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Air-Vent Passageway
aka: Air Vent Escape

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Why this trope doesn't work in Real Life.

"Buildings always seem to house gigantic vertical shafts where the hero can hide and access any other room in the entire building, and where the enemy never seems to look for them."
"Hollywood Rule Book," Vanity Fair

It's the only move a villain can make that's stupider than Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard (or any room with a bed). When heroes find themselves trapped in a room with all doors and windows locked, the quickest exit is always through the ventilation duct. Air vents also work excellently in reverse for breaking in and infiltrating a facility.

Openings are within reach, covers require little effort to remove, the ducts themselves can support the weight of a person and are wide enough in diameter to allow an adult to pass through, there are no internal obstacles except for the occasional Deadly Rotary Fan blocking the branching corridors, they are free of normal sheet metal's dangerously sharp edges, they are totally soundproof, there are no security cameras, and there's never a lack of light or chance of getting lost unless the plot calls for it.


And the escapee always emerges without having picked up so much as a speck of dust.

A smart villain would have smaller air ducts, post guards around the openings, or line their ducts with barbed wire and broken glass. It even appears near the top of the Evil Overlord List.

This is practically a Discredited Trope by now, and requires some effort to justify if it's to be used seriously. Despite that, it's actually happened at least once in real life. Frank Morris and his accomplices escaped from Alcatraz using the large ventilation duct that led them to the roof. And that leads to knowing that large industrial, commercial and construction complexes need to have enough air flow to manage their needs (like hot equipment or extremely deep locations for personnel use), which often requires a large ventilation system. It's not practical in general use though, still, as grates bolted in place still block your entrance and getting towards office space will shrink the vents.


Some large universities (MIT and Caltech in particular) have longstanding "steam tunnel spelunkers" clubs, who often use air ducts (among other things) for exploring, getting around campus quickly, or pulling pranks. Readers of this trope should be advised that this is extremely dangerous, not to mention illegal — steam tunnels are usually hot, cramped, and frequently criss-crossed by scalding-hot piping, and explorers face trespassing charges and possible academic sanctions if they're discovered withinnote . Disney, meanwhile, has taken the concept of utility tunnels and turned them into the Utilidor system used at their parks, which allows staff to quickly move from one area to another without ever needing to break the suspension of disbelief by wandering about in their uniform on the surface.

Most Real Life attempts to sneak in or out via air duct aren't very successful, since people tend to be fairly large and ducts tend to be fairly small, plus the fact that air can bend at ninety degree angles and fit through grates much more readily. There have been numerous cases where enterprising criminals have attempted to rob a store by sneaking through the ducts and end up getting stuck. The usual ending is the embarrassed criminal being either pulled or cut out of the duct by the fire department and then promptly handed over to the authorities.

Compare Absurdly Spacious Sewer for a similar trope which takes place beneath buildings rather than in them. Also see Chimney Entry.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In "Turnabout Prophecy" of the Ace Attorney manga, this is averted. The ventilation pipes themselves are too small to crawl in, but it is possible to crawl in the area where the pipes are.
  • In AKIRA, Kaneda tries to escape custody through the ventilation duct. He doesn't get far though.
  • In Axis Powers Hetalia, Paint it White!: Italy, Germany, and Japan pull one of these in order to escape the aliens currently chasing them. May or may not be justified because they were in an alien mothership, with air vents about the size of an average person. They DID fall through at one point, and Germany got quite a few scratches to the face.
  • Amusingly downplayed by Jody Hayward in El Cazador de la Bruja. She uses the vents to sneak into Rosenberg's office only to find that her hips are slightly too large to fit through them.
  • Ryō and Saeko sneak into a jewel exhibit this way in City Hunter. Ryō gets a heel in his forehead as a reward for his overly ardent Male Gaze.
  • Justified on two occasions in Dance in the Vampire Bund.
    • Akira making it through the massive vents and tunnels of the underground city beneath Tokyo Landfill #1 to escape the assassins hunting him makes sense (and he finds himself reminding his prepubescent rescuers that he is not as compact as they are).
    • In an inversion from volume 7, after a Manchurian Agent locks down Mina's skyscraper-cum-palace the only person who can get to the security center via the way-too-small-for-anything-remotely-human vents is Vera (who turns into mist and is obliged to leave her clothes behind).
  • While searching an enemy ship in Fairy Tail the Exceeds (who are about the size of a cat) are shown crawling through an air vent, wondering about the necessity of it and complaining about how narrow it is. When they ask why they're in there instead of searching the rooms like a normal person, Happy says "No particular reason".
  • Franken Fran has to cut off at least half her body in order to pull off a vent escape.
  • Justified in Fullmetal Alchemist: shrimpy Edward is the only character who can fit in the air vents, and for him it's a tight fit. Which leads to further comedy as Ed has a complex for being The Napoleon.
  • Futari wa Pretty Cure episode 10. Nagisa needs to get into a store being robbed so she can meet Honoka, since they have to be together to transform. Extra points for doing it in the course of about five seconds with no equipment.
  • In G Gundam's second episode, Domon sneaks through the ducts of Madison Square Garden and ambushes Chibodee's boxing opponent so he can take his place. In the 2010 manga re-telling, the sequence is Played for Laughs instead: Domon intends to go to Chibodee and challenge him, but ends up in the opponent's room because he got lost. He then tries to play himself off as an autograph hound. It doesn't work, and after knocking the guy out he decides to take his place.
  • Mamoru and Volfogg do this in GaoGaiGar when their base is taken over by a computer-hacking Zonder. Mamoru is a nine-year-old, but Volfogg is a robot that transforms into a police car.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
    • Like the opening of season 1, the opening of season 2 is all about showing off the awesome skills of Section 9 while providing a reason for the unit's reactivation. The regular SWAT unit attempts an assault on the Chinese embassy through the air vents, but spectacularly fails with one officer dead and another being added to the terrorists' hostages. Seeing these poor results, his superiors immediately give Aramaki the green light to send in his team and get the job done.
    • When Batou is snooping around in Zaitsev's office, he hides in the ducts when Zaitsev returns unexpectedly.
    • 2nd GIG episode "Ambivalence". Major Kusanagi physically breaks into the Cabinet Intelligence Agency's building to cyberhack into its Decatonchire server. After the Big Bad Goda discovers the breach and alerts security, she escapes the building by entering the air system via a opening in the ceiling.
  • Hellsing
    • Integra does this to hide from her uncle.
    • Seras and Walter also use this to avoid a confrontation with the Valentine brothers.
    • Walter actually makes a point of reminding Integra that she used the vents to hide, so it's possible that they were deliberately designed with the purpose of allowing people to move throughout the mansion and avoid enemies in mind.
  • Done in Hunter × Hunter, though the character doing this (Queen Oito, after Kurapika grants her Nen abilities) is mind-controlling a cockroach, making it more plausible than normal. The cockroach finds Prince Tserriednich's Nen Beast within the ducts, forcing Oito to perform a quick mind-recall back to herself before the Nen Beast eats the cockroach.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency, the Pillar Man Santana manages to get through a 4-by-20-inch, grate-covered vent by pulverizing every bone in his body and flattening himself until he can slip through. Thereafter, the Nazi research team does not live long enough to learn that Evil Is Not a Toy.
  • Subverted with glee in Mnemosyne: Slender (though busty) Action Girl Rin Asougi decides to infiltrate an empty research laboratory by going through the ducts. She predicts the lasers and makes them visible by filling the cramped ventilation duct with smoke from a cigarette, and then proceeds to slip under the lasers... until her butt catches the laser, setting off all the alarms. Cue Rin's capture and... Squick.
  • In Monster, Johan and Anna/Nina's mother escapes through a rather small-looking air vent not just pregnant but in labor.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Asuka, Rei, and Shinji were forced to use this route to get into the Geo-Front during a power outage when none of the doors would open. The air vent entrance also lampshaded the Male Gaze when Asuka kept kicking Shinji for "looking ahead." Later in the episode, we are treated to the sight of Humongous Mecha escaping via (humongous) air ducts. The geofront itself is an immense underground open space, hence the need for extremely large duct shafts to the surface to keep the air fresh.
  • Done once in Rave Master though by a creature who must be light, because he floats when he sleeps, and something that may be a small dog.
  • In Shugo Chara!, Kiseki and Yoru escape from a locked room this way. Justified since the Shugo Charas in that series are small enough to fit in normal air ducts.
  • Successfully done by Tsukiyo in The World God Only Knows, but small as she is she still couldn't have pulled it off normally. Rather, she was shrunk down to the size of a doll and it was still a pretty tight fit.
  • Mokuba Kaiba once escaped from the Big 5 this way in Yu-Gi-Oh! At least he's a fairly small kid, more likely to fit and all that.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! R, Jounouchi and Honda avoid some Mooks this way. Lampshaded by Jou, who complains about how claustrophobic it is and keeps getting accidentally kicked in the face by Honda.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, a few characters escape from prison this way. It takes them a while to remove the grate and the fans inside, and a guard catches them, but they manage to bluff that they had been ordered to repair it.

    Audio Plays 
  • Lampshaded in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure "The Apocalypse Element".
    Evelyn: There must be some other way. An inspection hatch, or even, God help us, a ventilation shaft!
  • Played straight in the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of the Raffles story "The Gift of the Emperor". Raffles uses the cruise ship's ventilation system to sneak between rooms. The book (which was written in the nineteenth century) employs a more era-appropriate chimney-drop.

    Comic Books 
  • An example of a villain using this trope is found in Marvel's 1990s series Sleepwalker, when Serial Killer Jeremy Roscoe, after freeing himself from his restraints, climbs into the ducts to escape the prison hospital where he was being held. Probably not as bad as some of the other examples, since by that time the alarms were already activated and Roscoe's only concern was getting out by the fastest route possible.
  • Spider-Man does this every now and again. In an interesting variation, however, he usually does it when he's breaking into a place, rather than trying to escape.
  • Kei tries this in The Dirty Pair series Biohazard. But she gets stuck when her full, child-bearing hips won't fit. Mmmm. It's a Shout-Out to one of the TV episodes. Also contains Yuri's wonderful 4th-wall-leaning/Lampshade Hanging from her outside POV: "Been hitting the cheesecake a little too hard, hmm?"
  • In the fourth issue of Gotham City Garage, Supergirl, Nightwing and Catwoman crawl into a vent to break into a secret facility belonging to Lex Luthor.
  • Averted in Y: The Last Man when Agent 355 and Yorick are breaking into a hotel in Sydney (surrounded by barbed wire and armed security due to the increase in drug-related crime After the End).
    Agent 355: You said we'd be able to use the air conditioning vents. They're six inches by four inches.
    Yorick: Yeah, well, I overestimated the amount of... air this place might need...
  • Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four does this now and again as well. Justified in that his powers are to stretch his body to any length, and width.
  • Batman
    • Scarecrow escaped Arkham Asylum this way. Justified in that this villain has always been a skinny britches. And it's Arkham Asylum.
    • Used again in the 1980s Frank Miller envisioning of Batman. True, this time it was an arranged "escape" — with both Batman and Commissioner Gordon in on the act of breaking a villain out of an ordinary holding cell. However, this time the prisoner is the hulking Mutant leader, a man built enough to take on Batman in hand-to-hand combat. (The breakout was so that Batman could have a rematch, after also arranging for the entire Mutant gang to be on hand to watch their leader get taught a lesson in messing with the Batman.)
    • In Robin Series Damain worked his way to the heart of the Batcave using the air vents when he was trying to escape from his grandfather. He wasn't able to enter the vents until he'd already made it into the cave and past layers of security, and it wasn't sneaky at all as Tim was well aware of his location and waiting for him when he exited.
  • Ms. Tree makes this escape as part of her "Die Hard" on an X plot in the "New Year's Evil" story.
  • In Dreamkeepers, Namah and Mace (and Whip) are both partial to this trope.
  • Used in a Bash Street Kids strip in The Beano which saw Fatty, Plug and Smiffy crawl into a vent in an attempt to steal a key off Teacher.
  • Subverted in "Earthquake", an issue of Paperinik New Adventures: Paperinik must get around a closed door. Being Genre Savvy, he tries to go into an airvent, remarking: "This always works in the movies!" Being a Pint-Sized Powerhouse, he can crawl in, but his large shield gets stuck.
  • Discussed by Catwoman, who explains that extra and unnecessarily large vents and crawlspaces are common in Gotham as a result of the widespread corruption that allows contractors to get paid for extra construction on municipal buildings, then further cautions that most of these are undependable and poorly made because they're just there to justify extra budget allocations and the contractors weren't concerned with their use and upkeep.
  • Played with in Diabolik: Some houses may have or have not vents sufficiently large, resulting in Diabolik and Eva (extremely agile people) either climbing in themselves or using a remote-controlled robot to reach the safe or vault.
    • The series being what it is, one of Diabolik's targets put together a Diabolik-proof vault, whose security measures included vents too small for Diabolik and Eva and an always active jammer in case someone tried with a remote-controlled robot. Thus you can understand how surprised were Diabolik and Ginko when someone still stole from the vault... At least until Diabolik found out it had been the owner's daughter, a very intelligent child who wanted her father's attention.
  • In Flare, Raven Gold the party crasher uses one to sneak into Max Krueger's office toward the bottom of this page.
  • Subverted in the IDW continuation of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Bombstrike is captured by the Red Shadows and imprisoned in their research facility in Olliestan. When the guards notice through the vision panel in the door that her cell appears to be empty, they throw in a flash-bang grenade before entering (in case she's hiding just out of view from the peephole), only to find the cell is empty and the grate over the air vent is dislodged. The guards do question how she fit through there, but run off to raise the alert, leaving the cell door wide open. Once it's all clear, Bombstrike emerges from above the ceiling tiles in the cell and makes her way out through the corridor.
  • Mickey Mouse Comic Universe:

    Comic Strips 
  • In a series of Get Fuzzy strips, Bucky tried this tactic to reach the ferret in the next apartment. While he fit fine (because he's a cat) he ended up getting lost and having to call for help... and Satchel mistook the voice coming out of the walls for God. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In a Dilbert strip, Alice tells naive intern Asok, "You must climb through the Jeffries tubes to reach the furnace before it fries us all!" He gets stuck half-way in, but that was her plan: "Today, Asok learns that life is not like Star Trek." With Asok's lower body hanging out of the vent, Alice puts up a sign that reads "Spank the Intern $.50".
    • Similarly, the boss has to hide in the ducts when his security clearance is revoked. He gets stuck and is presumed dead, resulting in the construction of a 'totally cool device to increase the duct pressure and propel his carcass into the stratosphere'.

