Ah, airplanes. What could be better than flying through turbulent winds, with a Screaming Plane Baby down the aisle, a kid who won't stop kicking your seat, and getting stuck sitting with annoying strangers? Not to mention the food sucks, and the flight itself could take several hours worse if there's a delay. Any of these factors can make a ride horrible, and it's even worse if there's a combination. Worse still if someone has a flight phobia.
So it's no wonder that airplane rides in fiction have a tendency to be portrayed as uncomfortable at best and absolutely miserable at worst. Whilst this can be Truth in Television, the problems with flight travel tend to be comically exaggerated for the sake of making the protagonist suffer. First-time fliers will never want to go back, those with a phobia will be given confirmation that airplanes are awful, and everyone will just be happy when the plane finally lands.
Common problems include being stuck with annoying passengers, a lack of space, bad food, and flight sickness. In the worst case scenario, the plane may crash, in addition to everything else, just to underscore how bad the flight is.
- Downplayed in Cardcaptor Sakura. It's Sakura's first time to the airport and riding an airplane, so Touya pranks her by telling her that she has to take off her shoes before she boards, just as she would before entering a house. She embarrasses herself in front of the flight attendant at the counter, who tells her that this isn't necessary. This also being Japan, the process of going to an airport and taking a plane is generally less strenuous than it is anywhere else.
- In Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the main cast board Gremlin Air, where the crew is made up of gremlins that are dismantling the very plane they are supposed to fly.
- Anger Management: the film's main plot is kicked off when Dave has to endure a flight where he's stuck sitting next to Buddy, who's acting as obnoxiously as possible, and being ignored by a rude and confrontational flight attendant. He eventually gets tased by a sky marshall who, as it turns out, was having a miserable flight, himself.
- Bridesmaids: The flight to Las Vegas is actually not that bad, except for Annie. She takes a pill from Helen, manipulates her into taking it with alcohol, and this causes her to slip into hallucinations and a break from reality thanks to a paranoid seat mate who keeps fantasizing about the plane crashing. She ends up stumbling around the cabin, declaring that the plane is about to crash, and the plane ends up getting grounded and they all have to bus back home.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Sam Hall is on a plane ride to New York with his quiz team classmates when the plane hits some turbulence. The pilot has to switch on the seatbelt sign and the plane quickly starts bouncing all over the sky. They get through it, the ride smooths out before anybody pukes... and then the oxygen masks activate, meaning the cabin has lost pressure.
- Destination Wedding: After bitter, judgemental Lindsay and Frank snipe at each other while boarding, they find out that they're next to each other in the back of the extremely tiny airplane which ricochets with every turbulence. Naturally, this doesn't help their dislike of each other.
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Any enmity that Neal Page obtained from having Del Griffith stealing his cab and almost making him miss his plane only gets exacerbated when he has to sit right next to Del in the plane and Del turns out to be incredibly annoying (talks a lot, almost sleeps on him and it's implied he has an odor problem), on top of lousy food and O'Hare Airport closing down because of a blizzard (which means that Neal is forced to find a way to get home from Kansas).
- Spiderman Far From Home has Peter and his class fly to Europe. Peter has a miserable time- not only is MJ sitting with his romantic rival and Ned with Betty, both having a great time, he's stuck with his annoying teacher, who only ends up sleeping on Peter's shoulder.
- The 1957 drama Zero Hour! (1957) — and its better known parody remake Airplane! — has half the passengers on a plane flight succumb to food poisoning, including the flight crew, forcing a former fighter pilot to take the controls and land the plane.
- Police Academy: In Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach, Harris tries to book First Class tickets for himself and Proctor on the flight to Miami, only for Hightower to book him a "private plane", which turns out to be a budget flight on a cargo plane full of livestock. The villains of the movie also have a bad flight, because they have to share it with Lassard, who accidentally walks off with their loot in Miami because their baggage got switched.
- United 93 portrays a real, not funny, nightmare flight: the highjacked flight on 9/11 that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, after passengers, knowing that everybody was going to die, attempted to take over the plane from the highjackers, resulting in the plane not reaching its target.
