- Archer is fond of this. Somewhat surprisingly, it's always played straight.
- Subverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Gaang was stuck in a room and the only exits were air tubes, so they tried to get Momo through it. However, Momo ate too much, and couldn't fit. Momo later did crawl through some tubes in Roku's Temple, though it wasn't actually an "escape".
- The Batman
- Justified when Ragdoll uses it; he is the most flexible person to have ever lived, and the air vent only needs to be big enough for his head to fit in, as many air vents are in Real Life.
- Also played straight in the episode "The Butler Did It" when Alfred has to escape from a room to warn Bruce. He pronounces it "quite a sticky wicket."
- And again in "Thunder" by Batgirl several times to escape from Zeus' henchmen on his airship, and to tinker with said ship's power supply.
- Batman: The Animated Series
- In "The Cat and the Claw, part one", Catwoman uses the air vents to escape from the Multigon offices.
- In "Joker's Millions", Harley Quinn tries to escape from Arkham by going down the laundry chute. The guards ask Who Would Be Stupid Enough? to try one of The Oldest Tricks in the Book. Answer Cut to Harley whirling round and round in the laundry machine.
- Parodied and subverted in Batman Beyond: The protagonist enters a vent large enough to walk in, but the subsequent sections keep getting smaller and smaller.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold
- Subverted and played with: Batman is infiltrating a parallel Earth, disguised as his evil counterpart Owlman. He's allied himself with Red Hood, the heroic counterpart of the Joker, who is being tortured by Silver Cyclone, the evil version of Red Tornado. Batman sneaks through the air vents to free Red Hood and escape after his cover is blown by the evil Atom. This might have worked... except Silver Cyclone apparently had a tracking device or something on Batman, because the moment he realizes that Red Hood has been in contact with someone, he remembers that Owlman has been acting strangely and his computer immediately tells him Batman's location, in the air vents, proving that he's a spy. Silver Cyclone then powers up the fan to slice "Owlman" to pieces. This is the goddamn Batman we're talking about, so he blows up the fan. But still, the escape turned out to not be the best idea.
- Averted in "Menace of the Conqueror Cavemen!", as the air vents are cramped. They also shake and make a good deal of noise when Batman and Booster crawl through them. Fortunately Kru'll isn't paying much attention.
- Ben 10 did this a couple times, though it's Justified by the fact that, both times, Ben was transformed into an alien form that was five inches tall and gave him greatly enhanced brainpower.
- Birdman episode "The Quake Threat". When Birdman is trapped in an Elaborate Underground Base, Avenger the eagle breaks in through an air vent to save him.
- Lampshaded and subverted in an episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, when Emperor Zurg chews out the designer of his latest evil lair for making the air ducts big enough for heroes to fit through.
- Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers uses this in a few episodes. Then again, the use is probably justified as the Rescue Rangers themselves are only around 10 cm tall.
- Code Lyoko:
- In the episode "End of Take", Ulrich and Sissi crawl through an air duct in the factory after being pursued by a prop alien. They don't get too far.
- In the episode "Canine Conundrum", Yumi and Ulrich escapes from the Gymnasium (besieged by robot dogs) this way. Although there is a joke, previously, about the adult teacher, Jim, being too fat to follow them.
- Danny Phantom: In the episode "Doctor's Disorders", the only way to save the hero so he can stop the villain is to go in by the way of an air vent.
- The Deep: In "Lonesome Jim", Ant and Fontaine crawl through the air vents on Evil Poacher Conger's submersible base. Fontaine comments on how overrated air vents are as a means of passage.
- The Dennis the Menace cartoon does this in one episode when he's trying to flee with Gnasher from a large mobile mall that has arrived in Beanotown and hypnotizing everyone into buying useless junk. Whilst crawling, they find the office of the mad scientist behind the plot, and instead of escaping Dennis decides to bring him down instead.
- In an episode of Detention Miss Kisskilya gets the gang in shape by locking up the school to lock them in the classroom, so they plot an escape through the air vent.
- This is Lee's usual mode of transportation around the school in Detentionaire. He started doing it to keep out of Principal Barrage's way and off the security cameras, and by now has spent enough time in the vents to know his way around very well and be able to get from one end of the school to the other as fast by vent as he would using the hallways. Other characters have used air vents as well, though not to the same extent as the protagonist. The air vents of A. Nigma High also happen to house a red snake/lizard/dragon monster called a Tazelwurm, who could kill you in a second and is also the school mascot. He turns out to not be as dangerous as he looks, though.