    Fan Works 
  • Code Wings 3.0: Jeremie and the others use the ventilation shaft to their new room to evade the whitecoats and Erasers.
  • Epic: The Third Survivor: Sherry spends several chapters roaming around the police station's ventilation system to evade the zombies.
  • This is the method that Draco uses to get the Death Eaters into Hogwarts in A Very Potter Musical.
  • Zig-Zagged in a weirdly justified way in Heroes of the Desk—the air vents at a university facility are not large enough for a full-size human (averted), but a 14" tall Hero character can crawl through them (played straight—supercomputing buildings need a lot of cooling).
  • One chapter of the Kim Possible fanfic I Think Some Serious Physics Just Happened has a nice deconstruction of the trope when Ron, dropped into the real world, sneaks into a library through the airvents and naturally gets dirty while crawling through them. Then he starts to wonder why the vents in the supervillains' lairs were never less than spotless. Who was cleaning them? How? Why?
    • It's often a good idea to clean out ventilation systems to increase air-flow efficiency, reduce allergens, and stop a significant layer of dust accumulating on everything in the building every night. Particularly in warehouses with the giant ventilation systems that someone could actually crawl through.
    • Or there might simply be enough traffic in the ventilation system of the average villain lair to prevent dust gathering... Let's face it, those bases usually last a month or three, and see twenty-odd people getting around by air vents in that timeframe.
  • In another Kim Possible fanfic, To Bebe or not to Bebe, Kim and Ron are captured by a surprisingly competent villain who not only has air vents too small to crawl through, but also took all their equipment and destroyed it rather than leave it out to pick up when they escape.
  • HERZ: In chapter 4 Kurumi used a ventilation shaft to reach Terminal Dogma after being told it was off-limits.
    The grill made a tremendous clanging sound as it crashed onto the floor. Kurumi, in her UNIPF combat fatigues, emerged from the ventilation shaft. "Terminal Dogma is off-limits, my ass."
  • The Second Try: Shinji used a ventilation shaft to sneak out and back in NERV in the second-to-last chapter.
  • Nobody Dies: Terrifying!Rei's favorite method of Stealth Hi/Bye is to drop out of NERV's any ventilation system. He~eeey. Oh, Crap!. Running now. Later revealed to be a trait common to all Lilith-based Nephilem, as when Shinji is temporarily turned into a Nephilem, he suddenly gets good at zipping through vents too. Kensuke is picking it up as well, due to his... "friendship" with Rei.
  • Used in the Portal 2 fanfic Test of Humanity, though it's more of an "incinerator exhaust pipe escape". Subverted in that Wheatley is too fat to fit all the way through and ends up stuck, causing the pipe to explode from the built-up pressure.
  • In Fallout: Equestria - Pink Eyes, the main character Puppysmiles is just a little filly, meaning it's easier to crawl around in tight spaces. She uses this to enter a locked-down fortress to search for her mom.
  • Examples from the Calvinverse:
  • Queen of All Oni: Drago uses the air vents to break into Section 13. He calls it a cliche, and expresses disappointment that the Section 13 of the present isn't on the same level as the one in his time.
    • During the Final Battle, Jade and Hebi use the chaos of her forces' invasion of Section 13 as a distraction to sneak into the air vents and use them to get to the Vault unseen.
  • Earth and Sky: After Chrysalis is arrested and thrown in the dungeon in Los Pegasus, she slips free of her chains by molting to filly-size and then crawls out through a vent. Even then, it only works because, as Luna points out, her carapace hasn't hardened yet, allowing her to squeeze through the tight space.
  • Hitman Miami: In chapter 8, the only way into the target's office, apart from a locked steel door, is a six-inch wide vent in the ceiling, which Agent 47 uses to drop monkey chow into the room in order to lure in a Killer Gorilla, then a grenade to kill the gorilla.
  • In the Portal/My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic crossover Better Living Through Science and Ponies, Chell uses some vents to get back inside the Enrichment Center. Justified in that her small pony body fits better.
  • In Blue Sky it's not exactly air vents, but climbing in the chaotic crawl spaces of the facility.
  • The absurdly spacious ones in Arkham are viciously lampshaded in the Batman fic Bruce Has A Problem; evidently they were originally dog runs put in by a director who thought dogs would have mental healing properties, abandoned when the director died in a dog-petting accident. They were then repurposed as vents by another director, who was looking to cut costs to fund a step pyramid he was building.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic series Harpflank And Sweets — in the headquarters of the heroes, no less.
  • Used for infiltration in the Mass Effect fic Masses to Masses. Subverted when Ian's weight brings it down, resulting in Melanis lecturing him on how this trope doesn't work in real situations.
  • In the Stargate Universe fic Scribblings, Chloe and Rush both make use of a variant of this: Chloe turns it into a prison for Eli and Rush turns it into a nest.
  • In the Super Smash Bros. fic Smash Generation, this is how Midna went to see who was in the Mansion, and also how Pear, Riley, BJ and Popo evaded escape.
  • This is Eric's favorite method of travel in the Glee fanfic Spah Verse, both at Dalton and McKinley.
  • In the Persona/Super Smash Bros. crossover SSB The Return, Melody uses these to get around the school.
  • In the Mega Crossover Super Network Wars episode 27, some members of the Nueva Liga Filipina have to crawl through this in order to stop the poisons from being administered into the food of the VIPs at the 12th ASEAN Summit.
  • Occurs in Bubble Gum Crisis fanfic The Bubblegum Zone.
  • In the Harry Potter AU series The Darkness Series, Harry uses this when doing spy work at Riddle Manor in snake form.
  • The Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers fic Diamonds In The Desert is practically about this.
    • Also from the same series, Zipper gets into and out of the National Institute for Mental Health via air vents in Lost And Found, and the Rangers use the air-conditioning vents to get into Mr. Jacob's penthouse in Last Date.
  • The heroes use these to break into the base in the Jimmy Neutron fanfic The Other Side Of Tomorrow.
  • Occurs in the Star Wars Alternate Universe The Part to Be Played.
  • Part of the caper plans in the Undocumented Features fic Hellbringer and the After-School Special Mission Force #1: "The Bad Bank Caper" — as Lain Iwakura says, "Oh, good... I was -hoping- we'd be hitting all the cliches on this job."
  • This is how Carlos leaves the VILE base in the Where's Waldo/Carmen Sandiego crossover Where On Earth Spies. He's a small dog, so it works.
  • Used by the protagonists of Yu-Gi-Oh! Forever during the last part of the Dueltropolis arc, to sneak on board the ARK.
  • Calvin and Hobbes use this to infiltrate a base in Trouble Island.
  • Justified in Mass Effect Human Revolution: Ventilation passages in Krogan battle barges are huge because they're really meant for defenders to outmaneuver boarders.
  • Equestrylvania: In Book 2, after Rainbow Dash and Shatterstom are captured by Rose Blade, he has the former locked in a bathroom that's been converted into a holding cell/torture chamber; after getting free of her chains, she gets out of the room this way. Somewhat subverted, as it's a cramped fit, and Rainbow Dash is constantly worried that she's going to make noise and alert the Mooks below.
  • Sailor Moon: Legends of Lightstorm: In an attempt to bond with Sailor Mercury, Sailor Jupiter suggests that they get into a suspicious building by crawling in through the vents "like in the movies". Misunderstanding her intent, Mercury merely points out that the vents are probably too small for them to fit through.
  • Averted in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. George talks about maybe navigating the air ducts to get to Mevaryat's basement room in the concert hall, but he isn't thrilled about the idea because he has no idea where the things go, and can't really navigate the larger world when he's something small anyway. Later, he finds out that the Tipaanese anticipated he might go in that way and set traps throughout the air ducts. Too bad for them he found a different way to get into the room.
  • Lampshaded in Child of the Storm, wherein Clint (and later, Bucky) like to crawl around in them to get into HYDRA bases (or in Clint's case, just because he likes crawling around in the Avengers Tower ones). Tony freaked out the first time. Now, being Tony, he still likes to pretend he has no idea of what's going on and send his robots to flush them out.
    • In the sequel, Bucky notes that they'd be amazed at how many HYDRA bases he's broken into, a point he's apparently previously made to Harry. Harry, however, prefers making his own doorways. Or using Doctor Strange as a chauffeur. As he loftily puts it, "One makes a statement, the other is economical.”
    • On a related note, it's become solid fanon in the Avengers fandom that Clint likes doing this. A lot.
  • Both played straight and deconstructed in the Batman fanfic "Of Friends and Foes." Robin and Kid Flash decide to sneak through air vents to eavesdrop on the JLA meeting for fun, and the size of the vents is explained away as being large enough for adults to come and work up there if a problem arises. However, it's noted that Robin still has to use his agility to get around, that it's pretty dirty, and that the boys have to keep their voices down to avoid being heard. Since one of the members has super-hearing and X-ray vision, one has Hyper-Awareness, and another is a telepath, it doesn't go too well anyway.
  • In Narbonic fanfic A Brief Moment of Culture, Artie hides from a mind-controlled Mell in the ventilation ducts. Justified because tiny little gerbil; it's made clear a human would have trouble fitting an arm in the ducts. And then subverted when Mell begins methodically smashing the ducts from one side to the other, which admittedly isn't something you can do with human-sized ones.
  • There are two instances in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. Both of them are justified given that they involve relatively small Pokémon:
    • The first, Ash's Aipom sneaks aboard the vents in Hunter J's airship, opening the doors for Ash and the others to get through to escape.
    • The second, Ash's Snivy gets away from the Samurai by sneaking through the air vents of the battle club, and eventually seeing Ash and deciding to challenge him to see if he's the trainer she's looking for.
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Duo: In chapter 8, the group uses one to sneak into the aquarium and find the missing Hanon. It ends up backfiring on them when they end up falling down a chute and landing heavily.
  • In All Guardsmen Party the Occurrence Border has plenty such passageways. When Sarge tries looking for similarly-size vents on a properly-built space station, he's told nobody would ever build vents large enough to crawl through. The only reason the Border has such vents is because it's a very stupid ship.

