"Stuck at the Airport" Plot

Airports are busy places. Flying machines of all sizes defy gravity on their way in and out. Passengers come and go on errands of business and/or pleasure. Dozens, hundreds or even thousands of airport employees keep things moving in countless different ways.

But the science of flight that keeps aircraft that make airports necessary in the air is a delicately balanced dance. Mechanical breakdowns can leave a plane grounded for hours or months waiting for repairs. Weather from a thin, misty fog bank, a few fluffy flakes of snow, to mighty storms miles across can shut down runways for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of miles in all directions. The shutdown could also be caused by a major crime or, scarier still, a terrorist attack. Alternately, simply leaving the destination airport can be prevented by miles of bureaucratic red tape.

Suddenly our hero(es) is/are stuck in an airport. Now the real story begins. Now the real drama and/or action begins. This is where a Type 2 Road Trip Episode goes screaming off the rails.

This trope is not limited to airports. The kinds of chaos that can close an airport or ground flights can leave buses and trains parked as well. It can even happen to the occasional subway.

If the character(s) is/are readily able to leave the airport to wait for the flight to resume, or simply bail on the entire trip and return home, it's not this trope. If they are only inconvenienced by a delay, it's not this trope. However, if the sudden onset of extreme weather is what's inconveniencing them, it may be a Big Storm Episode. Or at least overlap with that trope.

No Real Life Examples, Please! This plot has happened to FAR too many real travelers to entertain the idea of listing even a fraction of the Real Life examples.

Works where the characters get stuck at an airport:

Advertising

Film
  • Die Hard 2: John McClane is at Dulles Int'l Airport on a very snowy Christmas Eve, waiting for his wife's flight to arrive when a Central American drug lord hijacks the plane carrying him.
  • The Terminal is basically this trope: The Movie. The main character is stuck in an airport after his home country breaks out in civil war. His passport is revoked and he isn't allowed to leave the airport or fly home.
  • The entire film Unaccompanied Minors is about this trope: an airport is Snowed-In, and while most of the people were moved to a nearby hotel, the main characters - all children - sneak away and end up having to stay at the airport.
  • The subplot of Adventures in Babysitting involves Brenda, the best friend of Elisabeth Shue's character, being stuck at the Greyhound bus station in Chicago after trying to run away because she didn't bring enough money (or even plan) for a return trip. While the main characters keep running into one obstacle after another, the action keeps cutting back to her travails with homeless people and other annoyances in the bus station.

Literature
  • The Langoliers: The pilot and a fraction of the original passengers are the only people to be found at Bangor International, but they're still stuck due to a lack of fuel.
  • The basis of the plotline for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer Brown.
  • In the Relativity story "Let It Snow", Michael and Yule are stuck at an airport in France due to a snowstorm - The delay threatens to prevent them from spending Christmas with Sara. They pass the time by reminiscing about previous Christmases.
  • In Station Eleven Clark boards a plane that is redirected to Severn City Airport due to the Georgia Flu pandemic. The passengers are then stranded there for the next two decades. Seeing as 99% of the population has died, and the world has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it's not like they have anywhere else to go.

Live-Action TV
  • The Facts of Life: Blair and Jo get stuck in a podunk town bus station. Blair is pleasantly surprised to discover that the newspaper stand sells French and Italian Vogue among others.
  • One Christmas Episode of Full House has the Tanners snowed in at the airport on Christmas Eve, with Stephanie worried that Santa won't know where they are and not deliver their presents.
  • The Golden Girls had a Flashback in one episode where Rose is stuck in the train station on Christmas and talks to another stuck lady. They talk about holiday memories and in the the end, it's revealed that the other woman's daughter was dead; she was going to visit her at the cemetery.
  • House, M.D.: In "Failure to Communicate", a snowstorm gets House and Stacy (ex-girlfriend, the hospital's chief lawyer) stranded in an airport unable to fly back from a mandatory out-of-town meeting with medical insurance officials. Highlights include House writing ideas on walls instead of the usual whiteboard, instadiagnosing other people around, talking about personal things with Stacy, causing authority problems in his team by being absent and hard-to-reach. He's still the one who solves the Medical Mystery of the Week.
  • NCIS: Tony is at Dulles Int'l Airport waiting for his father's flight to arrive. Bishop and her husband (We finally get to see him!) are also there to catch a southbound flight. Three things manage to happen all a once:
    • Gibbs calls Tony with news about some important intel regarding terrorist activity and airports in the Eastern US.
    • Bishop sees somebody she thinks she recognizes, but can't remember where from.
    • The airport admins decide that the snow is bad enough to begin closing the runways.
  • The Victoria Wood episode "We'd Quite Like To Apologize" was about Victoria stuck in a departure lounge with a bunch of bizarre and terrible people, while representatives of the airline, the airport and the package holiday company all insist it's someone else's job to know what's going on. It ends with the plane finally ready to take off and Victoria realizing she's now going to spend a week with these people. The final scene shows her relaxing at a sidewalk cafe ... which turns out to be outside a shopping center in Britain.
    Victoria: Well, of course I didn't go. I might be mad, but I'm not stupid.
  • "TheAmazingRace" had a bit of this with NFL Teammates Chester and Ebrihim. They got stuck in an airport in Argentina and the episode would switch to them trying to deal with thier travel delays. By the time they finally got to their destination in Portugal, night had fallen and Phil was already there at the airport to eliminate them.
  • ER. Kerry's subplot of the episode "April Showers" had her venturing to Las Vegas for a conference to cover up her humilation at not being invited to Mark and Elizabeth's wedding. With the weather shutting everything down, she ended up stranded there.

Radio
  • In the third season of Mitch Benn's Crimes Against Music (where the theme was that he was supposed to be on a world tour) the third episode was about being trapped for months at London Stansted Airport while trying to get to Australia. The song "Vodka and Toblerone" is from this episode. Eventually Mitch and his retinue get on board; unfortunately their seat numbers are 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, so the final episode is about them being trapped on an island.

Tabletop Games

Western Animation
  • The King of the Hill episode "Happy Hank's Giving" has this happening to the Hills, the Gribbles, the Souphaniousinphones along with Bill and Boomhauer over Thanksgiving (which involves the destruction of Hank's propane-smoked turkey when a bomb-sniffing dog barks at his luggage). After everyone misses their flights, the families eventually settle with eating dinner at the airport with whatever they can scrape together.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StuckAtTheAirportPlot