past) all seem to apply to her as well.
- Hysterical Woman: Everyone lines up to slap some sense into her.
- I Like My X Like I Like My Y: The young girl and her coffee.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking" (and drinking, and amphetamines, and sniffing glue).
- I Was Just Joking: Johnny temporarily unplugs the runway lights as the plane is beginning to land.
- Inner Monologue: "Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon — Manny Mota!" Also, "Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home."
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet
- Is This Thing Still On?:
- Rex Kramer launches into a rant about how poorly suited Striker is to fly the plane, not realizing that his microphone button is pressed. This causes Ted to go into his 10-Minute Retirement.
- Elaine, pressed into service to handle the microphone while Ted flies, relays a statement that Ted didn't really intend her to.
Ted: It's a good thing he doesn't know how much I hate his guts.
Elaine: (into microphone) It's a good thing you don't know how much he hates your guts.
- Kramer continues rambling to Ted long after the crash is over and everyone's left the plane — less of a "Is this still on" and more of a "Is anyone still listening to me?"
Kramer: Municipal bonds, Ted. Triple-A rating, best investment in the book!
- Jerk Ass: The "Counterpoint" anchorman.
"Shana, they bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash!"
- Jiggle Show: See Fanservice Extra — the film includes a "cameo" from a pair of ridiculously bouncy breasts.
- Jive Turkey: The two black men and the white woman (Barbara Billingsley!) who interprets for them. "Cut me some slack, jack!"
- Jungle Drums: Subject of a brief gag during a newscasters-montage.
- Just Plane Wrong: On purpose, the jet airliner has the sound of prop engines.
- Littlest Cancer Patient: The little girl who needs a heart transplant. A horrific moment of Black Comedy (not to mention Soundtrack Dissonance) occurs when Randy sings "River of Jordan" to cheer her up and knocks out her IV with her guitar. Twice.
- Mirror Routine: Sort of. A blink-and-you'll-miss-it gag has Rex Kramer dressing in front of a mirror. In the next shot we see him seemingly step out of the reflection; between shots the mirror was switched with a doorway and Robert Stack switched positions.
- Misplaced Wildlife: An Asian elephant in the Africa flashback.
- Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: A sort of strange example, as Mission Control 's strangeness is a result of him going back on his meds.
- Mixed Metaphor: "I guess the foot's on the other hand now!"
- Narm: The line from Zero Hour "We need to find someone who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner" convinced the Zuckers to make Airplane!.
- No Antagonist: The plot deals with most of the passengers succumbing to food poisoning.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Hilariously averted with Lieutenant Horwitz, who still thinks he's Ethel Merman. Of course, it actually IS Ethel Merman. And then there's Kareem...
- Offhand Backhand: Striker does this to one of the religious donation-seekers in the airport.
- Offscreen Crash: The stewardess' accident after leaving the cockpit, and the ambulance at the end.
- Oh, Crap:
- Captain Oveur, listening to Dr. Rumack explain that everyone on the plane who ate fish is going to become violently ill, glances down at his plate which has a fish skeleton on it, then in the background, Dr. Rumack starts describing the symptoms... which Oveur begins to suffer as they are being described.
- Ted and Elaine exchange a horrified look when the runway lights go out.
- Orbital Kiss: Ted and Elaine at the end, accompanied by an Ethereal Choir that goes way out of tune.
- Overly Long Gag: Endlessly. Perhaps the most notable examples:
- "The (fill-in-the-blank)? What is it?" "It's a (fill-in-the-blank)—but that's not important right now."
- The "projected-road" images become this as the movie keeps cutting back to the two men in the car.
- Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: Played for Laughs during the landing by having Striker's forehead gushing sweat.
- Parental Bonus: One of the greatest things about this movie is that kids and parents can both watch it, but they laugh in, shall we say, different places. Of course, as noted under Getting Crap Past the Radar, many of the jokes are not really appropriate for pre-teens.
- Pinch Me: Ted Striker to a sailor in the Magumba Bar, when he first met Elaine.