- Dogstar: After Boombah locks the crew of the Valiant in their cabins in "Robbie", Simone has to crawl through the vents to reach the bridge.
- An earlier episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy about the trio trying to watch a monster movie marathon had them use this to get out of the bathroom and to the TV around Rolf(who was talking their ears off with another outlandish story). They do briefly get stuck, but Ed is able to push them out with relative ease.
- In the season 1 finale of Exo Squad, after taking their attempt to use Phaeton as a hostage fails, Able Squad escapes the Brood Chamber via the air ducts. Typhonus responds by sending troops into the tubes; why the tubes were made big enough for Neosapiens to walk around in isn't explained. Then he reroutes the ventilation so the tubes are flooded with poisonous "volcanic gas". Exactly why someone would build a ventilation system that allows that isn't explained either.
- Peter and Brian do this in an episode of Family Guy, complete with a Shout-Out to Die Hard. They don't make it all the way in stealthily, though; Peter's large girth causes the vent to give out and dump them right in the middle of the prom.
- Fantastic Voyage Animated Adaptation
- Episode "Revenge of the Spy". The protagonists use this technique to move around inside the enemy building, but it's justified because they're miniaturized to tiny size.
- Episode "The Perfect Crime". The criminals in their miniaturized helicopter use an air vent to attempt to escape the U.S. Mint building at the same time that the Voyager enters the building using another vent. The two flying craft meet inside the vent and do battle.
- In the made-for-TV Felix the Cat cartoon "A Museum, The Professor and Rock Bottom", Rock Bottom tries to escape from Felix in the art museum by using this tactic. It doesn't work, because not only can Felix clearly hear him travelling through the air conditioning vent, the vent is so small that Felix can see Rock's burly form squeezing its way through. He forces Rock out by setting the temperature so low, that Rock slides out the vent, frozen solid in an ice cube.
- Subverted: Fry and Bender try to escape from a brig through a steam pipe vent. Unfortunately, the steam pipe is full of steam. At least they got a good sauna out of it.
- Lampshaded in Bender's Big Score. While trying to destroy a "Death Star", Al Gore's head in a jar flies a through an air vent actually labeled "Achilles' Vent", lasers a-blasting, successfully destroying it.
- In Bender's Game, Fry and the other travel around Mom's factory through a tube that sends chickens to the enslaved Nibblonians. It works, but they have to shove their way through a lot of chickens.
- Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet. Captain Scarlett tries this in "Proteus", but is instantly detected by sensors used to detect bacteria in the air vents. The Master Computer then initiates a bacteria purge, so Scarlett has to blast a hole in the floor to escape.
- Gravity Falls. In the episode "The Inconveniencing", Dipper uses the HVAC vents to get into the abandoned Dusk 2 Dawn convenience store.
- Helga from Hey Arnold! used this method to sneak into the boarding house in "Helga Blabs it All".
- Given her size, Jade from Jackie Chan Adventures utilizes these at times to get around places when no one else can. The episode "The Day of the Dragon" feature both her and the Dark Hand using the air vents to escape Section 13.
- In a Jem episode, Jem, Aja, and Shana do this to escape a locked room.
- Subverted in the Jimmy Two-Shoes episode "Jimmy in the Big House", when Jimmy and Beezy tries to get out of prison by going through air vents. Suddenly, a screen pops out and it's a video message from Heloise who lets them know that they have made it far in escaping but in her prison, there is NO ESCAPE! As a result, they are blown out of the air vents by the fans at high speed and back to where they were. In this case, it's probably justified since Heloise probably made the vents that big just to crush prisoner's hopes for escaping.
- Jonny Quest episode "Mystery of the Lizard Men". Jonny crawls though an air duct to escape from the title opponents.
- Justice League. In "Eclipse", Flash is being chased through the Watchtower by a possessed Superman. He does an Air Vent Escape but leaves a door open to the corridor outside. Naturally Superman assumes Flash would rely on his Super Speed rather than crawl slowly through the air ducts.
- Kim Possible and Ron infiltrated this way in The Movie. They do it quite a lot during the series.
- Zadavia stages one on Deuce's ship during the Loonatics Unleashed episode "In Search of Tweetums, Part II".
- In an episode of Max Steel, the only entrance to a highly-secured building is through the air vents. The only way in is by careful timing to avoid being sliced by a giant fan; the vents end two-thirds of the way up the wall in a room where the floor is littered with explosive devices, and not only do the air vents have cameras, they're also equipped with flamethrowers the big bad of the episode can activate at will.
- The Penguins of Madagascar: Penguins try this in "Officer X factor", but X switches the vent on and they fall down the passageway.