    Films — Animation 
  • Subverted in Ed, Edd n Eddy's "Big Picture Show". Taking refuge in Eddy's Brother's room, the Eds try to get out the window. It's bricked in, as shown in a previous episode. ("My brother's a whiz at laying bricks.") While Edd tries to find another way out, he trips over a rug, revealing a heating duct. Eddy quickly pries open the grate, jumps in, and... more bricks. Then Ed finds the "In Case Of Movie Break Glass" case.
  • Lilo & Stitch: This is how Stitch escapes from the prisoner bay after breaking out of his cell. Justified because he's small and fast, and all the guards know he's there, they just couldn't shoot him in time.
  • The Secret of NIMH carries this over from the book it's based on. The rats make it out fine, however all but two of the mice are blown away to their deaths.
  • In Sky Blue, Shua flees Ecoban through the air vents after going through the Absurdly Spacious Sewer system.
  • Done by Trig in Starship Troopers: Invasion, where she has to strip out of her power armor to get into the vent. She also mentions that Bugspray would never fit when he wants to go with her.
  • Lampshaded near the start of Titan A.E. when Korso tells Cale to head for the vents. Cale responds sarcastically that no one would think to look for them there.
  • Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Naturally, ducts are much more convenient when you're eight inches tall.
  • Wallace & Gromit's The Wrong Trousers has air ducts to a museum big enough to stand in. They were realistically loud though, insofar as a pair of remote-controlled, vacuum-soled robotic trousers can be realistic.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane. When Michelle wakes up trapped in the bunker, she doesn't try to use the air vent as the hatch is too small, though she does light a fire in there to get Howard to open the door. Later the air filtration system stops working, and Michelle is the only one small enough to crawl through the vent to fix it. There's a larger access hatch in the living room, but the duct itself is extremely cramped; Michelle doesn't crawl through it so much as she inches her way into it. This is played for drama when she makes her escape through the vent and Howard (who's much too big to fit in the vent himself), tries to kill her by stabbing a knife through the duct.
  • Referenced in 12 Monkeys when the staff of a mental hospital find Cole has vanished from his restraints, in a locked room. Their eyes turn to the tiny air vent way up on the high ceiling. After all, there's no other way out. Unless he was snatched through time...
  • 28 Weeks Later has Andy using this to escape a room in which the ranks of the infected are growing exponentially. Partially justified in that Andy is supposed to be only around ten or eleven and therefore is small enough to fit inside the vent with little trouble.
  • In 1408, protagonist Mike Enslin attempts to escape from the titular room by crawling through the air duct... only to discover that one of the room's many long-dead occupants has taken up residence there as well. He manages to escape the ghoul by quickly backtracking out of the vents, but the attempted escape in the first place didn't do anything, as most of the airvents leading to different rooms simply lead to various memories he's had throughout life, making it a pointless effort to begin with, not that he knew that until he tried.
  • Deconstructed in the "A is for Amateur" segment of ABCs of Death 2 where the assassin's planned entrance through the air vents is foiled by close quarters, protruding nails, and massive amounts of dust. He eventually takes out his target anyway, when the vent is opened to find the source of the corpse-stink, and the gun falls out, going off when it hits the floor.
  • Alien:
    • In Alien, the monster actually uses the air duct escape against the protagonists
    • In Aliens, Ripley and the marines use ducts to escape the monsters (which likewise use the ducts to invade). Likewise the aliens bypass the walls and doors by sneaking through the ceiling plenum à la The Breakfast Club, correctly using the structure to carry their weight and cross the lay-in-ceiling.
    • It's only explained in the movie's extended director's cut, but the character of "Newt" earned that nickname because she was so good at playing hide-and-seek in those same ducts.
  • Naturally Ant-Man finds this trope easier than other heroes, but a Properly Paranoid Big Bad puts micromesh across the ventilators, so our hero has to get inside the building first via the water pipes.
  • In Bad Kids Go to Hell: Matt attempts to use the ducts to escape the library, but they collapse under his weight. The lighter Tarvek is later able to use them to actually get outside. For all the good that does him.
  • Bad Santa 2 features a character crawling up both a garbage chute and an air-vent to spy on someone. He's discovered when his phone rings and starts to play Pop That Pussy.
  • Played completely straight in Blue Streak, where Logan manages to hide a huge diamond right before the cops find and arrest him. Years later, he is released from prison and comes looking... only to find out that the building is now a police precinct.
  • Subverted in The Boondock Saints, when the brothers break into Copley Plaza Hotel to assassinate Russian mobsters, but get lost and break the vent... granted, they happen to near-fall into the correct room. Agent Smecker than explains how this trope is only ever seen in "bad television":
    Smecker: Little assault guys, crawling through the vents, coming in through the ceiling — that James Bond shit never happens in real life! Professionals don't do that!
  • Subverted in The Breakfast Club. After John Bender is locked in a broom closet by Principal Vernon, he tries to escape through an air duct, which collapses just as he is muttering the punchline to an obscene joke to himself (and the audience).
  • Memorably parodied in The Brothers Bloom. Penelope needs to smuggle a MacGuffin out of a church while the police are thoroughly distracted. She fits in the air vents well enough, but they are not concealed in the least, and the clamor she makes attracts the police to her. The duct has very little support, so it breaks open right in front of a SWAT team, and she picks herself up into a Fighting Stance.
  • Subverted in the B-movie Chopping Mall. The teens attempt to escape the shopping mall's malfunctioning killer robots through the airvent. Only the girls get in before the guys are forced to flee for their lives. The girl end up abandoning this plan when it seems the computer has turned on the heat, forcing them to leave the vent and re-enter the mall.
  • In Colombiana, Cataleya sneaks through a prison's air vents, helped by the fact that she is very skinny. She had to disable the vents' fans before starting her journey.
  • Slightly altered in Crossfire, where the main characters are able to escape an army of police by crawling through an air duct of a building.
  • Cyberjack: Nick uses the giant air ducts to navigate around the office building and hide from the terrorists.
  • A variation happens in the Italian movie Danger: Diabolik (featured on the last episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000), where the title character scales up a castle wall using a pair of devices consisting of three hand-activated suction cups attached to a handle. Mike and the Bots have a field day with it.
    Servo: Diabolik's only two feet down the tower, moving as fast as he can...
  • In Dawn of the Dead, the main characters drywall use the mall's air vents to access the stores that are locked with gates. They also drywall and paint over the door to their hiding area so it looks like there was never a door there and rely on the air vents to access the area instead, figuring that marauding survivors may target the mall and would be a bigger threat than zombies. An assumption that proves very valid.
  • Daylight has Sylvester Stallone get into a caved-in tunnel through a air vent. Since the air vent was meant to supply air to a car tunnel, its huge size is justified. However, the architecture of the system is still not completely realistic.
  • Subverted in the Day of the Dead (2008) remake, as one of the zombies catches the heroes trying this and actually follows them into the vent.
  • In the HBO Movie Deadly Voyage (depicting the murder of 8 African stowaways on a Europe-bound cargo ship), the 9th stowaway manages to escape from the ship and his would-be killers by shimmying up one of these. Made all the more harrowing by the fact that movie is based on a true story and that this isn't Adaptation Displacement — this is EXACTLY how the man was able to get away.
  • In DEBS, Lucy Diamond uses the air vents to infiltrate the building in which Endgame is occurring, but it turns out that Homeland Security has been briefed about the possibility that spies could enter illegally through such routes.
  • In Den of Thieves, Donnie escapes from the basement of the Reserve by crawling up an air vent to the second floor.
  • In Desperate Measures, the villain Peter McCabe can take a medical facility over by himself once he gets to the control room, able to lock and open doors at will and talk via the police intercoms to the movie's main character, Frank Connor. An agent attempts to listen into McCabe and Connor's conversation by situating himself in an air vent above the control room and lowering a small mic, but he is soon found out by McCabe. He shoots into the ceiling and waits until he sees blood drip from the bullet holes in the ceiling. When asked by Connor what happened, he simply replies "Just a rat, Frank. Just a rat."
  • Die Hard
    • Used quite famously in the first film: the villains quickly realize the hero John is using the ventilation system, and come perilously close to catching him inside. Also lampshaded in that John McClane is rather muscular and the vents are small; he remarks, "Now I know what a TV dinner feels like." Plus, he gets really dirty.
    • In the second film, McClane crawls through a ventilation shaft on directions from the janitor to reach an area where he believes mooks are waiting to attack an airport SWAT team escorting the engineer to a backup radio system to establish contact with planes circling the airport. He turns out to be right, but gets there after the SWAT officers have been taken out permanently.
  • Played with in Eight Legged Freaks, when a character narrowly escapes the giant spiders by diving into a rooftop air duct into a mall's ventilation shafts... only to slide helplessly down a slanted vent, then get trapped when the grill at the bottom won't come loose.
  • Escape from Alcatraz: Morris, Charlie, and the Anglin brothers mount an escape by digging out the back of their cells to get into the ventilator shafts and escape Alcatraz prison through the roof.
  • The Fifth Element
    • Subverted when the villain sweeps the ceiling with a machine-gun, perforating Leelo, who is hiding in the ceiling duct.
    • Played straight earlier, when she escapes from the cloning lab by running through rather massive air ducts to get outside.
  • Seen in Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane. On board a 747 of all places.
  • Another MST3K film, Future War, subverts this trope. A minor character climbs into an air vent to avoid a rampaging killer cyborg. The vent promptly collapses through the ceiling under the weight of her average-sized body and she gets killed.
  • The starship in Galaxy Quest has a spacious duct system plus a team of fanboys able to navigate the heroes across. Justified as the starship is based on one used in a TV show, so this trope would come into play.
  • Garfield. Garfield goes through the air vent of the Telegraph building in order to find Odie. Justified since, even though Garfield is obese, he is still a cat and thus much smaller and lighter than a human. However, once he enters it, security guards turn on the air, causing him to fly around the air vents. He then slams into the end of the ducts, but doesn't get out. Eventually, he goes around to where he finds Odie.
  • Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed: Used by Ghost and Brigitte. Somewhat justified since they are both skinny teenage girls.
  • The 1998 American Godzilla movie has this, where Audrey Timmonds and Animal Palotti are sneaking through the vents of Madison Square Gardens in order to escape Godzilla's babies. Also subverted in the movie, since it turns out the vent can't hold their weight after all.
  • As evidenced in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Michael does not take too kindly to this trope. He proceeds to relentlessly stab the outside of the air vent when a would-be victim (his niece) tries to escape through one.
  • Subverted and lampshade Hung in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, when Kumar calls in an incident as a diversion and crawls through a heating duct to get Harold out of jail, making a racket, having an argument with Harold (who doesn't want to escape) while still in the duct, getting stuck in it and eventually causing the duct to collapse, falling onto a table and hitting his head on a file cabinet. He does manage to grab the bag of weed and get Harold out due to lampshade Hung Police Brutality, though.
  • Hero and the Terror: After his escape from prison, Simon Moon chooses to hide out in a popular opera house. He captures new victims by hiding in the air ventilation system.
  • Inception had the group breaking into an ice fortress using a air vent system. Justified since they had created those air vents to be big enough to let people move around.
  • In Like Flint. While in Moscow, Flint escapes from Russian agents, opens an air vent cover and goes inside. He then crawls down the tunnel and spies upon the Prime Minister (presumably they meant the Premier).
  • One of the scenes in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry involves the main characters (who are firemen) having to rescue a would be thief who got stuck trying to sneak through an air duct.
  • Done in Iron Sky by James Washington when escaping from the Nazis on their Moon base (It Makes Sense in Context). We're not shown how he actually get into the vents, all so that we can be treated to a pun by Klaus Adler, when he comments to Renate that she is a "knockout"... just as a vent cover is falling on him from the ceiling. Slightly justified in that the Nazis never expected to be invaded or infiltrated. And all their technology is of the Schizo Tech variety.
  • James Bond
    • Subverted in GoldenEye. The Dragon pursues Natalya Simonova into a breakroom and, seeing the air vent cover pulled down, opens fire into the air vent. After she's left, Natalya emerges from a cabinet, having used the air vent as a Decoy Hiding Place.
    • Double-subverted way back in the film Dr. No. When Bond tries to escape his cell through the vent, he gets electrocuted when he touches the grill. However, he tries again by using his shoe to push it out and succeeds in escaping. One part of the vent had red-hot surfaces and Bond gets swamped by a huge wave of water at one point. As a nice touch, he experimentally taps the grill at the other end with his feet to make sure it isn't electrified.
  • In Johnny English Reborn they use the Garderobe to infiltrate the castle.
  • In The Journey of Natty Gann, Natty escapes from a reform school via some kind of vent which she gets into by removing a grate from the bottom of the bathroom wall.
  • Alan, Lex and Tim do a variation of this in the original Jurassic Park. They're in the Visitors' Center kitchen, and can't get out the doors because of the raptors running around. So, they make their way to the center's lobby by removing ceiling panels and climbing up inside. Not into the actual air vents, though.
  • The Killing Room (2009). Several volunteers are locked in a room for a psychological experiment, only to be killed off one at a time. One man is able to smash through the ventilation duct in the ceiling. The researchers react calmly as this has all happened before (in fact, the protagonists had heard someone scrambling through the duct earlier). He reaches a roof duct, but is blocked by a steel grill. Two labcoated researchers with clipboards are shown standing over another rooftop duct from which can be heard a woman screaming. They walk over to the other grill, hit the man with knockout gas and drag him back to the Room.
  • Several of Krampus' minions crawl about the vents of the Engel household in Krampus.
  • In Masterminds, Ozzy has an extended sequence where he dodges the hostage-takers in air vents. Done realistically in that the school is huge but only covered by a small group, the ducts are barely large enough for him to fit in the first place (and he's not that big in the first place, being a kid), and he makes enough noise that they can follow him once they stumble upon his location.
  • In Men in Black II, the worms get to the power control of MIB headquarters through the air vents.
  • Mission: Impossible: Ethan Hunt infiltrates the CIA headquarters this way (along with Jean Reno's), which leads to the famous "dangling in the ultra-secure white room" scene.
  • Mission: Impossible III: Ethan escapes IMF headquarters like this. Given they are the masters of the air vent entry, you would have thought they'd had better security, but no. He didn't so much "escape" as "get into another office in the same building that shared the vent system". The vent Ethan crawls out of is in a room with pamphlets for the Virginia Department Of Transportation, his cover job, implying that he uses that room frequently and either knows of — or set up — that opportunity, should he ever need it.
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: There's an offhand comment that "infrared sensors" prevent Ethan from infiltrating the server room in the Burj Khalifa, so he has to get there by climbing up the outside of the world's tallest building. Played straight later on in the movie when Brandt has to enter another server room through the heat vents, which of course are rather hot and contain a Deadly Rotary Fan he has to leap onto and hope his metallic suit will keep him suspended above a remote-controlled robot with a large magnet. As a Running Gag in the movie is the failure of the various gadgets the IMF team is equipped with, this plan does not fill him with confidence.
  • In Morgan, after Lee is locked in Morgan's cell, she crawls up the air vent and kicks out the skylight to escape.
  • Played with in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), where assassin Jane Smith's place of work has security lasers everywhere to keep intruders out, including the vent system, as Mrs. Smith is the owner of the company and has used such tactics herself in the past.
  • Used and subverted in The Negotiator, where the SWAT team uses small vents for running fiber-optic cameras and larger vents for team members. When the title character barricades himself into an office, one of the precautions he takes is to close off the vents as best he can with available materials. Later played straight in his attempt to escape the office building.
  • Subverted in Outpost when the last remaining team member escapes through an air vent, only to end up in the testing chamber where he's swarmed by its undead occupants.
    • But played straight in Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz where a powerfully-build Russian escapes from the underground lab by climbing a convenient ladder in a vertical air vent. There are no locks or bars whatsoever, in a secret military installation where prisoners and zombies are confined, targeted by American spies and Soviet commando groups.
  • In Paul Blart: Mall Cop Blart attempts to use an air duct to escape from some mooks but only ends up completely giving away his position by all the noise and all the dents showing up, leaving him open to attack. In the end the air vent just breaks loose anyway, proving to not be a stable place to climb in in the first place. It doesn't help that Paul is a little on the heavy side (played by Kevin James).
  • Police Academy: Several officers use this method (among others) to infiltrate a building held by criminals.
    • The obese officer "House" lampshades it when he complains about having to take the stairs (when one infiltration team got to take the elevator while disguised as maintenance personnel) and is reminded that he was offered the vents.
    • In 2, Mauser co-opts Lassard's plan to take the Scullions by surprise via the air vent on top of the zoo enclosure's roof. Unfortunately for him, he chooses Fackler to help him. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The cast of The Pool try to do this, but the killer will have none of that nonsense, and starts stabbing them from beneath, killing two characters.
  • Poseidon: Used as a means of navigation in the remake. Handled a bit more realistically than most examples of this trope: the ducts are wide enough to crawl through without very much effort, but one character does get stuck in a compressed section and has to be helped out. Another one suffers from claustrophobia, and the heroes nearly drown due to the rising water because it takes a lot of effort to get the panel on the other side open.
  • Also used in the sequel to the original movie The Poseidon Adventure, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, complete with internal lighting fixtures.
  • Resident Evil
    • Resident Evil. After leaving the Red Queen's chamber the 2nd time, at one point the surviving team members go through air vents to evade the zombies.
    • In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Alice escapes Nemesis via a random spacious disposal chute.
    • In Resident Evil: Extinction, one of the Alice clones jumps into an air vent to escape a replica of the Laser Grid deathtrap from the first movie. Milla Jovovich ends up in Air Vents a lot.
  • In Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the creepily jolly St. Nick and some Earthling kids escape from a spaceship's air lock through the ventilation duct — employing Santa's long-established ability to fit through chimneys. Mystery Science Theater 3000 adds an appropriately Bondian line: "So, Mister Claus, you have a nasty habit of surviving!"
  • Scarecrow Slayer: After the Scarecrow kills Caleb in the hospital, Mary escapes from her room into Judy's by crawling through a ridiculously large air vent.
  • Serenity
    • Minor subversion when the Captain must get a wrench and properly remove the duct cover before executing the trope to get past a locked door.
    • After escaping the space battle in an Escape Pod, the Operative infiltrates Mr. Universe's complex via its air ducts.
    • Played for laughs at the end, when Simon and Kaylee are taking the "unresolved" out of their UST. They begin removing their clothes, then start kissing, then they fall down out of sight... and the camera pans up to show River watching from an air duct overhead.
  • The famous The Shawshank Redemption escape although instead of an air vent, it's a sewage pipe.
  • Used, more realistically than usual, in Sky High (2005). One character's power (glowing in the dark) comes in handy here, allowing the others to see. And only the character who can become a rodent can reach the place needed to save the day. Lame power? What's a lame power?
  • Done in the Lorenzo Lama vehicle Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster: as Lama's character wiggles his denim-clad gluteal region through the mental asylum's air duct, he meets two characters going in — a hired woman, and a pizza delivery guy!
  • Sneakers. One of the team infiltrates an enemy-controlled building through the ventilation system, and tries to get out the same way after the job is completed. Though somewhat subverted in that he is caught as the guards are smart enough to look and find him.
  • Snow White and the Huntsman. Variant, as Snow White escapes the castle through the privy, and the Dwarves use that same privy to sneak in and open the gates.
  • Star Wars:
  • Used in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, complete with a rooftop airvent to enter through and enough lighting inside to see. The shaft does however break apart and fall through the ceiling once two people are inside it, crashing to the floor below and alerting the guards.
  • In The Thieves, Yenicall escapes from Park's hotel room by crawling through the ceiling crawlspace.
  • The Thing (2011). The heroine temporarily escapes the alien monster on the Flying Saucer by fleeing down a vent it's too big to follow. Instead of morphing back to human size, the alien gropes for her with its Combat Tentacles, eventually Ankle Draging her into the open. Unfortunately she's used to time to get her hands on a hand grenade. She got into the spaceship in the first place by (accidentally) falling through the intake vents as the ship powered up.
  • Parodied in Top Secret!. While incarcerated in Flugendorf Prison, Nick Rivers tries to escape through the air vent system. He ends up sticking his head out of a medicine cabinet and a toilet before finally sliding back out through the vent into the cell.
  • In Toy Soldiers, the main characters use the air vents to get from the bathroom to the headmaster's office.
  • In Unaccompanied Minors the four kids escape from the four separate rooms where Mr. Porter is holding them by waiting till he is distracted, switching the surveillance cameras with recordings, and then climbing into the air vent in each room.
  • Astronaut Digger Reed in the Walt Disney Presents movie Hero in the Family, who was in the body of the chimpanzee Orville at the time, uses the vents to escape from NASA's animal cages, then later uses them along with his son Ben to take the crystal that had caused the mind swap in the first place.
  • WarGames. While escaping from NORAD, David gets into the ventilation system. He uses it to reach the War Room, where he infiltrates a tour group.
  • Who's Harry Crumb? has the titular detective attempt to spy on his client's Gold Digger wife and her lover (whom he suspects to be the kidnappers of the client's daughter) by pretending to be a repairman and crawling in the vents, which are big enough to accommodate someone the size of John Candy. Subverted in that he actually can't get a good look inside the room due to the awkward positioning of the airholes, so he resorts to using a camera (and then doesn't bother to look at the pictures to find out that the kidnapper is his boss). When the kidnapper turns up the A/C, Harry is rapidly propelled along the vents to the point that he literally flies out at the end.
  • In Winning London, Riley and Brian help the hostages escape using the air vents.
  • Wrongfully Accused uses this. Leslie Nielsen uses the vents to get into the hospital's computer room.

