Airports are busy places. Flying machines of all sizes defy gravity on their way in and out. Passengers come and go on errands of business and/or pleasure. Dozens, hundreds or even thousands of airport employees keep things moving in countless different ways.
But the science of flight that keeps aircraft that make airports necessary in the air is a delicately balanced dance. Mechanical breakdowns can leave a plane grounded for hours or months waiting for repairs. Weather from a thin, misty fog bank, a few fluffy flakes of snow, to mighty storms miles across can shut down runways for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of miles in all directions. The shutdown could also be caused by a major crime or, scarier still, a terrorist attack. Alternately, simply leaving the destination airport can be prevented by miles of bureaucratic red tape.
Suddenly our hero(es) is/are stuck in an airport. Now the real story begins. Now the real drama and/or action begins.
This trope is not limited to airports. The kinds of chaos that can close an airport or ground flights can leave buses and trains parked as well. It can even happen to the occasional subway. Not surprisingly, a lot of these episodes like to set up a Road Trip Plot as a reason for the characters to be in such a place only for it to hit the proverbial wall screaming.
If the character(s) is/are readily able to leave the airport to wait for the flight to resume, or simply bail on the entire trip and return home, it's not this trope. If they are only inconvenienced by a delay, it's not this trope. However, if the sudden onset of extreme weather is what's inconveniencing them, it may be a Big Storm Episode. Or at least overlap with that trope.
Works where the characters get stuck at an airport:
- In one of the first Microsoft "Cloud" commercials a couple is stuck in the airport. The man declares "To the Cloud!" and they pass the time by watching their favorite shows which have been recorded to the cloud.
- In this cell phone commercial, the singer in an opera scene turns out to be a phone, with the microphone pointed in its direction. It communicates with the cell phone of the Prima Donna, who is stuck in an airport due to a snow storm. This does not prevent her from singing her part, though.
- In the Motion Practice series, "The Eight-Hour Postponement" sees bad weather strand a group of travelers at an airport for eight hours, leaving Bruce Banner as the responsible adult for a small child, two teenagers, and Tony Stark.
- Die Hard 2: John McClane is at Dulles Int'l Airport on a very snowy Christmas Eve, waiting for his wife's flight to arrive when a Central American drug lord hijacks the plane carrying him.
- The Terminal is basically this trope: The Movie. The main character is stuck in an airport after his home country breaks out in civil war. His passport is revoked and he isn't allowed to leave the airport or fly home.
- The entire film Unaccompanied Minors is about this trope: an airport is Snowed-In, and while most of the people were moved to a nearby hotel, the main characters - all children - sneak away and end up having to stay at the airport.
- The subplot of Adventures in Babysitting involves Brenda, the best friend of Elisabeth Shue's character Chris, being stuck at the Greyhound bus station in Chicago after trying to run away because she didn't bring enough money (or even plan) for a return trip. While the main characters keep running into one obstacle after another, the action keeps cutting back to her travails with homeless people and other annoyances in the bus station.
- Isaac Asimov's "I'm in Marsport Without Hilda": Max has a layover at the space station around Mars for three days while he waits for the next shuttle to take him to Earth. He plans to spend them in Flora's apartment, but Rog Crinton has a job for him. He must investigate three untouchably rich corporate executives while they're having their own layover between 8pm and 11pm local time.
- The Langoliers: The pilot and a fraction of the original passengers are the only people to be found at Bangor International, but they're still stuck due to a lack of fuel.
- In the Relativity story "Let It Snow", Michael and Yule are stuck at an airport in France due to a snowstorm - The delay threatens to prevent them from spending Christmas with Sara. They pass the time by reminiscing about previous Christmases.
- Station Eleven: Clark boards a plane that is redirected to Severn City Airport due to the Georgia Flu pandemic. The passengers are then stranded there for the next two decades. Seeing as 99% of the population has died, and the world has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it's not like they have anywhere else to go.