- Plot Time: The movie takes place on one night over the few (four or five, tops) hours it takes to fly from Los Angeles to Chicago, however that amount of time is enough for a pre-Internet world to air TV shows about the plight and publish newspapers
- Political Stereotype: The airplane disaster is discussed by a spoof of a then-current left-wing vs. right-wing TV discussion panel. The right-winger's view?
- Prison Rape: Captain Oveur has apparently had some... unusual experiences.
Oveur: Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?
- Proportional Article Importance: "There's a sale at Penney's!"
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: Often summed up by critics with the line "Don't worry if you didn't like the last joke. Another one will be along in thirty seconds."
- The Remake: The plot and much of the "straight" dialogue were taken from Zero Hour!. Here's the dialog script, so you can see for yourself. The lines that also appear in Airplane! are in boldface.
- Right on Queue: The Get A Hold Of Yourself Man scene, with passengers lining up to slap/club/shoot a hysterical woman.
- Rousing Speech: Played sort of straight, except that it's also a parody of the famous "Win One For The Gipper" speech. (Ronald Reagan was elected the same year the movie was released.)
- Rule of Funny: A watermelon falling from the ceiling in a flight control office? Table lamps being unloaded by a dumptruck onto a runway? A string bass among the emergency supplies in the cockpit, in case the crew were on instruments? Would never happen in real life. But it doesn't matter, because it was funny.
- Rule of Three: "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you." The third time comes after the plane has come to a full stop.
- Running Gag: The page quote, Ted's drinking problem, Ted's suicidal Flashback confidants, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit (drinking, smoking, sniffing glue, amphetamines)," "The red/white zone is for the loading and unloading...". There are so many threads of repeating gag loops, fading in and out throughout the film, that it's like a comedy movie written as techno music. "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you."
- Sequential Symptom Syndrome: Dr. Rumack describes the effects of the food poisoning in exhaustive detail in the background, while Captain Oveur suffers from them in the foreground in the precise sequence listed. Nobody notices, however, until the poor bastard is reduced to a quivering, wasted piece of jelly.
Dr. Rumack: Extremely serious. It starts with a slight fever and dryness of the throat. [Oveur starts suffering from these] When the virus penetrates the red blood cells, the victim becomes dizzy, begins to experience an itchy rash...
[Oveur starts becoming dizzy and starts scratching his arm]
Dr. Rumack: ....then the poison goes to work on the central nervous system, severe muscle spasms followed by the inevitable drooling....
[Oveur begins to have spasms in his right shoulder and then spits something out of his mouth]
Dr. Rumack: At this point, the entire digestive system collapses accompanied by uncontrollable flatulence....
[Oveur begins to fart noisily]
Dr. Rumack: ...until finally, the poor bastard is reduced to a quivering wasted piece of jelly. [Oveur collapses at the controls]
- The Seventies: Released in 1980, this was probably the first film to spoof Saturday Night Fever (and the disco subculture in general).
- Sexy Stewardess: Elaine and Randy.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Ted Striker's experiences during the war.
- Shout-Out: A self-referential one. The name "Rex Kramer" was first used in The Kentucky Fried Movie.
- Smashed Eggs Hatching: Dr. Rumack pulls eggs from a sick lady's mouth, cracks them open and a bird flies out.
- Smoking Hot Sex: Elaine and Otto, the inflatable copilot.
- Sorry to Interrupt: During the autopilot reinflation scene, the doctor opens the door, sees what's going on and turns right around.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Randy belting out "River of Jordan" while the heart transplant patient frantically tries to plug her own IV back in. May qualify as Adult Fear, although the ambulance scene at the end implies she survived (at least until we heard it crash and saw a hubcap roll by).
- Spinning Paper
- Spit Take: In the hospital flashback.
- Spoofed with Their Own Words: It's largely quoted word-for-word directly from the film Zero Hour, but with the serious deadpan delivery taking place in absurd surroundings.
- The Stinger: The guy left in Ted Striker's cab at the very beginning of the movie says, "I'll give him another twenty minutes. But that's it!" after sitting there for the entire movie.
- Stock Footage: Ted Striker's memories of The War, which appears, for Rule of Funny, to be World War II, but goes even further back in time to the turn of the century's strange flying experiments.
- Stock Phrases
- Stock Sound Effects:
- Castle Thunder is used when lightning flashes.