  • Played straight in a book based on the Donkey Kong Country series, Donkey Kong was trying to get to a room containing an auto defense system in a building being built by Kremlings. As he tries to think of a way to get to the 8th floor without being seen, he hears guards coming, and goes into a nearby ventilation shaft. It's big enough to crawl through, and even has signs pointing him in the right direction.
  • Animorphs: Averted, since the one time this trope is used, Marco's in bug morph.
  • Duumvirate: The small kids who live in Northberg Educational Facility discover that they can go anywhere they want in the air vents. And the child-sized "secret" areas they lead to.
  • James Bond escapes confinement in Dr. No through some ductwork, but he soon discovers that it was a purposefully-built series of hazardous obstacles (poisonous spiders, extreme heat, etc.), complete with viewports for entertainment, intended as a deliberate obstacle course set up by Dr. No.
  • Justified in the sci-fi book Footfall, as the aliens are twice human size and deliberately put the captured humans to work cleaning the spacecraft's air ducts. Their prison cell also doesn't contain a handy air duct, forcing them to escape before using the ducts to evade.
  • In Illegal Aliens by Nick Pollotta and Phil Foglio, abducted humans on an alien ship hide in the air vents, because all the movies say that's what you do in that situation — only they aren't air vents; they're conduits for a horrifically deadly gas weapon, which the aliens are preparing to flood throughout the ship, because they can't locate the humans....
  • Something similar to the above happens in Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident. Artemis has to crawl through a duct filled with fuel for the building's plasma weapons. Before his helmet runs out of air. Without being able to see where he's going. Knowing full well that if anyone turns on the plasma cannons, he's toast. Once he gets out, he has to be sprayed with anti-radiation foam or he'll likely develop cancer.
  • Subverted in Christopher Brookmyre's One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night. After an earlier discussion of action movie tropes, one of the heroes spots the "Holy Grille" as the way out when they're held hostage. Unfortunately, he didn't reckon on the fact that crawling through metal ductwork is incredibly noisy, so everyone hears him as he tries to squeeze through.
  • Justified in Ender's Shadow. Bean uses the air ducts to explore and reconnoiter, but he can only do it because he designed a specialized workout to develop the muscles he needs to pull himself through at odd angles, and because he's really, ridiculously small. Eventually he grows too big to use the outflow vents anymore, but by then he is the commander of Rabbit Army and so has access to the larger inflow vents.
  • Works better in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH than in most stories due to the escapees being rats. Well, right up until the system starts ventilating. This is one of the scenes that, legend has it, convinced Disney to pass it by as an animated adaptation. Something about having a large part of the party wiped out faster than the Redshirt Army, and without even an enemy to credit for it. They need help in opening the grilles, too.
  • Parodied in The Adventures of Samurai Cat, in which a cruise ship's air vents "... appear to have been designed for covert transportation." — "That would explain the moving walkways and vending machines."
  • Lyra crawls around in the dropped ceiling in Bolvangar in Northern Lights. Being a twelve-year-old girl, she's smaller and lighter than most Action Heroes, but she gets caught anyway, and almost transformed into a soulless abomination. She's only saved because the Big Bad had a special interest in her, and was present.
  • Used in the Honor Harrington spinoff Crown of Slaves, but used more realistically than many examples. Crawling around in them is murderously hard work, characters without detailed schematics get badly lost, and it proves almost impossible to remove a grille without the proper tools. Additionally, the ducts in question are on a space station and are deliberately designed to be large enough to crawl through since they double as maintenance access passages.
  • Referenced in Terry Pratchett's Only You Can Save Mankind:
    "I saw a film where there was an alien crawling around inside a spaceship's air ducts and it could come out wherever it liked," said Johnny reproachfully.
    "Doubtless it had a map," said the Captain.
  • Pratchett also pokes fun at the trope in Going Postal when, after a character fails to tunnel out of his jail cell, a guard remarks that the last guy in that cell — who happened to be unusually small and nimble — managed to squeeze through a tiny drain in the floor. Unfortunately, it didn't lead to the river like he thought.
    "He was really upset when we fished him out!"
  • Used and lampshaded in John C. Wright's Fugitives Of Chaos, Vanity—who has the power to find-slash-create hidden passages—finds an accessible air vent.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain series:
    • In Cain's Last Stand, the air vents are exactly the place genestealers like to hide.
    • In other books, following a close call in Death or Glory, Cain makes a point of always acquiring the access codes to the maintenance conduits whenever he travels by ship. In one occasion where he didn't find the time to do so, Jurgen brought to his attention the fact that he was in a civilian ship, therefore its maintenance conduits didn't require access codes.
  • Used in the last two books of Timothy Zahn's Dragonback series; the (less-than-subtle) justification is that large air vents are actually standard design in capital ships, so that in the event of a hull breach emergency air supplies can be funneled to the compromised areas in large amounts, buying the occupants time to reach emergency air masks and so on. Although humans can't fit through them as it is, so it can almost be call a lampshading. Shontine/K'da ships are actually designed for the stealthy, compressible K'da to be able to move through in case of hostile takeover, and a human sourly remarks that he outgrew the ability to navigate even big ships' navigation ducts when he was seven. When a K'da takes to those vents for the first time she gets thoroughly lost; in a later escapade she's almost caught when her tail twitches in shock enough to thump a vent.
    • Played with in Zahn's Blackcollar novel The Backlash Mission, where the air intakes for a huge underground military base are large enough an adult human can walk through them, in order to accommodate the massive inflow needed and the filtering equipment to keep out poison gas attacks. Since even with the vents camoflaged, this is an insanely large security risk, the intakes are designed with a very large kill zone of automated defenses, which are described as completely undefeatable and possibly viable for centuries without maintenance. They actually were completely undefeatable. But with the base abandoned, there was no one to stop someone from spending months tunneling around the killbox.
  • Slightly altered in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, using the castle sewer-pipes for the monster to invade from — and for the heroes to find — the title chamber. Hogwarts Castle has got to have the most gigantic pipes ever seen... particularly for being built by wizards. Somewhat justified, in that the pipe leading to the chamber was designed to be a passageway to it, and thus capable of being accessed by the Heir of Slytherin. Likewise, a massive snake would have much more success than other monsters in navigating plumbing. Both had been planned by one of the people who helped create the Castle in the first place.
  • Comes up in several variations (breaking in, breaking out, air ducts, hanging ceilings...) in places in the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, particularly the short story "Labyrinth" — where it involves problems like ducts forking or being blocked by grilles, and the others being only passable by the rather less than five-foot-tall main character, not his companions.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 novel Storm of Iron, this is how Hawke escapes a launching rocket and a Chaos Space Marine.
  • In the Women of the Otherworld short story "Chaotic" in the anthology Dates From Hell, Hope flees from a werewolf into an office, and finds herself in a dead end. She tries to escape through the air ducts, but she makes too much noise when moving and has to freeze when the werewolf enters the room. He finds her immediately. Later, after the pair has teamed up, they both move around through the air ducts, which are noisy, painful, cramped, and dusty. Still later, the bad guy enters a room looking for Hope, and while he's investigating the unscrewed air vent the good guys come out of their real hiding places and get the jump on him.
  • Averted in Robert A. Heinlein's Red Planet when one of the good guys proposes taking a vent grille off of a wall to get to the room on the other side. His friend points out that there will certainly be a similar grille on the other side, fastened by screws they won't be able to reach.
  • Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus: Bigman volunteers to use an air vent in order to access a critical relay which, once disconnected, will prevent the Underwater City from drowning.
  • Deconstructed in Black Dogs. The ventilation in question is portrayed as tough, claustrophobic going in the dark, with Lyra, the protagonist, suffering several minor injuries, and a high chance of her falling and breaking her neck. Or breaking something else that renders her unable to escape, and dying slowly over several days.
  • Subverted in the final book of the Sten Series, by having the hero nearly get stuck in a claustrophobic moment.
  • Both played straight and subverted in John Ringo's Choosers of the Slain. They need to sneak into the secure facility of one of the bad guys, so (played straight) they pick the slimmest girl on the team, as the men on the team are too large especially wearing all their weapons. Subverted because they knew she would get stuck half-way down when the air vents narrowed, so her sole job was to get to that point and release a small robot (an R2-D2 toy they had picked up in a toy store and then modified to include surveillance and communications gear) which could go the rest of the way.
  • Used by Cammie and Macey in the third book of The Gallagher Girls series to get back into a building, though in this case it was still for escape rather than infiltration.
  • Subverted and lampshaded in Star Trek: Section 31: Abyss. After escaping her cell, Ezri Dax goes up into an air vent, which (contrary to what the holonovels of her youth would have her believe) is very dirty, dark, small and has creepy things living in it. (She is, however, successful in using the air vents to move throughout the base to important rooms.)
  • Subverted in A Certain Magical Index. In Volume 17 of the novels, Touma asks if he could use the ventilation ducts in the plane, but the flight attendant says that the ducts are too small. Touma admits that wasn't the plan and asks for some hot tea and coffee to pour down the duct, causing thermal expansion and make the terrorist on the other side think that there's someone crawling through the ducts, who lampshades that the act is just as suicidal as coming in through the actual entrance he was training his gun on. As a result, the terrorist gets some boiling hot tea to the face when he shoots the ducts, which also distracts him from Touma barrelling through the door and flinging a full pot of boiling coffee into his face.
  • Used in Age of Fire, where the two dragon siblings escape from a raid on their home cave by escaping through naturally formed air passageways.
  • In short story "In the Bone", the protagonist uses air ducts which were too small for his alien opponent but nonetheless navigable by the smaller human form. Some of the ducts are indeed too small for the human.
  • Justified in Witch & Wizard. In order to free innocent children being persecuted by the government for being witches and wizards from prison, the protagonist Wisty infiltrates one of the prisons through the air vents..... but she turns herself into a mouse first.
  • Played with in The Vampire Files. Jack can justifiably play this straight if he assumes a gaseous form (gas, after all, being what air vents are designed to let through). However, he's a bit claustrophobic and can't shake the feeling of being trapped while traversing a ten-inch-square conduit.
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks features the steam tunnel and pranking variant, as it is set at a school similar to MIT/Caltech mentioned above. It should be noted that this does not occur without consequences: one character gets a moderately-to-severe burn from the exposed pipes.
  • Somewhat altered in The 39 Clues: The Dead of Night, in which Phoenix Wizard and Reagan Holt try to escape the Vespers' prison by climbing up a dumbwaiter shaft. Justified, since the characters are children.
  • Averted and lampshaded in Sergey Lukyanenko's Competitors, when Valentin and Lena are confined to quarters in a Space Station. When Valentin suggests escaping via the air vents, Lena laughs that he watches too many movies and points out that the vents are barely a foot wide. Valentin's suggestion to set off the fire alarm has Lena point out that this would cause the quarters to be depressurized to contain the fire.
  • Under Alien Stars by Pamela F. Service has a crew from a hostile alien race take over a hotel, placing their prisoners on one floor. They remember to seal the edges of the air vents, but don't know or don't care about the garbage chutes descending past each floor.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel In The Lion's Mouth, Bridget's first guess is such an escape before she deduces that in fact Ravn hid Invisibility Cloaks in the ventilation system, and then escaped, invisible, with her companion as soon as the door opened.
  • The Rings of Saturn: The space pirate base has an extensive air ventilation system, extensive enough that a Mad Scientist was able to live alongside the inhabitants and move around the base for years without their knowledge.
  • Sixty Eight Rooms: The two kids manage to fit easily in the Museum's air vents as they have been shrunk down to five inches. Getting up to the vents was much harder.
  • Cannon Fodder: Kelsey says she escaped from Black Jack's base in this way, but we never see it happen.
  • Attempted by Rolas in "Captive of the Red Vixen", after he figures out that his Shock Collar is only tied to the door to his cell, but he finds a note from his captor and a trap waiting for him at the grille above the lifeboats.
  • Averted in Get Blank when Blank uses a false ceiling, rather than any kind of duct, to get around.
  • Occurs in Heaven's Queen, third book of the Paradox Trilogy. When Brenton is helping Devi infiltrate Dark Star Station, he shows her a passage to crawl through and she assumes that it's an air vent. Brenton tells her that the people who built the station weren't that stupid; the passage is a power conduit, and usually filled with plasma heated to thousands of degrees. They're only able to use it as a passage because of a power outage.
  • In Symbiont, second book of the Parasitology series, Sally tries escaping captivity in a mall this way. She manages to make her way through the system only to find her guard Ronnie patiently waiting for her at the end; once he saw that she'd entered the vent, he was able to casually stroll over to the exit grating while she slowly crawled her way through the duct.
  • In the Dred Chronicles, the Prison Ship Perdition has enough of these that Tam, Dred's advisor, can use them to eavesdrop on rival gangs. This allows him to provide Dred with useful intelligence, which both protects the gang and encourages Dred to rely on him.
  • Andre Norton's Uncharted Stars. While on the pirate space station Waystar, Murdoc Jern's companion Eet enters the station's air ducts to do some snooping.
  • In Tales of Dunk and Egg, it's revealed at the end that Bloodraven had a few dwarfs sneak in through the privy to steal the dragon egg. Justified, seeing as they're dwarfs.
  • In Wander, Wander and Dagger use the airvents to escape from a nest of smilers set up in an abandoned prison.
  • The main characters use this method of travel at one point in H.I.V.E.. The trope is played a bit more realistically than usual: the vents are not well-lit, the characters are concerned about the noise they're making, their route has some difficult paths and "obstacles", and there's some mention of the effect that crawling along a cramped space would have. When entering the vents, they have to use a screwdriver to remove the grille. The only reason they don't get lost is because of Otto's uncanny ability to remember their route. However, they oddly don't have any difficulty removing the exit grille (and due to the exit's location, there was no way they could have checked it beforehand). There's also no excuse for the lack of security cameras in the air vents, given they're big enough to crawl through.
  • The Boy Who Knew Too Much by Roderic Jeffries. A youth breaks into an abandoned factory on a bet and finds himself pursued by masked thugs. The detective assigned to the case is reluctant to believe him, but then sees the marks where the kid dived down a chute and notes that he must have been pretty scared to have jumped in there without knowing where it came out.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in 21 Jump Street episode "Gotta Finish the Riff". Aoki sneaks into the high school through a heating duct, and is doing fine until, at the worst possible moment, he suddenly falls through the ceiling into the room where the bad guys are.
  • 24 enjoys playing around with this. Sometimes played straight and other times, the villains are quick to seal them to prevent the cliche from happening. One notorious use of air ducts was seen in a fifth season episode, as agent Jack Bauer uses duct tape to seal a shaft and prevent nerve gas from seeping into a safe room.
  • The 100 has Bellamy repeatedly use air vents to get around in Mount Weather without being seen. Possibly justified since Mount Weather is a large facility that needs a huge air filtration system to filter out radiation from the surface; if any place is going to have person sized air vents, it'd probably be them.
  • Alcatraz: Rebecca uses a air vent to sneak into a bank during a hostage situation in "Cal Sweeney".
  • The Amanda Show: In one episode Penelope tries to see Amanda by gaining access to her dressing room via the air vent. She not only finds a discarded sandwich left behind in the air duct, but takes a wrong turn and winds up falling through a vent onto the main stage, far from the dressing room, and right into security's view.
  • Spoofed on Arrested Development: in one episode, George Sr. finds an entrance to the air ducts behind the refrigerator and attempts to escape house arrest. Not only does he fail to find a way out of the house, Buster pushes the refrigerator back into place and traps him inside.
  • The A-Team: Several episodes, including "The White Ballot", where Murdock escapes from a locked room, with his hands bound no less, through a ventilation shaft. Hannibal and B.A. boost him into the shaft while Face keeps an eye on the guard.
    • On one occasion Murdoch sang "Ceilings - woah woah woah Ceilings" to the tune of "Feelings" while climbing into a vent.
  • Comes up rarely on Babylon 5, once when Garibaldi and two other characters are being pursued by telepathic assassins (rather than try to follow them, the telepaths simply pick up on their target's thoughts and try to ambush them at their destination instead, until Garibaldi uses Psychic Static to send the telepaths to the wrong place). Later, in the fifth season, an Adorably Precocious Child crawling through the vents spots the episode's villain preparing to assassinate Sheridan. The villain promptly opens fire on the ceiling, mortally wounding the kidnote .
  • 1960's Batman
    • Episode "Smack in the Middle". The Riddler uses an air duct passage to infiltrate the Moldavian Pavilion party.
    • Episode "A Riddle A Day Keeps The Riddler Away". Batman and Robin use air ducts to infiltrate a building where the Riddler is holding a kidnapped king hostage.
  • Battlestar Galactica, "Blood on the Scales". Chief Tyrol spends most of The Mutiny crawling through shafts to get to the FTL drive. Unlike some examples of this trope, these are shown to be narrow, unpleasant (especially when going past the urinals), and bloody tiring to crawl through — when Tyrol is caught at one stage, he invites his captor to shoot him then and there as he's too exhausted to clamber out and be taken prisoner.
  • Blake's 7. In "Redemption", Blake is apparently cornered when an elderly man opens a hidden door and urges him inside. "It's an old service lift. Those young guards, they don't even know it exists."
  • Contra Security of Breaking In has large roomy air ducts... with booby traps. Knowing Oz, he may have had them built that large just to trap intruders inside.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Buffy and Xander use this method to escape from vamp Jesse and his new friends in the electrical tunnels in "The Harvest".
    • In "Out of Mind, Out of Sight", Marcie Ross lives above the school's music room in a space accessible only by climbing up through the drop ceiling.
    • In the episode "School Hard" Buffy gets out of a locked classroom and gets the drop on Spike by crawling though the space above the drop ceiling (she is at least shown traversing a wooden catwalk). Also worth noting, Spike notices, and in a singsong voice says “some-one's-in-the-cei-ling”.
    • Subverted in "Gingerbread", where Xander and Oz can fit into the vents but become lost and only reach the rest of the cast after the monster of the week is already dead. "We're here to rescue you..."
  • Burn Notice
    • Lampshaded and subverted in an episode. When trapped in an office building, Michael wryly notes that air vents are viable escape routes... if you happen to be size of a four year old. He does state, however, that instead of using air ducts, you can instead use the sub-ceiling of an office building to escape danger.
    • His mother remembers he crawled through an air vent so he can go to the theatre and watch Star Wars.
    • Justified in a later episode (and spelled out in the narrative) that they were in a medical experimentation lab and the ventilation system had to be sufficiently large to facilitate a quick full air turn around in the event that something bad happened allowing him to climb to a higher floor in the building (in the narrative he says that normally it's not possible to use the airvents due to their size and lack of strength as well) (the system ventilated through the roof, he cut through it to get onto the second floor).
  • In Chuck, there was once an incredibly roomy network of air vents, with lights.
    • Averted, however, in a season one episode, where Chuck crept around the area between the ceiling tiles and the high Buy More roof, and had to clamber over the air ducts while he was in there.
  • Parodied in Le Cœur a ses Raisons: in the third episode of the show, Ashley, Brett and Peter want to leave the hospital as fast as possible. Having to chose between the door ("simple, efficient, probably infallible") and the air-vent passageway ("complicated, completely inefficient and potentially dangerous") they chose the latter. Worst, after that escape, they find themselves at the starting point and chose the air-vent again.
