Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker
Stars: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen
Plot: The film is a parody of the disaster film genre, particularly the 1957 Paramount film Zero Hour! A man afraid to fly must ensure that a plane lands safely after the pilots become sick.
For the argument between announcers concerning the white and red zones at the airport, the producers hired the same voice artists who had made the real-world announcements at Los Angeles International Airport. At the real airport, the white zone is for loading and unloading of passengers only, and there's no stopping in the red zone (except for transit buses). They were also married to each other in real life.
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker chose actors such as Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film, these actors had not done comedy, so their "straight-arrow" personas and line delivery made the satire in the movie all the more poignant and funny.
For the famous scene of the 747 crashing through the large windows inside the terminal, producer Jon Davison mentions (in the DVD extras) that after the movie, he received numerous letters from various pilots telling him that they have come very close to re-enacting that very scene in real life, with some pilots admitting that they had come so close as to touch the glass with the noses of their airplanes.
In a 2008 interview on the Today (1952) Show, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told the story of being on a European flight and asked to sit in an empty seat in the cockpit during takeoff so the crew could say they flew with Roger Murdoch.
Most of the jive talk between the two black passengers was improvised by the actors, as the ZAZ team weren't sufficiently "conversant" in black street language.
The casting of professional basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a member of the flight crew was a reference to pro football player Elroy 'Crazylegs' Hirsch's role as a pilot in the serious airplane disaster film Zero Hour! (1957)
The picture of the boy in the spinning newspaper that has the headline, "Boy Trapped In Refrigerator Eats Own Foot", is Billy Koch, the grandson of producer Howard W. Koch. His grandfather called him up one day and asked him for a photo of him, so Billy grabbed his second grade school photo. It was only after the film came out that he found out why his grandfather wanted the photo.
The movie's dialog between Stryker and Rumack ("Surely you can't be serious" "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley") was voted as the #79 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
The directing trio passed on the opportunity of making Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) as they felt that they'd exhausted every airport gag with this film.
The directors were friends with David Letterman and asked him to audition for the Ted Striker role. While they liked his reading, Letterman was visibly uncomfortable at the idea of formally acting and was openly relieved when they didn't offer him the part. In fact, David Zucker had said to Letterman's manager that they thought Letterman could win the role (they planned to have him return for another audition) but was surprised when the manager said that there was no chance that would happen. His audition was shown on his talk show, much to his embarrassment.
According to his autobiography, Christopher Lee turned down the role of Dr Rumack which was played by Leslie Nielsen. He described it as a "big mistake."
While Captain Oveur's suggestive (and therefore inappropriate) questions to Joey are a direct parody of similar scenes in Zero Hour! (1957), the fact that Peter Graves' portrayed a "father figure" to a troubled young boy also named Joey, in the '50s TV series Fury (1955), adds yet another level of satire.
The two girlscouts at the bar fighting from the flashback of striker are actually two men.
Directors Jerry Zucker, David Zucker appear as the ground crew at the beginning of the film (they're the ones that direct the plane into the window of the terminal).