- Whateley Universe contains an exaggerated example, that takes up several paragraphs, in Alya and the Late Trevor James Goodkind. It's Ayla's first time riding coach when she's used to first class, and has nothing less than a miserable time. The cabin is crowded and stuffy, there's no space in the seats, Ayla is stuck sitting next to an overweight woman who won't stop talking to her, there's a strong, horrible smell of perfume, a Screaming Plane Baby, and of course, the food sucks. It doesn't get any better upon leaving the plane:
"Once we reached the terminal, everyone leapt to their feet and started struggling to pull luggage out of overhead compartments as if there were some sort of race. You would think that the pilot had announced that only the first twenty people off the plane would be allowed to use the restrooms."
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway: It's Greg's first time going to the airport and taking an airplane. Not only is he seated between a couple with a baby, but he also gets anxious over something happening to the plane after he watches the safety demonstration video (and he also gets worried about the turbulence and the pilots being allowed to move about the cabin), the passenger behind him puts his feet up on Greg's armrests, and he can't lean his seat back because he's sitting in the emergency exit row. Also, meals are only given to first class passengers. The Heffleys also have to alternate between who gets to sit in first class, but Greg never gets his chance due to the doorway getting blocked by the food cart after the turbulence hits.
- Played for Horror in Station Eleven. While none of the horrific flights are ever shown, the always-deadly Georgia Flu spreads extremely fast and it spreads especially quickly in confinement. As a result, it becomes completely commonplace once the flu originates for airplanes to ground and never open. Clark frequently hopes that everyone is dead.
Don't think of that unspeakable decision, to keep the jet sealed rather than expose a packed airport to a fatal contagion. Don't think about what enforcing that decision may have required. Don't think about those last few hours on board.
- Big Time Rush: At the end of "Green Time Rush", Kendall and Jett win their class contest...and have to go to Washington D.C. and do a formal presentation. The last scene is Kendall in misery on the plane, stuck with a kid kicking his seat and Jett rambling away.
- On an episode of Cheers, Fraiser learns that Carla is afraid of flying. He offers to take Carla on a flight to help her overcome this fear. Realizing this would be a good opportunity to flex his psychology skills, Frasier gets a plane full of people who are afraid of flying. Pretty much every single thing that can go wrong on the flight does. In the end, Fraiser cures all of the previously phobic people, but gains a fear of flying himself.
- The premise of the pilot (heh) episode of The Bob Newhart Show is psychologist Bob hartley treating a plane full of phobic passengers.
- In season 3 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca's flight back to West Covina after her stay with her mother in New York is absolutely miserable, culminating in a suicide attempt. Admittedly that mostly stems from her rock bottom mood even before she steps on the plane, but Word of God is that they set the scene there because being on a plane is already depressing and uncomfortable enough under normal circumstances, let alone these extreme ones.
- CSI: Played for Drama in the season 1 episode "Unfriendly Skies", where a disruptive passenger ends up murdered during a flight, and the team eventually discovers that the man had suffered from a horrific infection that caused his brain to swell up from the pressure changes during the flight, leaving him delirious and in agony. He'd repeatedly tried to break out of the plane to escape the pain, to the point that the other passengers eventually panicked and beat him to death. It's ruled as self-defence and no one is charged for his death.
- Drake & Josh: In "Drake And Josh Go To Hollywood", the boys have to take a plane and end up sitting with strangers. Drake gets to sit with two hot girls... while Josh, ever unlucky, sits with a fat, obnoxious, and disgusting married couple that spend their time bickering and making him look at their moles.
- Hannah Montana: When Miley sneaks off to go to Florida without her father's permission, he and Jackson end up on the plane trying to chase her. Because he and Jackson are stuck in coach, they get to deal with, as Jackson puts it:
"Sitting in front of the kangaroo-kid and being drooled on by Jabba the gut."
- Victorious: "WiFi In The Sky" has Tori and Trina on a plane the entire episode. While Tori is attempting to videochat her friends to get a project done, Trina is having a bad time with the kid behind her kicking and mocking her while his father doesn't care. Tori gets in on some of the "fun" as well, as every time Trina has to leave, she has to squeeze past Tori and her laptop.