  • In Community, Señor Chang moves into the air vents for a while. And is joined by a monkey. This makes sense more than it sounds because the college is later shown to be the home of an A/C Repairman cult, which presumably would have worked their arcane arts on the school buildings.
  • CSI: In "Karma to Burn", when Finn and D.B.'s granddaughter Katie are kidnapped, Finn is able to pry open a vent cover to allow Katie to crawl out (her being small enough to fit in the vent). However, she is immediately recaptured.
  • Lampshaded in Dark Season episode 5 where Marcie escapes and says, "A ventilation shaft. Marvellous, I'm a cliché."
  • Doctor Who:
    • Played straight in "The Tenth Planet". Ben even has a map, albeit one drawn by the man who designed the ventilation system.
    • Also played straight in the Third Doctor episode "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", where Sarah Jane is locked in a closet and escapes through an air duct.
    • Used straight in "The Ark in Space" (albeit realistically: Sarah Jane Smith is the only one small enough to fit and even she get stuck).
      • This got a Call-Back in "The Brain of Morbius": The Doctor finds an improbably tiny vent. Sarah asks, "Are you suggesting I–" "–No, I'm not suggesting you climb down there!" the Doctor snaps. Instead, he uses it to send poison gas to Dr. Solon, who's in the next room.
    • In "The Sun Makers", the Doctor rescues Leela from a Public Execution by steaming by crawling through the steam vent.
    • Used by the Fourth Doctor and company in Tom Baker's second Dalek story "Destiny of the Daleks" — notable for the Doctor pausing to mock the Daleks' inability to follow them...
      The Doctor: If you're supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don't you try climbing after us? Bye bye!
    • "The End of the World": Platform One has vents large enough for maintenance workers to enter them. The spider robots used by the villain also use the ducts to traverse the place, but they're much smaller.
    • Deconstructed in the episode "The Satan Pit"; Rose suggests escaping through the maintenance ducts, to which Security Officer Jefferson replies: "I appreciate the referencenote , but there's no ventilation. No air, in fact, at all. They were designed for machines, not life forms." They're able to escape through them anyway, though, by manipulating the air-pressure controls to "flood" certain ducts.
    • In "Journey's End", Captain Jack crawls through miles of ducts tracking three lifeforms that turn out to be Mickey, Sarah Jane and Jackie.
    • The Doctor and companions use one of these to escape from Area 51 in the animated special Dreamland. The Doctor lampshades their captor's justified Genre Blindness.
      The Doctor: I love 1958, no one's seen Die Hard. Or Alien. Or Die Hard 2, or Aliens, or Die Hard 3...
    • Done to the point of being lampshaded in "Time Heist". All the vents have the warning "No Entry Under Any Circumstances". The Doctor and crew entirely ignore said notices.
    • The Cybermen's Cybermat devices could infiltrate target installations by going through ventilation ducts. Justified, since Cybermats are about the size of a rat.
  • The Australian series Escape from Jupiter features a moonbase and space station/makeshift rocket that both feature large air ducts. They're also likely some sort of Jefferies tubes — just built in case of need for extended residence.
  • Played with in one episode of Falling Skies where three characters are trapped in the basement of a hospital. Only the smallest character can fit through the vents (barely) so he goes to get help in clearing the hallway so the others can escape. The alien creatures infiltrating the hospital, being much smaller than humans, have no such problem.
  • Justified in Farscape where the diminutive Rygel often uses air ducts and service tunnels to travel when the ship is being invaded or he's feeling particularly paranoid.
  • Used in the Hulu series Freakish to navigate the school and get into a chemistry lab without running afoul of the "freaks" (basically zombies). Justified in that the people crawling through the vent are Zoe and Amber, the smallest members of the cast, and the vents in question lead to a chemistry lab, which would need somewhat larger vents than the rest of the school.
  • On the Friends episode "The One With the Birth", Phoebe, Susan and Ross get locked in a janitor's closet in the hospital. Phoebe tries to escape through the vent but gets stuck, while Susan and Ross just get let out by the janitor.
  • In Helix, once he escapes from isolation, Dr. Peter Farragut, a research scientist infected with The Virus, holes up inside the vent systems at the arctic research facility where he works, and Exploits their extensiveness to make his way around the facility once his RFID chip has been disabled. Lampshaded by Major Balleseros during an attempt to trail Peter:
    Balleseros: Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.
    Alan Farragut: Didn't think you were old enough to remember that one.
    Balleseros: Die Hard? Sure, saw it in third grade.
    Alan Farragut: Ouch.
  • Hiro and Ando attempt one on Heroes, but their captors show up at the cell before they make it into the vent.
  • Hustle: Sean and Emma break into a gallery via the vents in "Eat Yourself Slender".
  • The unaired pilot I Man subverts and lampshades this one: Scott Bakula references it as an escape plan... and then finds out that the room only has a regular air vent.
  • Played with but ultimately averted in part two of the The Incredible Hulk episode "Prometheus", where the blind girl who is leading Banner (stuck in a demi-Hulk state that severely limited his intelligence) suggests to him that he remove the grating covering an air vent to escape the underground government research facility they're trapped in, but they don't get the chance to actually try it before they're caught. Possibly double-subverted when they wind up escaping through a large ventilation shaft to the surface anyway.
  • Roomy air vents were used in at least one episode of I Spy, one of the more 'realistic' 1960s spy shows.
  • JAG: In "Sightings", Harm and Meg escape the oncoming Colombians by climbing through an air vent.
  • In one episode of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, four of the Gokaigers are captured and put in a cell with an obvious one of these. They try to use it to escape, only to find the villain who captured them standing at the other end.
  • Parker of The Kicks seems to consider this a viable form of travel: In "Head Games", she suggests crawling through the school vents to search for Devin's headband. She suggests it again in "Go Big or Go Home" as a method of looking around for Devin and Mirabelle.
  • In one episode of Las Vegas, some bad guys take over the Montecito security centre. Danny McCoy uses the airvent system to try and get some intelligence on them. Right after the audience starts wondering why the hotel with "the best security on the strip" has such a gaping security hole, the vent collapses, conspicuously dumping Danny in the middle of Security. On his own desk, I believe. Given that his predecessor, Ed Deline, had a bit of a mischievous streak, it's entirely possible he rigged the whole thing up.
    • There's also the time a guest's pet rat went missing from their hotel room. It had apparently done so via this trope, as it eventually did emerge from a ventilation duct.
  • In an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Elliot hides inside an air vent in order to spy on a woman holding hostages in autopsy. Then his phone goes off...
  • Leverage
    • Lampshaded: "Looks like Parker's going to have to climb through the air duct again..." Somewhat justified in that Parker is a) a master thief with an extensive knowledge of building layouts, and b) petite.
    • This is apparently standard procedure for master thieves in the Leverageverse. In one episode where the team takes on another team Parker ends up running into her counterpart when both are inside the air-ducts. They are both irritated by the interference, but seem to show a mutual respect.
    • Played with in one season three episode, when Parker encounters difficulties trying to do this as there are lasers blocking her path. Why it wouldn't be cheaper to simply make the ducts too small to crawl through is never addressed.
  • In Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman's "Die Hard" on an X episode "Fly Hard", Jimmy Olsen manages to escape unseen into the air vent system when terrorists initially take over the Daily Planet. Once he exits the system, however, it doesn't take long before he's found and neutralized.
  • Lost
    • In the second season, this is a legitimate way of getting around in the Swan station. Kate uses the ventilation ducts to escape imprisonment in the food storage room in the episodes "Adrift" and "Orientation", and in the episode "Lockdown", Ben (then going by the alias of "Henry Gale") can escape from being locked inside by blast doors.
    • Locke later sealed the vents to put an end to this kind of thing, which didn't work out so well later once he and Jack found themselves locked inside.
  • In the Miami Vice episode "Baby Blues", crooked adoption lawyer Famiglia crawls through a very spacious ventilation system, complete with ladders between floors, so he can shoot the mother of one of his victims through the grate.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in The Middleman episode "The Clotharian Contamination Protocol":
    Wendy: We're coming from an isolation chamber in a secret headquarters built by an organization so covert we don't even know who they are, yet somehow we have vents large enough to crawl through, with accessible registers everywhere. Was this building designed by TV writers or what?
The subversion being that normally the vents are only a few inches in diameter, but they expand during an alert for this exact purpose. The Middleman explains that the "Nakatomi Protocol" specifically enlarges the vents and turns off the surveillance.
  • Mission: Impossible
    • The master of air duct navigation is clearly the jack-of-all-trades Barney Collier. And one of the few times he wasn't doing it, he was coaching the woman who was.
    • Somewhat justified and subverted in some episodes, particularly early ones. In one they had to employ a contortionist (played by Eartha Kitt): only she was small and limber enough to crawl through the ducts, and they even gave her a Cool Tool so she could unfasten, from inside the duct, the screws that hold the grille on from the outside. At other times they sent a miniature remote controlled hovercraft and a small trained dog through vent ducts and similar. But most of the time, yeah.
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl engineers a jail break using this method. Unfortunately, the duct collapses in the warden's office.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000
    Joel: You know, it's funny how movie directors always make air vents big enough to crawl around in.
    • And later, much later parodied in the episode I Was a Teenage Werewolf as an Alien parody where Tom Servo attempts to fight an invading alien, armed to the teeth, by going after it in an air vent; but gets stuck and after a few moments of nervous singing, bursts into tears. He does free himself soon afterwards, no thanks to Mike and Crow.
  • MythBusters tested this trick along with a variety of other cat-burglar techniques. Jamie used the common technique of using powerful hand-held magnets to climb the vertical shaft, only to cause a thunderous sound as they connected to the vent walls, defying the point of it being a "stealth" technique. It was so ridiculously loud that everyone on set - including Jamie- broke up laughing after the first step. Adam, on the other hand, used vacuum "cups" on his hands and feet that would grip the vent. Though it wasn't nearly as noisy, it was far from silent, and the equipment lacked reliability (breaking down several times during the course of the show) and it was tricky to use. Adam himself said that he wouldn't trust his life to such machinery.
    Adam: Why, Thor, the God of Thunder, is trying to enter my building!
    Tory: Somebody needs to check that air conditioner!
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: Many A Simple Plan requires use of the school's elaborate, labyrinthine air ducts, which eventually gave out in the Grand Finale.
  • The air duct was used to get Robin Hood out of a Norman castle in the TV series The New Adventures of Robin Hood. The series was a bit on a Hercules and Xena level of authenticity but (sadly) not meant as a spoof.
  • The New Avengers: In "The Deadly Angels", Purdey gets into the maze in the health farm by crawling through the vents.
  • In Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn, it was used to sneak and spy on their siblings. The air vent system was large enougjh for the father to erect his toy train set. It could also fit the four kids to fit nicely in the same place. Of course, the ceiling also failed when they were together.
  • On Nikita, this is used in "Innocence" (3x02) to place a bomb beneath its target. Realistically, it's incredibly hard to get in-it required some serious gymnastics-and claustrophobically small once you are, and that's for a brainwashed 12-year old ex-gymnast Child Soldier. Nikita doesn't even consider following, instead opting to intercept her after she exist the vents.
  • Not "escaping" anything, but the "steam tunnel spelunkers" aspect shows up on NUMB3RS, when it is revealed that Larry had been living in the tunnels on campus for awhile.
  • Person of Interest. In "Razgovor", Shaw and the POI escape into the air vents of an old apartment building, only to be flushed out when the villains puncture the air conditioning system, causing chlorodifluoromethane to flood into the vents.
  • Done by the entire main cast in Pixelface when the zombies from Claireparker's game invade the console. Of course, the vents aren't designed to take that much weight and they end up crashing through the ceiling.
  • This is used on several episodes of the first season of The Pretender. During the first season finale Jared does this to break into and escape the Centre.
  • Used on Primeval when Abby and Connor needed to get to a certain floor in a skyscraper. Since taking the stairs/lift would have been incredibly dangerous (there was fog coming out of an anomaly that obscured the floor, and moving in the fog were giant worm things that were hard to see), they had to use the air vents.
  • Psych plays it straight with the sheer size of the ducts, but compensated by making the ensuing chase look awkward and ridiculous.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Duct Soup", the crew spend most of the episode crawling around the ship's exceptionally large heating ducts to fix the thermostat. This, unfortunately for them, includes a badly claustrophobic Lister and the ducts being washed down and then air-dried...
  • The frequent use of this trope in its parent show is lampshaded in The Sarah Jane Adventures story "Death of the Doctor".
    Eleventh Doctor: Ventilation shafts, that takes me back. And forward.
  • Scorpion: In "Shorthanded", Happy and Toby break into the Crimson casino by crawling through the air vents. Toby ends up falling through the ceiling.
  • In The Secret World of Alex Mack, the eponymous heroine did this a few times, and at least once escaped captivity via the plumbing. It helped that she could turn into a liquid.
  • Seinfeld, when George uses an air vent to break into his office after his boss tries to get him to resign by barricading it.
    George: (on phone) Hello Margery, George Costanza. How are you sweetheart? Listen, can you give Mr. Thomassoulo a message for me?... Yes. If he needs me, tell him "I’M IN MY OFFICE!" Thanks.
  • On Smallville, Clark travels through the LuthorCorp air ducts when he is Brought Down to Normal. In a later episode, this is also part of Jimmy's spy tactics.
  • Space: 1999: The Alpha Base air vents are of realistic size, and their openings quite tiny, but this is not a problem for Maya, since she can turn into a mouse before crawling into them.
  • Along with many, many other tropes, this one is parodied in Spaced when Mike and Tim are trying to escape from the offices of Dark Star comics: "Ah, the air vent. Simple, classic."
  • In an episode of Stargate Atlantis, Zelenka crawls through a vent to turn the city's power back on, although in this case the air vents are the same size as you'd find in the real world so he did have a very hard time moving around.
  • In Stargate SG-1, the eponymous team uses this trope every time they're on a Goa'uld mothership.
  • Star Trek has the "Jefferies Tube" maintenance tunnels criss-crossing the ship. They're actually designed for human access, but are quite often used in this way.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series
      • In "Dagger of the Mind", Dr. Helen Noel saves the day by using a passage to get to the power room and shut off the Tantalus Colony's force field.
      • In "Miri", the children use an air vent to infiltrate the lab where the Enterprise crew is working and steal their communicators.
      • In "The Trouble With Tribbles", Scotty speculates that the tribbles got into the food processors on the Enterprise via the actual air vents. Spock realizes that the grain the Enterprise is guarding on the nearby space station is in storage compartments with similar vents, prompting Kirk to beam over and leading to the episode's Crowning Moment of Funny.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation had a few "Die Hard" on an X episodes where the Jefferies Tubes come in handy this way.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise. The ship is taken over and everyone is locked in their rooms. Hoshi, being the smallest person on board (and a regular) manages to wriggle out through the vents. Presumably, Hoshi is the one called upon when something in the vent needs fixing. Or she was chosen so we could have a gratuitous Fanservice moment where her shirt gets pulled off. Especially since the ducts didn't seem that narrow anyway. If anything, that was at least acknowledging that the Jefferies Tubes would be guarded by the bad guys. That vent existed solely during construction and was closed off upon completion, it was never intended for people to pass through.
      • In the Mirror Universe episode "In A Mirror, Darkly", the crew of Mirror NX-01 Enterprise pursue a Gorn through the Jeffries tubes of an Original Series vessel.
    • Not exactly an air vent, but in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine they once had Jake crawl through a disused ore-processing chute that was too small for a grown man, but not for a scrawny fourteen-year-old.
    • It would be easier to list the Star Trek: Voyager episodes that don't involve Jefferies Tubes.
  • The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Zack and Cody easily spend more time traversing the Tipton's air vents than just using the hallways and doors.
  • Still shows up regularly in Supernatural, with Sam and Dean playing Rock–Paper–Scissors to see who'll go down in the ductwork. (It's always Dean. Dean is really bad at Rock–Paper–Scissors.) Although it was Sam who crawled through the vent to the old cell block in "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19).
  • Played straight in Season 5 of True Blood. Turns out when you can shift into a fly, air vents are quite accommodating.
  • Subverted on Undeclared, where Steven, finding himself trapped in a room, attempts to crawl through an external ventilation duct, which breaks from the wall and falls as soon as he enters.
  • Unnatural History subverts this. Jasper tries to think of a creative way out of the room he's trapped in, and the camera focuses on a air vent duct. The next shot shows him struggling futilely to pry the vent free.
  • The old Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea series was rife with this trope, especially in the later seasons, when it seemed every third episode had a villain or Monster of the Week or regular character evading a villain or MotW getting into the ventilation system at some point. Played straight for the most part, although somewhat subverted in that the ducts themselves were quite roomy, and the vents were about a yard square or more in size, hinged like a door with a latch that anything brighter than a rock could operate, allowing convenient access.
  • Wonder Woman: Used by Havitol to steal IRAC in "IRAC Is Missing".
  • The Worst Year of My Life, Again: Used by Alex in "Maths Test" to break into Norris' classroom to either steal (the first time round) or retrieve (the second time) the test papers. Neither time ends well.
  • The X-Files
    • Justified in episodes "Squeeze" and "Tooms", since the killer — Eugene Victor Tooms — is a mutant whose power is to be capable of squeezing through tiny openings.
    • Used with absolutely no justification in "Ghost in the Machine". Though there is a slight subversion when Scully learns firsthand the downside of trying to climb through the airducts when an insane AI controls the ventilation system...
    • A conspiracy theorist trying to spy on a defense contractor's meeting in "Three of a Kind" gets caught when the duct audibly flexes under his weight.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium main rules, adventure "Instrument of Kanly". The agents of House D'murjzin enter and exit the 35th floor of the Adici Enterprises corporate headquarters through an air vent.
  • Necromunda has this as a territory which gives the option of starting behind your opponent. Jutified as Imperial hive cities can have ventilation shafts kilometers wide.
  • Traveller
    • FASA's Classic supplement Action Aboard: Adventures on the King Richard. A paragraph details how the air ducts can be used to move around the ship.
    • Challenge magazine #32 adventure "A World On Its Own''. One way for the PCs to get into the starport is to go through the service ducts for air circulation and electronics lines. The only problems are that most of the ducts are barely large enough for human beings and the chance of getting lost.
  • Paranoia 1E supplement Acute Paranoia, adventure "Outland-ISH". When the Troubleshooters are trying to get to ISH sector their High Programmer opponent tries to stop them by putting a convoy of vehicles across their path. They can get around this by finding and using an air vent passage.
  • Chaosium's ElfQuest RPG main rules, adventure "The Dying River". The elf PCs can get inside the troll tunnels by finding one of the airholes that the trolls use as a ventilation system.
  • Encounter Critical supplement Asteroid 1618. Small creatures can pass through The Vanishing Pyramid's ventilation system, but they must roll well or either get lost and exit in the wrong room or have to fight off packs of Raider Rats. If they survive they can scout out the contents of 2-8 rooms before having to roll again.
  • Buck Rogers XXV (in the 25th Century) adventure XXVCA3 Deimos Mandate. When the pirates attack the RAM meeting, Mortimer tells the PCs to enter two air vent ducts and move around using them in order to ambush the pirates.
  • The Widow's Walk expansion set for Betrayal at House on the Hill includes room cards which have dumbwaiters inside them; using one costs a movement space, but it allows you to go directly to the floor landing above or beneath you.
  • Shadowrun supplement State of the Art 2063. HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems have ductwork that can be used by shadowrunners to infiltrate corporate buildings. Knight Errant Security recommends that the ducts be made too small to allow entry by intruders.

