The world's first commercial supersonic flight, Maiden I, is about to take off from New York to Paris, filled with a group of contest winners and crew. Unfortunately, Les Phillips (George Maharis), an engineer, fed up with being dissed by the plane's designer, Willy Bassett (Burgess Meredith), sabotages the plane's hydraulic system, causing it to malfunction during flight. And as if that isn't bad enough, Ralph Therman (Brock Peters), an epidemiologist from WHO, has the plane transport a highly infectious Senegal flu, turning the plane into a flying quarantine zone.
In the midst of all this, a whole bunch of subplots crop up. Hank Fairbanks (Doug McClure), a passenger working for an aircraft buyer company, has a grudge against the captain, Jim Walsh (Robert Reed). Said passenger used to have a relationship with one of the stewardesses. The airline's publicist is having an affair with Angela Garland (Misty Rowe), "Miss SST". And as if that isn't enough, a former sportscaster on the plane, Lyle Kingman (Martin Milner), is discussing a job change with his wife, Nancy (Susan Strasberg), and a woman, Anne Redding (Season Hubley), runs into her old boss/lover, Paul Whitley (Peter Graves), while traveling with her new lover, Bob Connors (John de Lancie).
Critically panned for its painfully standard disaster movie plot and poor production value, the film holds the dubious honor of being one of the first movies ever riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, getting the treatment during the show's KTMA season. For the MST3K episode, see here.
- Bad Boss: Les Phillips, according to Bassett, treats his crew badly and yells at one of them when he questions his orders.
- Bittersweet Ending: The plane manages to make an emergency landing in Senegal, preventing the disease from being brought into a country not prepared to deal with it. However, not everyone on the plane makes it out alive.
- Cool Old Guy: Bassett.
- Commander Contrarian: The airline executive Marshall Cole assumes this role when Phillips tries to convince him that the plane will fail, telling him the virgin voyage is too important a promotional event to be aborted with so little evidence; justified in that he doesn't know that Phillips has sabotaged the plane.
- Disaster Movie
- The Ditz: Miss SST is chatty and a bit naive, thinking the publicist will marry her without hesitation, but friendly to everyone.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Phillips sabotages the plane, planning to get the plane to turn around and discredit Basset. It works about as well as expected.
- Four Lines, All Waiting
- From Bad to Worse: Things are difficult enough when the plane's hydraulic systems are malfunctioning, but the deadly virus onboard really puts the icing on the cake.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Played straight with Miss SST when the publicist isn't willing to start a family with her and wants her to have one; she immediately refuses and is offended that he even suggested it.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Bob Connors gets increasingly nasty when learning about Anne's past relationship with Paul, to the point of punching Paul in the face.
- Incurable Cough of Death: A symptom of the Senegal flu. The scene where Bassett does it stands out.
- Living Legend: Bassett is described as one, within the world of aircraft design anyway."The thing about being a legend is everyone assumes you're dead."
- Mission Control: Marshall Cole spends much of his time in the movie guiding the pilots through the flight by radio.
- The Needs of the Many: When the Senegal flu strikes, the passengers vote to take a chance and have the plane fly to Senegal, where the disease has run its course and can be contained, rather than follow the airline's orders to land in London and risk spreading it to the rest of the world.
- Never My Fault: Phillips refuses to take any responsibility for his sabotage of the plane, instead blaming the pilot for not listening to him when he told him the plane was in trouble or blaming Bassett for not giving him the promotion he thought he deserved.
- Token Minority: Dr. Ralph Therman, played by Brock Peters, is the only black character on the plane (though not the only black character in the movie).
- Token Romance: Most of the subplots qualify since they have some romantic component with no impact on the plane's emergency. The triangle drama between Anne, Paul and Bob stands out.
- What the Hell, Hero?: In the past, Hank lost his pilot license for making an emergency landing, in his words, in "less than ideal weather". While he presents it to Bassett as though the airline overreacted, Jim Walsh, his co-pilot during the flight who reported him, later reminds him that the weather was worse and the landing he did was much more reckless than he let on and it was a miracle the plane didn't crash.