Okay, you're the writer/director/producer/executive/all of the above of a hit TV show. You want to do something different to create some tension and drama and/or humor in an episode and you don't want a Very Special Episode or a Clip Show and you don't want to spend all the money to take the whole cast and crew on location to Disney World/Hawaii/Jamaica/Springfield. A lightbulb switches on in your brain: set the episode on a plane.
This is fairly easy to do because it requires a very limited amount of sets; the limited space on a plane creates close quarters, which can create Dramatic Tension, especially if one of the main characters is deathly afraid of flying. Also, there can be accidents in a plane's bathroom, and that can help with comedic sequences. So writers/directors/producers/all of the above can get a lot of drama on a lower budget.
A subtrope of Bottle Episode.
- Two Detective Conan examples: 1) The "New York Arc" started with a flashback where Shinichi solves a variant "locked room mystery" that takes place on a plane. 2) A case featuring a disgruntled former relief pitcher was solved when Conan realizes that the suspect had taken the same flight they did.
- Full House had a Christmas episode that took place on a plane during a snowstorm and in an airport terminal.
- "Phantom Traveler," the fourth episode of the first season of Supernatural where Sam and Dean had to stop a demon that took down planes forty minutes into flight. Dean freaked out the whole time because he is terrified of flying.
- An episode in the fourth season of Bones had Booth and Brennan solve a murder on a flight to China and they had to race against the clock because once the plane landed, it would no longer be in U. S. jurisdiction.
- "Airborne" had House and Cuddy stuck on a plane when a strange epidemic started breaking out among the passengers. House replaces his usually team with a three passengers of a plane. He tells one of them to say "crikey" and agree with everything he says, one of them is to disagree with everything House says, and the third passenger must be morally outraged at everything he says.
- In Season 2, House and Stacy are snowed in at an airport. House, being House, talks to his team on the phone and writes the symptoms on the wall with Stacy's lipstick, in lieu of his trusty whiteboard. Lucky for House, none of the airport staff seem to notice or object to his vandalism.
- There's a Monk episode where Monk discovers that a fellow passenger on an airplane killed his wife and, during the flight, killed another passenger, and had to prove it from the air, before the plane lands and the killer gets away.
- CSI and CSI: New York have both had plane episodes.
- On an episode of The West Wing, Air Force One (the presidential jet) couldn't land during the episode because of possible landing gear problems.
- In a Father Ted episode, Dougal managed to break the plane (I forget how, but it involved a Big Red Button), and Ted had to fix the plane before it landed. The best scene: There are only two parachutes on board, and Ted holds an essay writing competition to decided who gets the parachutes... Jack steals them - one for himself and the other for the drinks trolley.
- Seinfeld has a classic episode set on a plane, where Jerry gets bumped up to first class and Elaine is stuck in coach.
- John Doe, with the tagline "How do you solve a mystery at 30,000 feet!?" The answer being, of course, by knowing everything, as usual.
- The Twilight Zone (1959):
- The episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", which was remade for Twilight Zone: The Movie.
- "The Odyssey Of Flight 33". A jet airliner is sent on a journey through time.
- One episode of Patlabor takes place almost entirely on the plane Kanuka Clancy is taking back to America... but it never actually gets off the ground due to an overeager hijacker making his move a little early.
- Once in 24, Jack Bauer had to hijack a plane for some reason. He was up to his usual shenanigans on the plane for about an episode or two.
- Part 1 of the Titus two-parter "Insanity Genetic."
- Done on The Dead Zone, where Johnny tries frantically to prevent the plane from crashing.
- Friends did a couple of these with the trips to and from London for Ross's wedding (featuring a cameo from none other than Hugh Laurie and Ross and Rachel's shared trip down to Las Vegas.
- Naturally, Lost has had a couple of these. The flashbacks in the pilot were all to the moments before the plane broke up in mid-air. "Exodus" shows all the characters boarding the plane. Much of "316" takes place on the plane on which the Oceanic 6 return to the island. The first half of "LA X" features the alternate 815 in midair; the second half is set in the airport.
- Leverage has "The Mile High Job", where the team needs to prevent a coverup murder on a plane to the Caiman Islands.
- Human Target has "Rewind", where the team needs to prevent a murder on a plane to Seattle. Differing only in that the former plane almost crashed deliberately, as part of the plot, while the latter plane only almost crashed cause a stray bullet started a fire.
- In an episode of Dead Like Me, Mason and Roxy spend most of the episode on a plane because they have reaper assignments there, and due to constant delays, the plane never even leaves the ground.
- Small Wonder had "Vicki and the Skyjacker", with Art Linkletter among the passengers. It was during the production of this episode that the series' cancellation was announced.
- The A-Team: In the Season 1 episode "The Beast from the Belly of a Boeing," the A-Team has to stop a group of six hijackers from holding a plane ransom and dumping it in the ocean. B. A. was supposed to be on the ground, but he accidentally ended up on the plane and went into temporary paralysis. Murdock's eyes got wounded when a gun discharged in his face (and shot a hole in the plane), so Hannibal had to land the plane at LAX while Murdock talked him through the whole thing with his eyes closed, proving that Murdock can fly any kind of aircraft and leading to a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- One episode of The Golden Girls takes place (mostly) on a plane, where the girls are all forced to confront their biggest fears: Dorothy of flying, Rose of public speaking, and Blanche of bald men.