    Video Games 
  • In Spider-Man, Spider-Man has to escape from an underwater base using the air ducts... which are big enough for him to web-swing through. Talk about shoddy design....
  • Battlefield 2142. The Titans have vents on the top that provide an alternate way to enter, however, unless the other team if full of idiots, they are usually boobytraped or being guarded by someone armed usually with a shotgun or a LMG.
  • Final Fantasy VII in numerous places, most notably in Shinra tower when the player eavesdrops on the evil corporate meeting from a ventilation duct connecting to a bathroom.
  • In Chrono Trigger, you can sneak around the Blackbird by using airducts. Or you can bring Ayla to your party and avoid the issue of lacking weapons altogether.
  • The Evil Within 2 has Sebastian flee from Stefano's Gruesome Giggling Guardian by doing this, barely avoiding a Groin Attack in the process!
  • Frequent in the Metal Gear series.
    • In Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, said vents are occasionally guarded by the memetically infamous Poisonous Zanzibar Hamsters.
    • One of the first areas in Metal Gear Solid has an otherwise level air duct with a lowered section in it. Said lowered section is flooded, which would render the duct useless for ventilation. Perhaps justified given the Shadow Moses base shows many signs of poor maintenance.
    • Very blatant in Portable Ops, which opens up with Snake escaping from a prison by crawling through the air vents.
  • Escape from Butcher Bay, in which the ducts were used so widely they actually had directions scribbled inside them. Assault on Dark Athena continues this.
  • Grandia had this, including a side-trip to the women's locker-room...
  • Duke Nukem 3D did this so often that there is a small monster almost designed to be placed in the vents. In the expansion pack, the game has a nod to the famous air vent scene in the first Mission: Impossible movie.
  • Half-Life
    • Subverted in Half-Life. At one point, the character is forced to crawl through an airvent. In a scripted scene, soldiers below hear the player, yell "Sir, I hear something!" and shoot into the air duct, causing it to collapse. Whether or not you're in it is a matter of timing. If you have the sense to immediately stop when they yell that line, you'll have a consummate Oh, Crap! moment as you see the vent in front of you getting perforated.
    • In another instance, the guards hear you and toss a satchel charge in for an Outrun the Fireball sequence. Some of Half-Life's vents have ladders in them, suggesting that they may have been designed to allow people to go through them. Mr. Freeman crawls through the vents wearing what is a high-tech suit of platemail. But considering how deep the Black Mesa facility stretches, perhaps it is not quite unrealistic that it would use people-sized vents.
    • Half-Life 2: Episode 1 mentions that Freeman used to participate in races to break into Dr. Kleiner's office when he locked his keys inside. Naturally, the air vents are now full of headcrabs. And subverted in the same game, where one vent you crawl through collapses, landing in a room filled with Exploding Barrels and laser-tripwire mines.
  • Some Counter-Strike maps feature this. E.g. on cs_assault, there is a large air vent that leads from the hangar roof to the room with the hostages. Appropriately, walking through it makes a lot of noise and it can be shot through to kill whoever is inside.
  • Deus Ex
    • The game often includes alternate paths through air vents, which usually double as maintenance tunnels, complete with ladders and hinged grates. One of the NPCs even explicitly suggests it as a stealth route in the first mission, saying that "these 20th century buildings always have ventilation shafts". However, unlike Duke Nukem, there's also always a straight way.
    • Mildly subverted in Deus Ex: Invisible War; all the vents are comfortably navigable, but inevitably are patrolled by small, spider-like security bots armed with electrical shock-based weapons. According to characters, the bots are to combat any vermin that might enter the vents.
    • And just because it was such a big part of the first game, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, air vents abound, often leading to rooms with a couple of neat little bonuses, or an easy way around the guards. This is even lampshaded in an early conversation, where someone asks if the reason you took so long getting to his office is if you got stuck in an air duct. And not too long after, during the first mission, if you sneak in, when asked how he got in, the player character explains that he used the air-duct, and is going to include them in his presentation about security loopholes.
  • System Shock. The second game almost starts with one, and the first game had whole maintenance tunnels in addition to vents.
  • Bioshock Infinite, Burial at Sea DLC. Elizabeth can use air vents to access areas not available to normal travel and avoid enemies.
  • Secret of Evermore had an escape through the ventilation system take up a dungeon. Fortunately, to make up for the confusion of navigating the vents, the game followed the trope pretty well by having no enemies inside them.
  • GoldenEye (1997) began one level with the player infiltrating a Russian base via the air vents.
  • Which reappeared in Perfect Dark. Gunfire in toilets. Always classy.
  • First Encounter Assault Recon requires you to travel through air ducts several times per level in order to advance deeper into the facilities you're penetrating, whose covers are quite easily bashed in. Strangely, despite the game's horror atmosphere and the obvious darkness and claustrophobia factors, you are never once subjected to any sort of scare sequence within one. Except one. During one particular part, you turn the corner, and Alma does the spider-crawl towards you — before vanishing a foot away from you. Alma seems to use this, popping out of an air vent right in front of you on one occasion. While you're utterly defenseless. On a ladder.
  • Played straight in Resistance: Fall of Man when Parker uses a vent that pops open to escape from the conversion center, leaving Hale to find his own way out.
  • Apparently, design standards in the Metroid universe include a provision that all facilities and spacecraft must have access tunnels, air shafts, or other openings big enough for Samus Aran's Morph Ball form. (Expanded and partially subverted in Zero Mission, wherein after losing her armor, Samus must negotiate said tunnels on her hands and knees, which is dead slow, and Space Pirates can also use the tunnels, largely negating their escape value.) More accurately, it seems all maintenance robots (which use the tunnels) are the same size as the Morph Ball.
    • There's a prevailing theory (with some canon evidence) that nearly all modern technology is based on that of the Chozo unless stated otherwise and most races are too afraid to tinker with the design fundamentals unless their whole project blows up. Naturally, the Chozo would have no problem making their vent shafts just the right size for their Powered Armor warriors to take a shortcut through.
  • Most videogames based off the Alien franchise will naturally have this option accessible for both Alien and human characters at some point, but special mention should be made for Alien: Isolation, where this method of getting around becomes the standard once Sevastapol has gone to hell, both to avoid Working Joes and violent civilians. They're noisy to open and move around in, which will draw the xeno's attention; they're dark as hell and can have multiple dead ends; they disrupt your tracker and make it impossible to know if the xeno is nearby; and if the xeno gets in with you (which it will), you'd better hope you had the sense to bring a molotov.
  • Aliens vs. Predator 2 (the game, not the movie) featured liberal amounts of duct crawling. The first few levels of the Marine campaign required constant duct crawling, including a situation where Frosty has to jump into a duct vent that a Xenomorph recently launched out of in order to avoid being eaten. The Alien campaign, however, was almost entirely composed of duct jumping for most of the early half of the game.
  • Though technically not an air vent, one mission in Call of Duty 2 involves a group of Russian soldiers infiltrating a German-held railway station via a long, damaged fuel pipe. The Germans are quick to catch on, though, and if he player isn't careful he can get caught by gunfire or hand grenades.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has Mario go through air ducts twice in the course of plot in order to eavesdrop. He may also go through a third in order to gain an item.
  • One level of 24: The Game has Kim Bauer, armed only with a taser, having to crawl through ducts to get around a room full of bad guys. She has to move very slowly, though, or they'll hear her and shoot.
  • The titular character of the Sly Cooper series can do this in all his games. He usually does to break into places.
  • In The Thing (2002) videogame, at one point Blair acquires access to another room by walking hunched through a four-foot-wide air duct.
  • Lots of duct-crawling goes down in Beyond Good & Evil. Jade makes use of air vents once or twice in order to break into a few facilities, but Double H tends to do it whenever he and Jade split up in order to follow her. He slides out of one during the third boss fight, rocketing to the rescue.
  • The online game Infantry has a "Bug Hunt" map, allowing players to play as humans or aliens, the aliens granted the advantage of traveling by air ducts and launching ambushes from them.
  • In episode one of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Strong Bad must use the air vent to sneak past The Poopsmith while infiltrating the King of Town's castle. However, unlike some other examples here, you can get caught if you aren't careful.
  • Partially subverted in Wild ARMs: only Hanpan, the little mouse sprite belonging to one of the main characters, is small enough to navigate the air vents.
  • Dead Space
    • The ship in which the game takes place is blanketed with enormous, easy access vent shafts that the Necromorph enemies use to move around at will. This allows them to bypass security lockdowns and quarantines with impunity, rendering such measures useful only as an obstacle to the player. This continues into the design of the space station where the sequel is set, and protagonist Isaac Clarke gets to crawl through a few special engineer-only vents himself to get from place to place.
    • In the Rail Shooter prequel Extraction, you do get to crawl through the vents and similar locales several times, but it's lampshaded that they are tight, cramped and hard to move quickly in. The fact you only face Leapers and Crawlers in them only makes it worse.
  • XIII has this a lot. Justified in that the player tends to machine gun all the bad guys ahead of time so there's nobody left to hear him clunk clunk through the shafts.
  • This happens a lot in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Whenever opening doors, stealth or jumps are impossible, a conveniently placed vent will always be there to be busted open to save the day, and help you proceed. Sort of justified by the fact that Arkham Asylum is famous for having horrible security. Also, many of the buildings in Arkham are very old (The asylum as a whole dates back to the mid 19th Century), so the vents are likely from an old ventilation system. Every building in later Arkham games got their air vents from the same contractor, especially when there's a Predator mission in the building.
  • During Wolverine's escape from the Weapon X facility in the X Men Origins Wolverine game, he has to crawl through ventilation shafts a few times to avoid attention (thanks to his healing factor being temporarily disabled). In one of them, a guard down below yells about hearing something and starts riddling the shaft with bullet holes. Another guard tells him to stop being jumpy, and that it's ridiculous that Wolverine would be up there.
  • Shadow Complex uses vents where Metroid uses morph ball tunnels.
  • In the Myst universe we have a justified version of the mine example: D'ni is an underground city, and its Great Shaft is a huge air exchange shaft. But it's also used as the primary method of reaching the surface (or vice versa).
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has a series of air vents (with ladders leading to them, no less) in the garage in the Downtown area. During the mission for Fat Larry that takes you there, a stealthy character can make good use of them and avoid combat entirely- a good idea, as the enemies there are heavily armed and quite numerous. Later in the game when a mafia bouncer blocks your progress, Malkavian characters can ask the bouncer if there are any vents that they can use instead.
  • In Ratchet & Clank you never actually climb inside the vents, although Clank would certainly be small enough to have one of his missions in there, but at one point you break into a building by climbing on the outside of external air vents with Magnet Boots.
  • In Golden Sun: The Lost Age, Felix and gang sneak into the Great Gabomba Statue, a clockwork statue worshipped as a god by a stereotypical Subsaharan African-like tribe, through the ventilation shaft, since the original builder's entrance has been sealed with a big rock.
  • Most of the air vents in Team Fortress 2 are inaccessible and just for decoration, but there are a few in Hydro that are big enough for players (even the Heavy Weapons Guy) to stand up in. Custom-map-made-official Turbine has a system of these that's more of a cramped hallway than a vent.]
  • Valve hangs a lampshade on this trope in Left 4 Dead 2 with the ever-epic lines of Ellis; In Dark Carnival, he says "if there's one thing video games have taught me, it's that good shit comes from crawlin' through vents". Though unlike in Half-Life, the vents in the level he utters the line in do not lead to anything more important than an alternate route. On the other hand, some custom campaigns make them the mandatory route.
  • Portal 2
    • A variant on this: At one point, Chell uses the ductwork of old Aperture to apply conversion gel in otherwise unreachable locations. She also uses access shafts and tunnels at some points.
    • The Perpetual Testing DLC features a clip of an Alternate Universe Cave Johnson warning people not to try this inside his space prison.
    Cave: Attention, test prisoners attempting to escape through the air ducts. I don't know what nonsense you learned on TV, but in real life, air ducts just go to the air conditioning unit. It's also pretty dusty, so if you've got asthma chances are you're gonna die up there. And we'll be smelling it for weeks, because, again, the air ducts aren't a secret escape hatch; they're how we ventilate the facility.
  • Both played straight and subverted, for unsettling effect, in Heavy Rain, where Ethan Mars is guided by a serial killer through series of Se7en-style trials. One of them involves deliberately crawling into something that resembles both a system of wide air ducts and a dangerous exhausts vent (it sounds stupid, but looks appropriately menacing). The vent system is one foot high and branching, it's absolutely dark and hard to breathe there, and its floor is covered with broken glass.
  • This is how Rayman escapes the pirate's prison ship in Rayman 2. Considering that was an air vent, which is never really explained. Judging by its size, it's more likely to be where the smaller warships are sent from, if not from the deck.
  • Sam Fisher of Splinter Cell has an odd ability to encounter ridiculously large vents with grates off to get into areas that would otherwise be unreachable. Somehow, a guy carrying a large gun as well as a few pounds worth of other weapons and gadgets doesn't make enough sound to alert anyone. There's a particularly bizarre instance in the first game where Sam makes his way into a walk-in freezer. Given that the vent in question is connected to a regular part of the building, it means the vent is just wasting coolant.
  • The demon in Reincarnation: Riley's Out Again does this to get around the school without being spotted by humans. but it's so "tedious and unfun" that later versions added an option to skip the sequence altogether. He's seen doing it again in a mini later in the series.
    • Also used in In the Name of Evil, but thankfully without the maze.
  • Used in a level in Geist; Raimi possesses a dog to get through the vents. It appears to be a boxer-type dog, and can't stand up in the vent.
  • Armored Core has the player chase after terrorist mechs who have escaped through air tunnels. In two-story tall mechs. It's sort of justified, as these are the vents that are supposed to serve an underground city. Just don't think about how that would actually work.
  • Mirror's Edge features a number of extremely large (and life-saving) air vents. Lampshaded in one instance when Faith does this and a guard can be heard below exclaiming "Wow, the rats must be huge in here!"
  • Occurs at least once in most of the Medal of Honor games, such as the last level of Mission 2 in Allied Assault.
  • Twice in Syphon Filter 2, first in the Pharcom Expo Center, then in the Agency Biolab.
  • Pajama Sam 4 has the titular character doing this at the end of the game, even though it simply leads to the ceiling of the same room.
  • SPY Fox starts with this in the third game, Operation Ozone, infiltrating an enemy base through the restroom's ceiling vent.
  • Phil does this to escape his room at the beginning of Riddle School 5. He's a child, so the size issue isn't relevant.
  • In Erie, these adult-man-sized ducts are the player's saving grace. The game heavily consist of sprinting away for your life from mutant monsters and luckily, they can't fit in vents.
  • Mass Effect
    • While Shepard never has to enter a vent in Mass Effect 2, there are a few instances or references of vent use in the game.
      • Thane Krios uses one during his recruitment mission. You can actually hear a clunk while he's in there before he makes his big entrance.
      • During the suicide mission, the chosen Tech Expert has to move through a duct, while the player has to fight off the Collectors in order to open the valves for them. That instance should probably count as a subversion, in that the game makes very clear how very dangerous it is, and that the tech expert would have died, hideously, were it not for Shepard's help. At some points you can see them and the ducts are actually tall enough to let them walk through.
      • Most disturbingly, during Thane's Loyalty mission, Captain Bailey mentions Duct Rats, homeless children who travel in the Citadel's ventilation system. Played straight, as some of the vents can lead to razor sharp fans, sheer drops, protein vats, depressurized vents, or being spaced.
    • Used by Liara in Mass Effect 3 to escape from some Cerberus troopers. True to their real-life counterpart, they are extremely noisy - the player can hear the vents being banged around by Liara and the Cerberus troops clear across a large parking garage. While the vents are very large, the troopers have trouble getting around in their bulky armor; they repeatedly try to shoot her, but aren't able to aim and just further ventilate the shaft. There's a little boy on Earth in a smaller vent at ground level. The sound of him moving around in there is actually the only reason Shepard detects him.
    • During the Citadel DLC, temporary ally Maya Brooks has to crawl through the vent of a casino to disable the door to the panic room, all the while avoiding alarms until Shepard disables them.
  • A series of maintenance tunnels in The Perils of Akumos prove to be this. A separate series of air vents also prove plot-relevant.
  • Max Payne 3 subverts this when Max scrambles into an air duct just big enough to fit him to escape a room full of tear gas. After awkwardly maneuvering himself along for a few moments, he finds out the hard way that just cause it fits him doesn't mean it can support him...
    Max: I was trying to work out what direction I was headed in when I discovered some more Brazilian architecture not designed for the "American physique".
  • Dishonored uses this trope in a quite realistic way : you can use air ducts to infiltrate buildings and, in one case, to escape captivity, but you need a special power that allows you to possess a rat to do so.
  • Messiah has vents big enough for Bob (who is the size of a baby) to crawl through. There are also smaller vents, which you can explore while you're possessing the body of a rat.
  • Monaco, being largely an homage to heist films, features air vents as a very convenient way to get around each floor unnoticed, assuming they go where you need them to. Hilariously, not only will nobody hear you as you walk through them, but if an NPC decides to enter one, they can pass directly through you without so much as raising any suspicion. If you play as The Cleaner, you'll even knock them out as they pass by.
  • The base-defense mission in XCOM: Enemy Within has the aliens using air vents to gain access to part of the XCOM base. Justified in that the aliens coming through the air vents are either Sectoids or Thin Men; the former are very small, while the latter are incredibly flexible.
  • Contagion has them in the Escape map, Roanoke Police Department. Zombies can use them as shortcuts to get through different parts of the map.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's 2 ups the ante on the danger posed by the killer animatronics by including a pair of vents leading right to the security room, which you also have to keep an eye on. At the very least there are cameras in both vents and lights at the bits leading into your office - though why they're even big enough for the massive animatronics to crawl through is another matter entirely.
    • Continued in Five Nights at Freddy's 3, as there are two ventways into your office that Big Bad Springtrap can crawl through, but this time you are able to shut off individual vents to slow his progress. However, they tend to malfunction constantly, giving you Hallucinations if not careful.
    • In Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location, however, you are the one doing this instead. Nothing can actually get you in there, though the game certainly pulls no punches in suggesting something might. The secret alternate night also has vents that Ennard can crawl through, serving the same purpose with the same mechanics as in 3.
    • Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator takes this to its logical conclusion - the entirety of the map is vents, bar your office at the back and the fake Pizzeria in the middle of it. It is a literal maze that animatronics can freely travel through - and there're no cameras, forcing you to use other forms of detection (specifically audio and motion tracking) to keep them away. The Ultimate Custom Night also contains a couple of vents for animatronics to roam around in - Springtrap returns to crawling through them, as does Ennard, and joined by a whole batch of the 50-plus characters, each with their own mechanics.
  • In Jurassic Park: The Game, Jess uses one to access the geothermal generator in the third episode, much to Gerry's anger. The Troodon use them to get around the facility, and try to break in to the room containing the heroes by using vents.
  • In Dark Fall: Lights Out, Parker must crawl through an air duct to reach the future-era laboratory complex. As he must navigate the high-tech duct system using a 1910s bullseye lantern to illuminate his path, it's a real Anachronism Stew of a scene.
  • The Penumbra games have these from time to time within the series. The first game has a few in the mine's storage cells, and from the textures, they actually look pretty dusty. In the second, Philip has to take the screws off a vent's cover to go in; apparently one of the scientists, Niel Oswald, had gone that way as well and left notes and red marks for someone to follow. And near the end of the second game, a third is hidden behind a rather out-of-place landscape painting. At one point, Philip also mentions that the air smells rotten even though the air circulation is on.
  • Justified in Styx: Master of Shadows. Styx, being a goblin significantly smaller than a human, can crawl through many ventilation shafts and pipes that are way too small for a human. Although this may sound like a security oversight, when the Atrium was built, there was no such thing in existence as a goblin.
  • In Phantasmat 7: Reign of Shadows the main character has to answer riddles in order to properly navigate the air ducts leading to Dr. Corvine's private section of the Arcadia Resort.
  • Used extensively in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II and III where the party has to go through the vents to proceed through the levels. Various levels of enthusiasm vary with at least one character commenting on using these.
  • Anti-Villain has some in the facility Rory has to escape to prove himself as a villain initiate. A bulletin board notice from management states that employees should stop using them due to safety issues, no matter how fun it is.
  • The Darkside Detective:
    • In the chapter "Police Farce", McQueen accidentally breaks a section of air duct in the precinct house while attempting to mend it. He remarks that if anybody asks him what happened to it, he's going to claim it was broken by a maverick police officer crawling around inside the duct.
    • McQueen gets to do some actual duct-crawling in the Christmas Episode, as part of a shout-out to Die Hard.
  • In Persona 5, sneaking through air vents is sometimes the only way to advance from one area of a palace to another.
  • Dead Rising has Frank West use air vents as passages to and from the safe rooms, as Otis welds the actual door shut to keep the zombies out. As Dead Rising takes place in a mall as well, it's likely a homage to Dawn of the Dead.
  • Danny in Angelsof Death, after iniciting the building auto-destruction and the stairs just coudn't be an option. He appears out of nowhere and shoots Rachel.
  • A cutscene near the beginning of Live A Live's sci-fi chapter shows the crew of Cogito Ergosum inspecting an airduct which predictably the Robot Buddy protagonist uses in the climax to evade the behemoth on the loose.
  • The Jim Dandy from MDK2 has a few air-vents that the protagonists can comfotably walk through without even needing to crouch. They are also wide enough that two people could walk abreast.
  • Shows up in Kingdom Hearts III, of all places, when the heroes visit the world of Toy Story. As they're all transformed into Living Toys, the vents have plenty of room for them and the Heartless they're fighting.
  • In The Feeble Files, Feeble has to crawl through a bunch of vents in the last sequence of the game in order to solve a number of puzzles.
  • In Fran Bow Fran has to use one to escape from the psychiatrist's office after Phil locks her in. Since she's a child, it's semi-plausible.
  • Warframe: Both Grineer and Corpus maps have plenty of air vents big enough for a warframe to walk through (Infested maps have them as well, but they're overgrown with Meat Moss). Grineer maps tend to require them to progress through the level, while in Corpus maps they're usually optional for stealth.