- In "The Airport", Elaine and Jerry are coming off a trip to visit a relative and do a show respectively. However due to a cancellation, they have to take a different plane to get back home and only two seats are available: a First Class and a Coach. Jerry quickly snaps up the First Class seat and poor Elaine has to endure in the latter where she pretty much deals with all the subjects of this trope: Annoying passengers, cramped seating, horrendous airline food and losing her luggage because she was mean to the handler and he put it on another flight in revenge. At one point she tries to sneak into First Class, but is quickly forced back to her seat. All the while Jerry meets a nice girl and pretty much has a wonderful flight.
- In another episode, Elaine and Puddy have won a trip to Hawaii, but the two get antsy during those several hours and get into an argument. Another passenger sitting next to them is also an unfortunate casualty of this. When the plane finally lands in Hawaii, Elaine and Puddy part ways... only to end up in the same taxi. And their seatmate also ends up in the same taxi as them. Here We Go Again!.
- In the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Albuquerque", he has to take a plane for the first time. He claims it was really great...except that he had to sit between two smelly Albanian women, the kid behind him kept throwing up, they ran out of Dr.Pepper and salted peanuts, the in-flight movie was Biodome, and three of the airplane's engines burned out, and he was the only survivor of the ensuing crash, forcing him to crawl through the desert for three days until he reached civilization.
- The infamous "Plane Ride from Hell" from Great Britain to the United States that involved several drunken WWE Superstars. Incidents include Curt Hennig and Brock Lesnar getting into an in-flight wrestling match in the aisle and having to be seperated, Dustin Runnels serenading his wife Terri until told to stop by Jim Ross, and Michael Hayes getting into a physical incident with Bradshaw.
- Vacation Story: Not only does the flight staff not do their job, but the plane loses power, hits a thunderstorm, and crashes in the ocean.
- In the Animaniacs short "Plane Pals", an obnoxious executive has the bad luck of sitting next to the Warners, who decide to make him their "special friend" for the flight.
- Played with in Cow and Chicken where the Red Guy, disguised as an air hostess, terrorizes Chicken on a flight - only for it to be revealed that the plane hadn't taken off yet.
- The Garfield Specials episode "Garfield in Paradise" opens with Jon, Garfield (and Odie stashed in a suitcase) taking a plane to a tropical island. It's not a pleasant flight, with everything from rude stewardesses (upon finding out Jon is flying third class: "your seat is in the rear with the rest of the slime!") to broken down seats, non functioning safety belts, and turbulence that sends them bouncing into the ceiling. Garfield's thoughts on the matter:
"Whoever said getting there is half the fun should be dragged out into the street and shot."
- The Jetsons has an episode with Mr. Spacely on one of these, stuck between two fat guys, because he tried to save money by flying a cheap air/space-line.
- Robot Chicken depicts B.A. Baracus' dislike of flying through a flashback. He was all happy and eager to take his first flight. The pilot commended him for going all alone, moments before mentioning to the passengers that they discovered that all the in-flight meals had gone bad, and all the bathrooms were occupied. Cue everyone trying and failing to hold in their bowel movements, and one severely traumatized B.A.
- The Rocko's Modern Life episode "Jet Scream" has Rocko endure every bad plane flight cliche (before 9/11 and the resulting changes) known to man, from losing his luggage (it ended up on another planet) to dealing with a bratty kid (the passengers cheer when an exasperated Rocko stuffs him in an overhead bin) to the plane going into a dive.
- The Simpsons: In "Days of Future Past", teleportation has reduced the airline industry to a last resort in the episode's futuristic setting. Unable to teleport due to her pregnancy, an adult Maggie has to board a ramshackle plane manned by a crew straight out of a Mad Max movie.
- In the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian", Buster reads over the titular script written by three then-eighth-grade girls and is horrified when he finds out there is a scene where he has to ride aboard an airplane to Hawaii. When he tries to talk the girls about a rewrite, they decide the plane scene will stay. Buster's fears are proven true when Montana Max, his worst enemy, is the pilot, and decides not to wait to take off despite being 87th in line for it. Plucky is also the steward, and serves him food that hasn't been classified by science yet. When Buster asks him if he could have a carrot, Plucky serves him a freeze-dried reconstituted carrot chip. Buster eats it, and is so queasy, he rushes to the restroom, which is crowded with many other queasy passengers who also ate the carrot chips. When the plane ride is over, Buster is so relieved to be off the plane, he kisses the ground.