- A first-season episode of The Incredible Hulk ("747") takes place almost entirely aboard a plane. Not only that, but David Banner single-handedly thwarts a hi-jacking and brings the plane down safely, even managing to become the Hulk in mid-flight—twice.
- On the Married... with Children third season episode "The Gypsy Cried", Marcy is warned by a fortuneteller not to go on a planned business trip, as the fortuneteller had a vision that she would die in a plane crash. In order to ensure her survival, she and Steve agree to purchase extra tickets for the Bundys to go along with her as "good-luck charms". Hilarity and turbulence ensue.
- Chuck season 3 had the one where he fought "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
- Series 6 of Spooks had an episode where Adam and Ros board a flight from London to Tehran to hunt down a courier taking nuclear secrets to Iran. Even worse, the UK government had to allow the plane to fly without lightning shielding, or else risk a chemical attack on London. As luck would have it, the plane flies right into a thunderstorm over Turkey.
- JAG: An Oceanic Airlines (how typical) flight to Seoul gets hijacked by South Korean radicals in 5th season episode "The Bridge at Kang So Ri". Luckily enough our heroes take care of the situation.
- The Cold War-era Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "The Kamchatka Incident" is largely set on an American military air transport plane headed from Tokyo to Seattle. Engine trouble forces the plane into Soviet airspace, which might not end well for the Russian defector on board.
- The It Takes a Thief (1968) episode "Project 'X'" is Ten Little Murder Victims on a plane, complete with a Green Aesop.
- Emergency! had one with the paramedics treating an in-flight emergency.
- The NCIS episode "Jet Lag," complete with the murder of an air marshal and the attempted murder of a federally protected witness.
- In a similar vein is the NCIS: Los Angeles episode "767", complete with armed terrorists.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has "The Gang Beats Boggs," in which the gang tries to beat Wade Boggs's record of drinking 70 beers in a cross-country flight.
- Goosebumps: There's an episode called "More Monster Blood", in which the ravenous green Blob Monster is released onboard a passenger plane and proceeds to devour everyone. This plot was exclusive to the series.
- Get Smart. In "Closely Watched Planes", Max and 99 have to figure out how Control couriers can be disappearing in mid-flight.
- Castle and Alexis spend an episode on a plane where an air marshall has been murdered and they try to figure out which of the passengers is the killer.
- NTSF:SD:SUV::: The episode "Comic Con Air" spoofs the movie Con Air, except this time the prisoner transport plane is taken over by a group of nerds.
- The second episode of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth takes place on an unusually large airplane both while it is en route and after it has landed.
- Peppa Pig: "The Holiday".
- The Electric Company (1971)'s animated segment, "The Adventures of Letterman," had one episode set on a plane. The series' villain, the Spellbinder, pulls off what today would be considered an act of terrorism: Spotting a plane with an elementary school class (along with teachers, the principal and chaperones) going on a cross-country trip, Spellbinder decides to change the "e" in plane to "t," creating "plant." The plant begins a freefall from 30,000 feet, the Spellbinder laughs at the situation(!) and the pilot to cry out to the control tower for help, knowing that the situation is hopeless. Never fear: Letterman shows up in time to restore the "e" in plane and the flight to continue on uneventfully. note
- Rocko's Modern Life where he and Heffer hold Filburt's bachelor party on a plane-themed ice cream parlor, which somehow takes off.
Filburt: Mayday, mayday! We're going down like a lead rake. And we can't fly, my friend ate too much ice cream, and my friend's from Australia! Wait a minute, this is a pig...
- Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: By the end of the episode, the main monster trio accidentally scare all the passengers on the place when Krumm causes some engine problems, but the Gromble sees through the Loophole Abuse — people are supposed to be scared of monsters, not airplanes — and subjects them to a Here We Go Again!.
- Cow and Chicken had an episode that takes place in a plane, and it all happens when the plane was still on the ground.
- Johnny Bravo episode "The Man Who Cried Clown". Johnny was the only character who knew there was a clown performing some antics at the plane's wing. After several attempts, he finally rids of it, only to learn from the plane's crew said plane was so irregular it needed a clown on each wing and, since the clown at the other wing alone wasn't enough to provide safe landing, Johnny had to replace the missing clown.
- "When Magoo Flew" was an installment of the Mr. Magoo series that had the nearly-blind Magoo wander onto an airplane, thinking he's going to the movies.
- Kaeloo: The episode "Let's Play Air Pockets", where Stumpy and Quack Quack go on a plane piloted by Mr. Cat, with Kaeloo as an air hostess. Mr. Cat jumps out of the plane using the only parachute they had and leaves them to die.
"Enough... is enough! I've had it with this motherfucking episode on this motherfucking plane! Everyone strap in!... I'm about to open some fuckin' windows."