- Played straight in The Problem Solverz episode "Badcat", when the solverz travel through a vent to reach Bad Cat's lair on the top floor of his casino.
- Recess: T.J. often uses this route to break himself and occasionally others out of detention.
- Regular Show plays it straight in "The Best VHS in the World", when Mordecai and Rigby have to chase a thieving troll through a set of air ducts. Rigby is at least small enough to do so with little problem, although Mordecai can still keep up with him despite being much taller.
- Robot Chicken lampshaded this in an Iron Man spoof. Two Mooks guarding The Mandarin's lair are able to instantly determine that the deafening banging and screeching noises they hear are from Iron Man trying to sneak through the air ducts.
- Sam and Max, and Sam's granny Ruth, try to reach the prison warden this way in the Sam & Max: Freelance Police episode "Christmas, Bloody Christmas" — only, instead of the air vent, they go through the prison's water duct, and end up in the shower room.
- The Simpsons
- Parodied in the 100th episode. Santa's Little Helper gets into the school ventilation shafts, and only a greased Scotsman can catch him....Groundskeeper Willie: Lunchlady Doris... 'ave ye got any grease?
Lunchlady Doris: Yes. Yes we do.
Groundskeeper Willie: [tears off his clothes] Then grease me up, woman!
Lunchlady Doris: ... Okee-dokee.
Groundskeeper Willie: There's nary an animal that can outrun a GREASED SCOTSMAN!
- This is how Homer spies on Mr. Burns meeting with terrorists, and would be caught if it wasn't Played for Laughs:Homer: [scribbling on pad] I love spying.
[terrorist picks up a bar of uranium; radioactive gas boils off the surface of the rod]
Burns: Don't worry about those fumes. They'll be sucked into that air vent.
[Homer moans from fumes, drops pad out of vent and onto the floor]
Burns: This place is falling apart. [walks over, picks up pad and shoves it back into the vent]
- In one of Homer's daydreams where terrorists take over the plant, Homer jumps from a standing position into a vent on the ceiling, then comes out in Burns' office to beat the terrorists up.
- In "Lard of the Dance", Bart and Homer crawl through the vents while trying to steal grease from the school cafeteria, followed by an angry Groundskeeper Willie. The passageway is wide enough that Homer and Willie can fight inside of it.
- Parodied in the 100th episode. Santa's Little Helper gets into the school ventilation shafts, and only a greased Scotsman can catch him....
- In Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), most episodes that contain Robotropolis have the main characters in an air duct at LEAST once. Robotropolis is perhaps Air Duct Central, essentially one giant factory bathing in its own heated (polluted) air. Lots of cool (polluted) air has to be moved around to keep the place from overheating somehow. By the way, Robotnik hates this trope:Robotnik: Tell me, Snively, how did the hedgehog get past all my security?
Snively: Through an air duct, Dr. Robotnik.
Robotnik: An air duct? Then SEAL IT OFF!!
- Space Ghost episode "The Space Piranhas". Jan and Jace infiltrate an enemy base using the ventilation system. Lampshaded when the Big Bad says "As usual, the intruders have taken refuge in the ventilating system".
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series constantly had Spidey doing this. During the Venom arc, after Peter finds the symbiote and experiences drastic changes to his personality, he considers but chafes at using the trope, saying "That's the old Spidey talking." He instead goes for the direct approach: kicking the steel door down and barging into Kingpin's meeting.
- SpongeBob SquarePants, "Truth or Square": after getting locked inside the Krusty Krab freezer, the gang makes their way out through the restaurant's labyrinthian ventilation system.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
- "Rookies": During the initial commando droid attack on the Rishi Moon outpost, the titular rookie clones escape from the base via an airvent. The vent is used a second time as an exit when the clones are planning to blow up the base to cut off the hardwired all-clear signal and destroy the Separatist reinforcements.
- "Duel of the Droids": Ahsoka escapes General Grievous this way.
- "Cloak of Darkness": Ventress uses the airvents to infiltrate and sabotage a Jedi Cruiser unnoticed.
- "Holocron Heist": Cad Bane infiltrated the Jedi Temple through the airvents. Doubles as Absurdly Spacious Sewer.
- "Brain Invaders": Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee escape from mind-controlled clone troopers by jumping into the air vents. Later in the episode, Ahsoka uses the same vents to travel to the coolant control room and the bridge while she's running from Barriss.
- "Assassin": Aurra Sing used these to attempt to assassinate Padmé.
