Even Denzel Washington himself said shortly after the film's release that the storytelling is too nice to him.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The opening scene with Denzel Washington snorting coke with a nude and very attractive flight stewardess, then walking out of his hotel room in full flight uniform to Feeling Alright by Joe Cocker doesn't really help the anti-drug message of the movie.
Ensemble Dark Horse: Harling Mays is only in about three scenes (as Whip's friend, enabler, and drug dealer), but boy does he steal the show. "Sympathy for the Devil" plays every time he makes an appearance.
Family-Unfriendly Aesop: It's totally okay for airlines to scapegoat an alcoholic, drug-addled pilot (or a drunk, drug-addled flight attendant) to divert public scrutiny from faulty equipment on one of their planes.
Just Here for Godzilla: The plane landing is a real knockout sequence which can make the film subsequently turning into an Anvilicious anti-drug PSA quite a letdown.
Nightmare Fuel: The main theme of the film — substance abuse by airline pilots — is scarily Truth in Television; the number of alcoholic pilots and pilots which fly inebriated is staggeringly high. At the turn of the millennium, British Airways introduced breathalyzer tests after management found out that a majority of their pilots had at one point or another piloted their aircraft while under the effects of alcohol — and that a very large number of them were functional alcoholics. It's the only airline that went public with this problem, but all airlines have to deal with it. It's a public secret in the industry that a lot of airline pilots tend to deal with the pressure of being responsible for that many lives through alcohol and drugs.
One-Scene Wonder: The cancer patient from Utah that Whitaker and Nicole meet in the hospital stairwell, played by James Badge Dale.
Squick: The sound of the unconscious flight attendant's ankle breaking as it's caught in the overhead compartment while the plane goes upside down. It makes one passenger puke (or that could've just been from the whole experience, but either way, it was totally enough to make you react).
The large amount of Christian symbology sprinkled throughout the movie — the plane even clips the steeple off a church during its crash landing, and the congregation is the first on the scene of the crash.
Win Back the Crowd: Was one for Robert Zemeckis to show he could still direct compelling live-action, after his experiments with motion-capture had been getting increasingly poorly received.