Airport (1970 film)

Airport is a 1970 American air disaster-drama film directed and written by George Seaton and starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin.[3] Based on Arthur Hailey's 1968 novel of the same name, it originated the 1970s disaster film genre.[4] It is also the first in the Airport film series. Produced on a $10 million budget, it earned over $100 million.[2]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Seaton
Produced byRoss Hunter
Screenplay byGeorge Seaton
Based onAirport
by Arthur Hailey
StarringBurt Lancaster
Dean Martin
Jean Seberg
Jacqueline Bisset
George Kennedy
Helen Hayes
Van Heflin
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byStuart Gilmore
Ross Hunter Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • March 5, 1970 (1970-03-05) (New York City)
Running time
137 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10.2 million[1]
Box office$100.5 million[2]

The film is about an airport manager trying to keep his airport open during a snowstorm, while a suicide bomber plots to blow up a Boeing 707 airliner in flight. It takes place at fictional Lincoln International Airport near Chicago, Illinois. The film was a commercial success and surpassed Spartacus as Universal Pictures' biggest moneymaker.[5] The movie won Helen Hayes an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as an elderly stowaway and was nominated for nine other Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design for designer Edith Head.

With attention paid to the detail of day-to-day airport and airline operations, the plot concerns the response to a paralyzing snowstorm, environmental concerns over noise pollution, and an attempt to blow up an airliner. The film is characterized by personal stories intertwining while decisions are made minute-by-minute by the airport and airline staffs, operations and maintenance crews, flight crews, and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers.

Ernest Laszlo photographed it in 70 mm Todd-AO. It is the last film scored by Alfred Newman and the last film role for Van Heflin and Jessie Royce Landis. It was also Ross Hunter's last film produced for Universal after a 17-year tenure.


The Chicago area is paralyzed by a snowstorm affecting Lincoln International Airport. A Trans Global Airlines (TGA) Boeing 707 flight crew misjudge their turn from Runway 29 onto the taxiway, becoming stuck in the snow and closing that runway. Airport manager Mel Bakersfeld is forced to work overtime, causing tension with his wife, Cindy. A divorce seems imminent as he nurtures a closer relationship with a co-worker, TGA customer relations agent Tanya Livingston.

Vernon Demerest is a TGA captain scheduled to be the checkride captain for the airline to evaluate Captain Anson Harris during TGA Flight 2 to Rome. TGA's flagship international service, named The Golden Argosy, is being operated with a Boeing 707. Although Demerest is married to Bakersfeld's sister, Sarah, he is secretly having an affair with Gwen Meighen, chief stewardess on the flight, who informs him before takeoff that she is pregnant with his child. Bakersfeld borrows TWA mechanic Joe Patroni to assist with moving TGA's disabled plane blocking Runway 29. Bakersfeld and Tanya also deal with Ada Quonsett, an elderly widow from San Diego who is a habitual stowaway on various airlines.

Demolition expert D.O. Guerrero, down on his luck and with a history of mental illness, buys both a one-way TGA ticket aboard TGA Flight 2 and a large life insurance policy with the intent of committing suicide by blowing up the plane. He plans to set off a bomb in an attaché case while over the Atlantic Ocean so that his wife, Inez, will collect the insurance money of $225,000 ($1.5 million today). His erratic behavior at the airport, including using his last cash to buy the insurance policy and mistaking a U.S. Customs officer for an airline gate agent, attracts airport officials' attention. Inez finds a Special Delivery envelope from a travel agency and, realizing D.O. might be doing something desperate, goes to the airport to try to dissuade him. She informs airport officials that he had been fired from a construction job for "misplacing" explosives and that the family's financial situation is dire.

Ada manages to evade the TGA employee assigned the task of putting her on a flight back to Los Angeles, talks her way past the gate agent, boards Flight 2, and happens to sit next to Guerrero. When Flight 2's crew is made aware of Guerrero's presence and possible intentions, they turn the plane back toward Chicago without informing the passengers. Once Ada is discovered, her help is enlisted by the crew to get to Guerrero's briefcase, but the ploy fails when a troublesome passenger interferes and returns the case to Guerrero.

Demerest goes back into the passenger cabin and tries to persuade Guerrero not to trigger the bomb, informing him that his insurance policy has been nullified. Guerrero briefly moves to give Demerest the bomb, but just then another passenger exits the lavatory at the rear of the aircraft, and the same troublesome passenger yells out that Guerrero has a bomb. Guerrero runs into the lavatory and sets off the bomb, dying instantly and blowing a three foot hole in the fuselage. Gwen, just outside the door, is injured in the explosion and subsequent explosive decompression, but the pilots retain control of the airplane.