- Subverted and lampshaded in "The Citadel". With the entry point the Jedi wanted to use blocked, Anakin and Obi-Wan muse how to get in, and Ahsoka points on the ventilation hatch. Anakin argues that they're too small to gain access, but in response Ahsoka points out, that they might be too small for Anakin, Obi-Wan and the clones, but she might be able to squeeze through which she is, although barely. In the next episode, Obi-Wan's entire team tries to escape the Citadel in absurdly spacious airvents. However these have lethally effective security doors, and the warden has enough common sense to send at least one drone in the airvents.
- In "A Test of Strength", Hondo Ohnaka proves he is smart by immediately recognizing the trick and having smoke bombs dropped into the vents to flush out the occupants.
- The second episode of the unfinished Utapau arc had Anakin and Obi-Wan try to escape from a group of armed weapons dealers by crawling through their ship's ventilation system. However, not only do the arms dealers simply shoot into the vents, the vents are so cramped that the Jedi have to use the Force to move each other around to avoid getting shot.Obi-Wan Kenobi: Brilliant Idea. This is a much narrower space. No room to maneuver, we'll be shot for sure.
Anakin Skywalker: Sorry. I thought it would be a good place to hide.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: It's never a good place to hide. We're always in the ventilation duct, every ship we go in.
- Star Wars Rebels: In the first two seasons, Ezra Bridger spends a lot of time crawling around in ducts. The fact that he's a scrawny, underfed teenager helps a great deal. By Season 3 he's had a growth spurt, so he can't do this anymore. Oddly enough, serves as a Call-Back in the series finale: when Ezra decides to sacrifice himself he escapes the room through the air ducts, even noting "one last time" as he does.
- Teen Titans:
- Exception; Titans Tower's quarantine lock-down system apparently does seal off openings to the air ducts, as seen in the episode "Haunted". (Robin got into the vents anyway....)
- Subverted in the same series: Cyborg is attempting an Air Vent Infiltration in the episode "Wavelength" when the walls roll up and the thing rotates, dumping him into an arena and a battle with Bumblebee which he very nearly loses. He should've thought twice about even coming across a vent big enough for his 6-foot, 200-pound chassis.
- This is a favorite route of the girls in Totally Spies! for breaking in, clearly thanks to Male Gaze. Also done in the spinoff The Amazing Spiez though vaguely more realistically due to the characters being 13 (Lee), 12 (Marc and Megan) and 11 (Tony). Even more plausibly the character seen doing this the most is Tony who, due to his young age, would realistically fit.
- The Transformers episode "The Ultimate Doom, Part 2" introduced ventilation ducts large enough for Transformers to stand inside. Spike, Bumblebee & Brawn go through a ventilation shaft that takes them to Decepticon HQ. They're on Cybertron, where everything is of the same scale as Transformers are to humans, but why would they need air anyway?
- And pulled again in Transformers Animated, episode "Decepticon Air". Optimus Prime crawls through the ducts (it seems to be a squeeze, letting him homage Die Hard as well) of a spaceship — maybe the air circulates to keep the energon from heating up and getting unstable? He does use it as a makeshift bomb, after all.
- Beast Wars: Cheetor goes through the ventilation shafts of the Predacon ship after having been accidentally transported to The Darksyde in "Equal Measures".
- The strangely clean air ducts of the SHIELD Helicarrier are lampshaded in the Ultimate Spider-Man episode "For Your Eye Only" which, as a spy movie parody with nods to Die Hard, has Spidey using air ducts rather frequently.
- Defied in Wolverine and the X-Men: Wolverine and Gambit are trying to break into a secret lab to steal back a power inhibitor collar, and Wolverine suggests taking advantage of this trope. Gambit counters with: "Heh, only in the world of cinema. In real life, they never hold." It certainly doesn't help that Wolverine's metal skeleton makes him about three times as heavy as a normal person.
- X-Men: Evolution
- Subverted, with the vent being only a few inches long, big enough for people to climb into, having a ladder inside, and Blob gets stuck. However, it also has a large amount of security lids which Cyke was able to close to keep Mystique from escaping.
- Played with in another episode. When the group is testing out the security of the mansion, Wolverine is able to go to many parts of the mansion through the vents, and suggests something be done about them.
- Young Justice:
- In "Homefront" - the "Die Hard" on an X episode - Robin and Artemis spend a lot of time trying to avoid the Reds by crawling through the ducts; with varying degrees of success.
- In Season 2, a group of female team members do this in a bad guy's lair. The only one it makes sense for is Bumblebee who uses her shrinking powers to fit. On a more realistic note, all of the full-size heroines are shown having some difficulty maneuvering in the tight space.
Air Vent Passageway / Western Animation