    Visual Novels 
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney:
    • The only reason the title character's client in the third case is accused of the murder is that it's a Locked Room Mystery and he's the only one small enough to fit through the vents (where they found his fingerprints). He did escape the crime scene through the vents, but didn't commit the murder.
    • Also, the air vents were used by Lamiroir to get from one side the stage to the other quickly for her part in the magic act in the middle of her song. They are stated to be large enough for her to walk, albeit hunched over and there was staff waiting at either end to help her.
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies gives us a variant - Apollo suggests that someone walked through an air vent, but investigating the thing later shows that while it was possible, it was certainly not done and he has to come up with another defense.

    Web Comics 
  • Angels 2200: Loser uses one when they attempt to "rescue" Quetz
  • Subverted in Freefall, when Sam finds out the hard way that the air ducts on his ship are not quite big enough for him to hide in. He might have succeeded if he had ditched his encounter suit.
  • Justified in Schlock Mercenary, as Schlock is a carbosilicate amorph — he can squeeze through air vents no matter how small they are — well, except for his eyes (standard Sphere Eyes) and his plasgun (big).
  • Justified in Gunnerkrigg Court, as the Enigmaron fortress that Antimony infiltrates is a simulation.
  • Used in a Help Desk comic, the reasoning behind such large vents is questioned and explained as Contractual Genre Blindness in the next strip.
  • Casey and Andy
    • Subverted: Casey sneaks in through the airvents, but is met by the Mime Assassin inside the air vents, as the villain had been expecting the plan.
    • The C&A villain Lord Milligan follows the Path of the Villain as a religion and deliberately follows every cliche. Including having giant air ducts.
    • They try the air vent route multiple times, and the mime-assassin is in there every single time. Including the last time, when they were finally expecting it, and had someone outside the vent stab through it.
  • Wonderfully subverted in a strip of Ctrl+Alt+Del, given that it LEADS TO THE DEATH OF THE MAIN CHARACTER! Thus ending this Choose Your Own Adventure storyline.
  • Nepeta is ordered by Equius to do this in Homestuck.
    • Later on, Gamzee also does this to creep on others.
  • Subverted in Questionable Content when Raven attempts to enter Coffee of Doom through the airvent and gets stuck. She's not the sharpest of minds, though.
    • And it's not like she was trying to rob the place or anything. She and another character, both recently hired there, show up to their opening shift and realize that neither of them have a key, on a day their boss is taking some personal time. Cue Raven's exceedingly well-crafted plan to get in so they could open the shop without bothering said boss.
  • In Ronin Galaxy, Taylor and Rin use the floor's ventilation ducts to escape the brothel. They're both relatively small people, so it may be justified.
  • Sluggy Freelance
    • Used in a strip to sneak into Aylee's office. Justified since Bun-Bun, a mini-lop rabbit is the only one who can make it through.
    • Used again in another strip. Also justified, since it's done by Rudolph the Reindeer, who has picked up all the tricks Santa uses for shimmying up and down chimneys.
  • Banished: To escape from the Boscis base, Rak and Timbo follow a Mammazon out this way.
  • Charby the Vampirate: When Tony was cornered near a door he couldn't use inside the hunters' headquarters (since as an alp he can only leave the building the same way he entered it) he took possession of a rat monster to take the vents to where he needed to go.
  • Justified in Curvy when used by a native of Candy World who is actually a liquorice-based organism: she can squeeze into places a normal human wouldn't be able to. In fact, in the immediately previous page she's seen squeezing through the bars of a prison cell.
  • Averted in Dead Winter. Lou's plan for getting into the store for supplies involves this method, but Monday objects on the grounds that he won't fit. Apparently he's tried before.
  • In Drowtales, the air vents are too small for an adult Drow. But for a child...
  • Trigger from Far Out There is very good at these.
  • In Girl Genius Castle Wulfenbach has a number of truly enormous grated vents which Gil uses to take Tarvek, Bang and Vole to one of his hidden labs when Tarvek figures out Gil's father has been wasped and is somewhere on the ship covertly giving orders. Gil notes that Tarvek really needs to escape since even if he's wrong about what has happened to the Baron the Baron would likely have him shot on sight.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Noah uses air vents in the process of hunting a magical creature, and the trope is discussed in the commentary. And Noah also does it to get around school! Raven has to shout at him to use the door.
  • In The Motley Two, the spaceship "Hiroja" has vents big enough that the characters can sneak around the entire ship with impunity. Perria Makara, who snuck aboard undetected, even sleeps quite comfortably in the vents (near the heating unit).
  • Metroid: Third Derivative: Samus with the Morph Ball up until Phazon corruption damaged her Varia Suit and required emergency repairs destroying the Morph Ball in the process.
  • Nerf NOW!! on air ducts in games vs. reality. No inescapable death trap is complete without one!
  • Lampshaded by the Deadpan Snarker in the improvisational comic The Omega Key on this page, where he finds it suspiciously convenient that he (a 6'10" man) can fit in an air duct. (He was right, as the destination turned out to be a trap.)
  • In Outsider, Jardin lampshades the lack of handy vents.
  • Malum Industries of Permanent Inc have air ducts built intentionally wide enough to crawl through.
  • While it would appear to be justified in Star Mares due to ponies being smaller than humans (while the scale of the ships is unchanged from the originals, to better accommodate the larger ponies and pegasi), ventilation shafts are still explicitly stated to be designed for air, not ponies, and are depicted as being cramped and dirty. One character also later complains of the lack of security measures inside maintenance tunnels (which she is in the process of sneaking through).
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, this is how a quartet of time-displaced ninjas escape from the museum where they have awoken.
  • Played with in Bob and George, where Kalinka and Ran try using air ducts to sneak into Wily's newest lair. Ran dies twice, trapping Kalinka in the duct, and necessitating that Blues show up to help her out of there.