With all airports east of Chicago unusable due to bad weather, Flight 2 returns to Lincoln for an emergency landing. Due to the bomb damage, Demerest demands the airport's longest runway, Runway 29, which is still closed due to the stuck airliner. Bakersfield orders the plane to be pushed off the runway by snowplows, despite the costly damage they would do to it. Patroni, who is "taxi-qualified" on 707s, has been trying to move the stuck aircraft in time for Demerest's damaged aircraft to land. By exceeding the 707's engine operating parameters, Patroni frees the stuck jet without damage, allowing Runway 29 to be reopened just in time for the crippled TGA Flight 2 to land.

In a brief epilogue, Ada is enjoying her reward of free first-class travel on TGA. But as she arrives at the gate, she laments that it was "much more fun the other way."


  • Burt Lancaster as Mel Bakersfeld, airport manager at Lincoln International Airport near Chicago, Illinois
  • Dean Martin as Vernon Demerest, checkride captain on Trans Global Airlines (TGA) Flight 2, Bakersfeld's brother-in-law
  • Jean Seberg as Tanya Livingston, head customer relations agent for TGA, widow, Bakersfeld's mistress
  • Jacqueline Bisset as Gwen Meighen, chief stewardess on TGA Flight 2
  • George Kennedy as Patroni, chief mechanic for Trans World Airlines at Lincoln International, called on by Bakersfeld
  • Helen Hayes as Ada Quonsett, an elderly stowaway
  • Van Heflin as D. O. Guerrero, failed contractor, and bomber on TGA Flight 2 (Heflin's final theatrical film role)
  • Maureen Stapleton as Inez Guerrero, wife of D.O. Guerrero
  • Barry Nelson as Anson Harris, captain on TGA Flight 2
  • Dana Wynter as Cindy, Bakersfeld's wife
  • Lloyd Nolan as Harry Standish, head of the U.S. Customs Service at the airport
  • Barbara Hale as Sarah, Bakersfeld's sister, Demerest's wife
  • Gary Collins as Cy Jordan, flight engineer on TGA Flight 2
  • John Findlater as Peter Coakley, a TGA gate agent, assigned to escort Mrs. Quonsett
  • Jessie Royce Landis as Mrs. Mossman, an arriving passenger trying to sneak items through U.S. Customs (Landis' final theatrical film role)
  • Larry Gates as Ackerman, head of the Lincoln Airport Board of Commissioners
  • Peter Turgeon as Marcus Rathbone, a caustic and interfering passenger
  • Whit Bissell as Mr. Davidson, passenger seated beside Mrs. Quonsett

Production notes

Most of the filming was at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. A display in the terminal, with stills from the field and the film, says: "Minnesota's legendary winters attracted Hollywood here in 1969, when portions of the film Airport were shot in the terminal and on the field. The weather remained stubbornly clear, however, forcing the director to use plastic 'snow' to create the appropriate effect."

Only one Boeing 707 was used: a model 707-349C (registration N324F[6]) leased from Flying Tiger Line. It sported an El Al cheatline over its bare metal finish, with the fictional Trans Global Airlines (TGA) titles and tail. This aircraft later crashed on March 21, 1989 during approach into São Paulo while in service as cargo flight Transbrasil Flight 801, killing all three crew members and 22 persons on the ground.[7]


Box office

Airport was released on March 5, 1970. It made $100,489,151, which, adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to $648 million in 2018.[8]

Critical response

Variety wrote: "Based on the novel by Arthur Hailey, over-produced by Ross Hunter with a cast of stars as long as a jet runway, and adapted and directed by George Seaton in a glossy, slick style, Airport is a handsome, often dramatically involving $10 million epitaph to a bygone brand of filmmaking" but added that the film "does not create suspense because the audience knows how it's going to end."[9] Film critic Pauline Kael gave Airport one of its worst contemporaneous reviews, scornfully dismissing it as "bland entertainment of the old school."[10] "There's no electricity in it," she wrote; "every stereotyped action is followed by a stereotyped reaction."[10] Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four and faulted a predictable plot and characters that "talk in regulation B-movie clichés like no B-movie you've seen in ten years."[11] Gene Siskel gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and reported that while the theater audience cheered at the climax, "it's a long and torturous road to the applause. Blocking the path are speeches that promote the industry, dialog that ranks among the silliest in memory, and a labored plot that tells you everything twice.[12] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "an immensely silly film—and it will probably entertain people who no longer care very much about movies."[13] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "breath-taking in its celebration of anything which used to work when Hollywood was younger and we were all more innocent."[14] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a lousy movie" that was "utterly predictable."[15] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Corny is really the only word for this unbelievably old-fashioned look at the modern phenomenon of an international airport: the one surprise is that the sweet old white-haired stowaway doesn't spring to the controls and bring the distressed aircraft down single-handed as Doris Day did once upon a time in analogous circumstances."[16]

