Sam Wilson: I never said pilot.
Out of all of the world's Improbable Piloting Skills, the most improbable of all is the ability to fly without a plane.
It has been shown in movies again and again that anyone who can fly in an unusual way (whether it be a superpower or just some nifty invention) will fly very close to passenger aircraft, which will either A) annoy those on the plane or B) scare the crap out of those on the plane. Sometimes they'll only be seen by one passenger; usually either a kid who tries in vain to get his parents to look, or a lone alcoholic who stares bemusedly at his miniature of Scotch.
A variation is that, if it is a military aircraft instead of a jetliner, the pilot is likely to demand identification and/or attack.
Probably every flying superhero has done it at least once. Female ones occasionally blow kisses at or otherwise flirt with the pilots. Be careful of the plane's engines, though.
- Psychic Squad:
- Fujiko is riding on a plane, when she suddenly sees her friendly enemy Kyousuke (who has both telekinetic and teleporting powers) flying beside the plane window, just to have a little telepathic chat with her. This infuriates her. A mild subversion since he shows himself only to her, hypnotically hiding his presence from other passengers.
- In Kyousuke's back-story arc, there is a scene where a fighter pilot gets first confused and then annoyed by two (friendly) ESPers, one of them with telekinetic and the other with teleporting ability, showing up on both wings of his plane, to demonstrate him what an ESPer can do in a battle situation. (And to prepare him psychologically for the upcoming practice battle with little Kyousuke.)
- In PS238, Captain Clarinet starts out with a pathological fear of flying, due to having repeated nightmares of being sucked into a jet-engine. It doesn't particularly improve matters when Zodon "helpfully" reminds him that his invulnerability ensures that, should that happen, he'd come out on the other side unscathed... while the plane plummets to the ground in flames with the passengers aboard.... And then Zodon plays a "practical joke" on him that results in it happening in real life. However, it means the good captain is forced to use his flight to put the damaged plane down safely, which ends up curing the good captain of his phobia instead of compounding it.
- In the comic Lucifer, the imp Gaudium uses this technique to get from London to New York. To be fair, Gaudium's wings are shorter than his arms and his best flying speed is only a bit faster than a human can walk, so hitching a ride on a commercial jet is practical.
- Spider-Man swings by helicopters all the time. In the game of the second movie, you end up chasing one... if you go too close to the rotors, exactly what you'd expect happens.
- In "Supergirls Super Pet", an airliner pilot informs the control tower that he is seeing a caped cat flying by when Streaky overtakes his plane.
- Supergirl (Wednesday Comics): When an airliner pilot asks why the radar is picking up a foreign object on the back wing, the stewardess informs that -believe it or not-, it is a flying cat who is about to tear the fin off.
- X-Men: In the 80's comics, Rogue buzzes Air Force One and gives Ronald Reagan a thrill. She does it again in the first issue of her limited series, this time planting a kiss on one of two fighter jets.
- Inverted in Miracleman, where the title hero (who can fly) takes a plane in his superhero form to meet his enemy Emil Gargunza in Argentina.
- The Avengers: A 70's comic has the title heroes engaged in a battle against Thanos's starfleet. The heroes are flying around in small ships, but Thor is flying around smashing apart enemy ships under his own power.
- Bamse: When Skalman's balloon outperforms a passenger jetplane, the pilot and co-pilot wonder why they are having the same hallucination.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: In her second appearance Byrna Brilyant/Snowman uses her Powered Armor to encase the robot plane in "blue snow" directly.
- In the first The Avengers comic, Iron Man is flying close to passenger jets, asking the pilots if any of them have seen The Incredible Hulk.
- In one Calvin and Hobbes storyline, Calvin thinks a motorized propeller beanie will let him fly, complete with fantasy sequence where he waves at a plane. Another Sunday fantasy has his parents letting him drive the car, and he drives so fast he breaks the speedometer, goes airborne and passes a jet.
- Inverted in The Far Side: a flock of geese are keeping pace with a passenger jet, and one looks over and sees another goose riding in comfort in the plane, making faces at the others through the window.