    Web Original 
  • Used to escape a dead-end in Survival of the Fittest by John Sheppard, Vera Lang and Kyrie Joseph, as killer Harry Tsai was hot on their heels and it was the only way out of the building they had run inside.
  • Shelton and Ridgeway successfully do this in Darwin's Soldiers: Schrodinger's Prisoners. It's also subverted in the third RP when Hans suggests this as a way to get into Pelvanida and James points out how that wouldn't work.
  • Tech Infantry has a sequence where a space station is captured by rebels, and they lock Xinjao O'Reilly, the chief engineer on one of the space docks, in a tool storage closet with his engineering crew. They hang a lampshade on what a stupid move this is, grab a bunch of tools, and escape into the maintenance passageways between bulkheads. They make life very difficult for the rebels controlling the station for a while.
  • Played straight in Magical Girl Hunters when sneaking into the Mashihaishi Ultra building. The confusing layout is lampshaded with Yoi asking directions of other people traveling through the same vent system.
  • Mercs has this done by Varisa and Creed to sneak around the ship during the "Hijack" episode. At one point, one of the mooks tracks Varisa by the banging noises in the ductwork and ambushes her when she comes out.
  • Duct Hunt, a parody of the Metal Gear series made by Rocket Jump, deconstructs almost every aspect of this trope, including the way some players tend to use it in Metal Gear.
  • Kai tries to use one of these in the first episode of the Chronicles of Syntax to get out of the school. It doesn't quite work out how he expected.
    Kai: Okay, this thing is definitely getting smaller. I might just hyperventilate myself into a coma down here. They'll find me years later, turning to dust in the fetal position. Can I even get into the fetal position? I don't care. Just keep moving. Just keep moving forward...
  • SCP Foundation, Characters/SCPFoundation
    • SCP-932 ("Night Feeder"). During the containment breach described in Incident Report 932-02 SCP-932-06 escaped, apparently by somehow getting into Site-09's air ducts. While in the air ducts it reproduced, creating SCP-932-07 and SCP-932-08.
    • SCP-1341 ("JUNGLE IN A JAR"). Doctor Boyd, the lead researcher on SCP-1341, wrote an account on the outbreak that led to the site being overrun with jungle plants. The last entry is his statement that he's going to commit suicide.
    • SCP-2978 ("Motherburg"). The SCP-2978-B entities being held in Site 17 change a wireless modem into a flying vehicle and start to explore. Three minutes later the vehicle enters a ventilation duct and visual contact with the vehicle is lost.
  • Episode 1 of The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) opens with protagonist Julian the Janitor's personal Interactive Narrator describing Julian having managed to get backstage by holing up in a heating duct, preparing to sneak into the eponymous radio show's ballroom studio for the third time in a week.

    Western Animation 
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Futurama:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Sonic Sat AM, 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 used 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 had lethally effective security doors, and the warden at least had 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.
  • Transformers
    • 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.

    Real Life 
  • To this day, criminals will attempt this trope at any number of buildings where they can find a suitable opening. The difficulty they will encounter is that ducts don't stay the same size or shape all that often. The added difficulty of straight up-and-down ducts will see many criminals slipping and falling to become wedged or even killed by the fall. Even worse for some criminals is they may attempt this on holidays or weekends to avoid being heard clambering through the ventilation. When they become trapped, they must wait days without food or water in extremely uncomfortable positions for somebody to discover them. Given that some buildings are closed for months at a time (if not permanently), it's not surprising that several unlucky burglars have ended up starving to death before being found.
  • In Real Life, small animals tend to be more successful at this trope than humans (they're small enough to get inside easily, they're light enough that the ducts can support their weight and they don't make as thunderous a noise while they move around). Depending on the animal, they can still be very loud as claws or nails make a racket running on metal.
  • During and around The Dung Ages, a popular way to infiltrate a stronghold was to climb through the privy chute. This had varying outcomes; either they made it, and incidentally killed Edmund II by puncturing his arse, or they got stuck and died in there, or they suffocated and then died in there. After such sieges, those chutes had to be cleaned elaborately and swept through because of all the stuck-up cadavers.
    • This is how the castle of Chateau Gaillard was defeated when the new owner of the castle, John, (yes that Prince John brother of Richard the Lionhearted) added a new latrine to the fortress near the front giving the once impregnable castle a massive new entrance to be exploited (the new chute was 2 meters square at the base and was outside the castle's moat). The original castle only having small chutes positioned where entering them would be foolhardy. All because John was too lazy to use the latrine at the middle or back of the castle.
    • According to some sources, this was how Finnish Cudgel War leader Jaakko Ilkka escaped from his imprisonment in the Turku Castle.
  • This was attempted in 1994 by Cleveland Indians pitcher Jason Grimsley to try to switch out teammate Albert Belle's corked bat before the umpire could find out he was cheating. Going through 10 feet of ducts and a false ceiling, he might have even gotten away with it if he hadn't replaced it with an autographed bat.
  • Defied in Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, a.k.a. SCIFs, where top-secret intelligence information is handled in the United States have a list of regulations on construction of air vents, including grates to prevent entry and deliberate metal disconnects to avoid sound transfer.
  • Successfully done by serial killer Ted Bundy. While in prison awaiting trial on one of many murders he was suspected in, he climbed through the roof of his cell (he had dieted and lost enough weight to make this possible), crawled across the floorboards into the adjoining warden's apartment (the warden and his wife were out at a New Year's Eve party), and simply walked out of the apartment into freedom. He was caught several weeks later, but not before adding several more victims to his list.
  • When Kingsley Ofosu and 8 other Ghanians stowed away on a Europe-bound cargo ship, he escaped from the ship's murderous crew (the other stowaways were not so lucky), by shimmying up one of these.
  • Quawntay Adams managed to escape from a jail by going into the subceiling and out through a vent. It was harder than it sounds; after getting a hacksaw blade to get through the ceiling, he had to both time the guards, evade the cameras-including the one in his cell-and get to his accomplice outside. His grand total of freedom? Seven hours.
  • On a G4 special one of the famed Bioware doctors mentioned how as a child his teacher locked him in the closet for misbehaving, he climbed from the closet into the drop ceiling Breakfast Club style. After crawling back into his classroom he positioned himself over where the teacher was standing and dropped a lugie on them.
  • Attempted unsuccessfully by Jamie Minor. She tried sneaking into her workplace by the air ducts but got trapped, and was found dead over a month later.
  • Russian President Boris Yeltsin was thought to have done this once during a stay in Washington D.C. in order to evade security (the security aimed at protecting him) so that he could go out for a night on the town unburdened by bodyguards. In reality the president only unscrewed the vent as a decoy and or prank then used an unlocked window to "escape".
  • Inverted — if only just — in real life basements containing an "egress window". This is intended to assist folks in their escape in the event of a house fire or emergency, but many folks often leave it open to get some air circulation going. Furthermore, many people are too large to make proper use of them.
  • Freddy Swanson, an inmate in Monterey County, California, successfully pulled off this trope in December of 2014.
  • In 1992, convicted murderer Richard Lee McNair and two other inmates escaped from North Dakota State Penitentiary by crawling through an air vent in an education room and making their way to the roof of the building. After crossing several more rooftops, they dropped 15 feet to the ground outside the main wall and escaped. The other two inmates were apprehended within hours, but McNair remained free for 10 months before being re-arrested.
  • Attempted by a pair of students in the US to steal an exam paper in the middle of the night. The air duct bit worked, but the tutor was working late.
  • A number of people have discovered to their dismay that air ducts and suspended ceiling grids are intended to support air and suspended ceiling tiles respectively, both of which are much lighter than human beings. Whether this discovery led to injury/death, imprisonment, or just embarrassment depends on where they fell through at.
  • Theatres not infrequently have "hidden passages" installed over the "house" (audience seating area) for maintenance and adjustment of lighting or sound equipment that would be difficult or awkward to reach in any other way. However, these generally don't "go" anywhere and you usually have to exit back out the same way you came in (A really enterprising person might rappel down from a catwalk, but anyone doing so would almost certainly be in full view of the audience and draw more attention than they would have had they just walked in the main door quietly.)

Alternative Title(s): Air Vent Infiltration, Air Vent Escape, Sneaking Through Air Vents