- The Facts of Life: Blair and Jo get stuck in a podunk town bus station. Blair is pleasantly surprised to discover that the newspaper stand sells French and Italian Vogue among others.
- One Christmas Episode of Full House has the Tanners snowed in at the airport on Christmas Eve, with Stephanie worried that Santa won't know where they are and not deliver their presents.
- The Golden Girls had a Flashback in one episode where Rose is stuck in the train station on Christmas and talks to another stuck lady. They talk about holiday memories and in the the end, it's revealed that the other woman's daughter was dead; she was going to visit her at the cemetery.
- House, M.D.: In "Failure to Communicate", a snowstorm gets House and Stacy (ex-girlfriend, the hospital's chief lawyer) stranded in an airport unable to fly back from a mandatory out-of-town meeting with medical insurance officials. Highlights include House writing ideas on walls instead of the usual whiteboard, instadiagnosing other people around, talking about personal things with Stacy, causing authority problems in his team by being absent and hard-to-reach. He's still the one who solves the Medical Mystery of the Week.
- NCIS: Tony is at Dulles Int'l Airport waiting for his father's flight to arrive. Bishop and her husband (We finally get to see him!) are also there to catch a southbound flight. Three things manage to happen all a once:
- Gibbs calls Tony with news about some important intel regarding terrorist activity and airports in the Eastern US.
- Bishop sees somebody she thinks she recognizes, but can't remember where from.
- The airport admins decide that the snow is bad enough to begin closing the runways.
- In the Outnumbered episode "The Airport", the Brockman family are coming home from a holiday but end up stranded at a Spanish airport with the kids and Granddad causing escalating quantities of chaos.
- The Victoria Wood episode "We'd Quite Like To Apologize" was about Victoria stuck in a departure lounge with a bunch of bizarre and terrible people, while representatives of the airline, the airport and the package holiday company all insist it's someone else's job to know what's going on. It ends with the plane finally ready to take off and Victoria realizing she's now going to spend a week with these people. The final scene shows her relaxing at a sidewalk cafe ... which turns out to be outside a shopping center in Britain.
Victoria: Well, of course I didn't go. I might be mad, but I'm not stupid.
- The Amazing Race had a bit of this with NFL Teammates Chester and Ebrahim. They got stuck in an airport in Argentina and the episode would occasionally switch to them trying to deal with their travel delays. By the time they finally got to their destination in Portugal, night had fallen and Phil was already there at the airport to eliminate them.
- ER. Kerry's subplot of the episode "April Showers" had her venturing to Las Vegas for a conference to cover up her humilation at not being invited to Mark and Elizabeth's wedding. With the weather shutting everything down, she ended up stranded there.
- Nick Lowe's song "Christmas at the Airport" is about getting snowed in at an airport on Christmas Eve.
- In the third season of Mitch Benn's Crimes Against Music (where the theme was that he was supposed to be on a world tour) the third episode was about being trapped for months at London Stansted Airport while trying to get to Australia. The song "Vodka and Toblerone" is from this episode. Eventually Mitch and his retinue get on board; unfortunately their seat numbers are 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, so the final episode is about them being trapped on an island.
- An important part of the Fiasco scenario "Last Christmas In O'Hare" is, well, that the characters are stuck at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, on Christmas, because of a snow storm... while one or more of them are scheming a plot... and at least one of them is probably on his Last Dance... or The End of the World as We Know It is pretty much hours away. As is expected of the game, Hilarity Ensues.
- The introductory adventure to DarkMatter1999 revolved around a group of characters who get stuck at a highway rest stop during a huge snowstorm, and given the genre of the game, there's a monster lurking around in the snow and hints that the snowstorm itself might not be natural.
- The King of the Hill episode "Happy Hank's Giving" has this happening to the Hills, the Gribbles, the Souphaniousinphones along with Bill and Boomhauer over Thanksgiving (which involves the destruction of Hank's propane-smoked turkey when a bomb-sniffing dog barks at his luggage). After everyone misses their flights, the families eventually settle with eating dinner at the airport with whatever they can scrape together.