- In The Price of Flight, the Ankh-Morpork City Air Watch comprises four (later five) different classes of aviator. There are Feegle on trained birds of prey. There are flying carpets piloted by Ankh-Morpork based Klatchians. There are Witches operating a variety of broomsticks. A smaller élite group who each have a Pegasus. But all four of these still require an Air Vehicle of some sort to get them up there. Except, that is, for two Watch members who muster alongside the Air Watch. Sally von Humpeding, code-named Fledermaus, is a Vampire. And Watch cadet Bridget O'Hellion is a Banshee. Both can get into the air without assistance and each is entitled to shout "Look! no broomstick!" once up there.
- In the second Fantastic Four (2005) movie, the Human Torch flies next to the plane in which the rest of the Fantastic Four is flying, annoying the Thing. Yes, you read that right, the Fantastic Four were flying on an ordinary, mundane plane. Johnny had told them, "I don't fly coach."
- In Superman: The Movie, Superman does this with Air Force One, to save it from crashing.
- Iron Man is an example of the "fight military aircraft" portion of the trope. And it is awesome. Though actually, Tony unknowingly invaded USAF controlled airspace. When Rhodey tries to contact him, he at first lies that he's "driving with the top down", but then admits to be flying in a rocket-powered suit of armor so his men won't shoot him out of the sky.
- The Rocketeer did this. It would have looked cooler if he wasn't still figuring it out and shut off the jetpack by accidentally hitting his throttle button (indicated by an audible "buzz") on his helmet when he attempts a patriotic salute.
- There's a hilarious bit at the end of Flubber using the little boy Running Gag that has been going through the whole movie.
- During the climax of Addams Family Values, the baby somehow gets catapulted high enough to come eye-to-eye with a commuter plane... specifically, the one that's currently flying the Alpha Bitch and her family home from the disaster that was summer camp.
- Subverted in the first episode of The Boys (2019). A child who's a fan of superhero Homelander is delighted to see him flying next to their private jet. Homelander then activates his heat vision, destroying the plane and killing everyone inside.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" starring William Shatner is the ultimate "scared passenger" example, and one of the few that can be said to be evil. This example also is true for The Movie. A remake of this episode used John Lithgow as Shatner's character. 3rd Rock from the Sun worked in a double Shout-Out when one episode had Dick Solomon (Lithgow) claiming to see something on the wing of the plane, and a later one has the previously-only-mentioned Big Giant Head (Shatner, of course) gets off the plane drunk, saying the same thing (with Dick excitedly saying "That happened to me too!") and explaining that the crew gave him liquor to calm him down. According to Shatner himself, his children would ask him to try this with cabin crew on Real Life flights. Mostly, the crews found this amusing.
- The Mandalorian sees the members of the title character's tribe rescue him and the Child from bounty hunters. As the Mandalorian makes his escape, he looks out the cockpit window as one of his fellow Mandalorians flies alongside his ship and gives him a farewell salute. The Mandalorian turns back to the ship's controls and remarks, "I gotta get me one of those."
- In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and Ron nearly collide with a jumbo jet when flying Arthur Weasley's Ford Anglia to Hogwarts.
- In X-Men: The Animated Series, Rogue once sat on the wing of a plane when she needed to think, and didn't notice the passengers freaking out.
- Danny Phantom has phased through at least one plane.
- Transformers: Plane Transfomers have been getting steadily closer to real planes. Usually fighter jets, and there's sometimes a misunderstanding. (Or it's a Decepticon, in which case, they're right to shoot, but it tends to do them little good.)
- Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines: Muttley is able to use his tail as a propellor after the Vulture Squadron screws up another mission to catch Yankee Doodle Pigeon and crashes out their planes.
- Played with in an episode of DuckTales (1987) where two rich passengers on a jet see Launchpad and Scrooge seemingly flying without a plane (They're actually flying a jet that can turn invisible, but they aren't wearing one of the suits that turn them invisible too, so they're still visible.) and simply assume that they're flying on one of those "no-frills airlines."