Christopher Null wrote in 2000, "With one grandiose entrance, Airport ushered in a genre of moviemaking that is still going strong -- the disaster movie ... Too bad the 'disaster' doesn't happen until 2 hours into the 2:15 movie. No matter -- Airport's unending sequels and spoofs are a testament that this film is a true piece of Americana, for good or for bad."[17] Despite the film being the most profitable of Burt Lancaster's career, he called it "a piece of junk."[18][19]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 73%, based on 15 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10.[20] On Metacritic, the film holds an average rating of 42/100, based on 5 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[21]


The film was first broadcast on ABC television on November 11, 1973 and became the joint highest-rated film on television matching Love Story with a Nielsen rating of 42.3 but with a slightly higher audience share of 63% (compared to Love Story's 62%).[22] The record was beaten in 1976 by Gone with the Wind.[22]

Awards and nominations




The film was the final project for composer Alfred Newman. His health was failing and he was unable to conduct the sessions for his music's recording. The job was handled by Stanley Wilson, although the cover of the 1993 Varèse Sarabande CD issue credits Newman. Newman did conduct the music heard in the film. He died before the film's release. Newman received his 45th Academy Award nomination posthumously for this film, the most received by a composer at that time.


Soundtrack album listing:

  1. Airport (Main Title) (3:11)
  2. Airport Love Theme (3:30)
  3. Inez' Theme (1:29)
  4. Guerrero's Goodbye (2:37)
  5. Ada Quonsett, Stowaway (1:26)
  6. Mel And Tanya (2:27)
  7. Airport Love Theme #2 (2:40)
  8. Joe Patroni Plane Or Plows? (2:22)
  9. Triangle! (3:50)
  10. Inez-Lost Forever (1:45)
  11. Emergency Landing! (1:38)
  12. Airport (End Title) (2:36)


Airport had three sequels, the first two of which were hits.

The only actor to appear in all four films is George Kennedy as Joe Patroni. Patroni's character evolves and he goes from a chief mechanic in Airport to a vice president of operations in Airport 1975, a consultant in Airport '77, and an experienced pilot in The Concorde ... Airport '79.

See also

  • The High and the Mighty, a 1954 film which served as the template for Airport
  • Zero Hour!, a 1957 film written by Arthur Hailey that visited the airline disaster film genre a decade before Hailey published Airport
  • Jet Storm, a 1959 British film with many similarities
  • Airplane! (1980), a successful parody film that blended elements of an already well-established airline disaster film genre, including plot points inspired by Airport '75 as well as Zero Hour!
  • Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land, a 1983 ABC television movie, starring Lee Majors. Also known as "Starflight One" or "Airport 85".


  1. Freddie Fan of Filmdom Finds Lost Audience: The Lost Audience Discovered Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 21 June 1970: q1.
  2. "Airport, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
  3. "Airport". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 29, 2016.
  4. Harpole, Charles. History of the American Cinema. University of California Press. pp. 251–252. ISBN 978-0-520-23265-5.
  5. Link, Tom (1991). Universal City-North Hollywood: A Centennial Portrait. Chatsworth, California: Windsor Publications. p. 87. ISBN 0-89781-393-6.
  6. "FAA Registry (N324F)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  7. "Accident description PT-TCS". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  8. Airport at Box Office Mojo
  9. "Film reviews: Airport". Variety. 1970. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  10. Kael, Pauline (2011) [1991]. 5001 Nights at the Movies. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-250-03357-4.
  11. "Ebert's review of 'Airport'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  12. Siskel, Gene (March 25, 1970). "Airport". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 6.
  13. Canby, Vincent (March 6, 1970). "The Screen: Multi-Plot, Multi-Star 'Airport' Opens". The New York Times. 34.
  14. Champlin, Charles (March 21, 1970). "'Airport' Recalls Older Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 7.
  15. Arnold, Gary (March 24, 1970). "Lousy 'Airport'". The Washington Post. B6.
  16. "Airport". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 37 (437): 126-127. June 1970.
  17. "Airport". Archived from the original on 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  18. "Airport 'junk' — Lancaster". The Montreal Gazette. Google News. March 8, 1971.
  19. Stafford, Jeff. "Airport". Turner Classic Movies.
  20. "Airport (1970)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  21. Airport, retrieved 2018-11-03
  22. "Hit Movies on U.S. TV Since 1961". Variety. January 24, 1990. p. 160.
  23. "The 43rd Academy Awards (1971) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-27.
  24. Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 31.
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