- Jet engines sound no different from propellers despite their different mechanical structures.
- Ever hear a real airplane go "chuff...chuff...chuff...chuff" like a steam locomotive while taxiing?
- Straight Man: Every actor (except for Johnny) acts as if they are not speaking hilarious lines, which is one of the main reasons why this movie is so great. One of the reasons for avoiding "comedy cameos", according to the directors, was to keep everything seeming serious.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: At first. Roger Murdoch denies he's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as though he doesn't even know who Kareem is. Then he breaks character when Joey starts to criticize several of his recent games.
- Sustained Misunderstanding: The conversation between Doctor Rumack and Captain Oveur, persisting for about a half-minute.
Rumack: Captain, how soon can you land?
Oveur: I can't tell.
Rumack: You can tell me, I'm a doctor.
- Take That: "WZAZ in Chicago, where disco lives forever!" [Plane immediately flies overhead and slices the radio antenna clean off, stopping the signal]
McCroskey: [to Capt. Oveur's wife] Your husband is alive, but unconscious.
- "I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film."
- "I haven't seen anything like this since the Anita Bryant concert" note
- Take a Third Option: Rumack probably brought his own food on board.
Rumack: What did the passengers have for dinner?
Elaine: Well, we had steak or fish.
Rumack: Yes, I remember. I had lasagna.
- 10-Minute Retirement: Ted Striker comes out of it after a Rousing Speech provides Epiphany Therapy.
- That Russian Squat Dance: During the disco-dance flashback.
- This Is no Time to Panic: As the unconscious pilot and co-pilot are dragged down the aisle, and when Elaine asks if there's anyone on board who can fly a plane.
- Train-Station Goodbye: Parodied as the plane takes off, complete with an "All aboard!" call and the sound of a steam train. It does double-duty as a parody of war movies where the heroic soldier gets a sendoff from his girl — specifically, the Trope Maker, Since You Went Away.
- Transparent Closet: Capt. Oveur likes to read "Modern Sperm" and hits on young boys while his wife is cheating (with a horse); sexual deviancy may be the one thing they have in common.
- Traveling at the Speed of Plot: The plane is on a couple-hour flight, however in no time the press is aware of the debacle and newspaper stories are published about it. This is, of course, for the Rule of Funny.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: The little girl who takes her coffee like she takes her men — black.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Girl Scouts brawling in a bar (only Ted seems to be concerned by this), a man being stabbed and killed in a bar (Elaine likewise is the only one who notices), the plane's pilots being dragged down the aisle by the stewardesses, McCroskey jumping out a window... the list goes on.
- Video Credits
- Visual Pun: "The shit's going to hit the fan," "Okay, boys, let's take some pictures," "Steve, I want every light you can get poured onto that field," "They're on instruments," and "We'll get him down safe," among others. The "check the radar range" pun hasn't aged well, though — although Amana still makes RadarRange microwave ovens, it's no longer the best-known brand (And most people nowadays don't know that microwaves were originally known as RadarRanges because microwave cooking was an accidental discovery made by people developing radars).
- Wacky Sound Effect: The jetliner takes off and sounds like a steam train, then sounds like a propeller plane in flight.
- Wham Line: "Every passenger on this plane who had fish for dinner will become violently ill in the next half hour". Capt. Oveur ate fish. Dr. Rumack had lasagna.
- What's a Henway?: "Surely you can't be serious" and countless others.
- Who's on First?: The flight crew's names.
Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
Capt. Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?
- World's Shortest Book: Famous Jewish Sports Legends is just a leaflet.
- World of Pun: The page quote, Ted's drinking problem, smoking section tickets, etc.
- You, Get Me Coffee
McCroskey: How 'bout some coffee, Johnny?
Johnny: No thanks!
(in a later scene)
Steve McCroskey: Johnny, how 'bout some more coffee?
Johnny: No, thanks!
- You Never Did That for Me: Played for Laughs. When her husband has a second cup of coffee, we hear the thoughts of the wife (listed in the credits as "Mrs. Hammen") echoing in her head: "Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home." Later, when he's sick and hurling into the barf bag, she thinks, "Jim never vomits at home..." This was a parody of a Yuban coffee commercial from the late 1970s.