Airport (1970): Is the Movie Inspired by Real Events?

‘Airport’ is a drama film that narrates the story of Mel Bakersfeld, an airport manager at the Lincoln International Airport. At the height of winter, the airport is always busy, forcing Mel to work overtime on most days. This has caused a rift between Mel and his wife, Cindy, already. But when an airplane is under threat by a suicide bomber, and the only viable runway to land the hostage plane is closed due to heavy snow, the drama in his personal life is the least of Mel’s worries.

Directed by George Seaton, the 1970 film features the talents of Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Barry Nelson, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hays, and Van Heflin. ‘Airport’ incorporates the day-to-day activities that go on behind the scenes at an airport and draws from it to give the viewers a fairly accurate idea of the lives of the people who are responsible for both their safety and ensuring that the flights are running like clockwork every day. But is the narrative of the film based on actual events? If you’re seeking clarity on this, we’re here to shed light on the truth!

Inspired by Real Tragedy: The Backstory of Airport

‘Airport’ is not based on a true story. Director George Seaton adapted the screenplay from the eponymous book by Arthur Hailey. The film follows much the same story with very few deviations from the source material. However, the book supposedly takes inspiration from the tragic incident that happened with Continental Airlines Flight 11. On May 22, 1962, a Boeing 707 Flight 11 exploded due to a suicide bombing as part of an insurance fraud. The explosion took the life of everybody on board that day.

To maintain the film’s authenticity, director George Seaton captured the film using a real Boeing 707 for the exterior shots of the airplane itself. Every plane that can be seen in the film is actually just one plane, which was leased specifically for ‘Airport.’ In a tragic coincidence, however, the plane crashed almost two decades later, in March 1989, when it was making a landing in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The crash took the life of all three crewmembers and twenty-two people on the ground as the plane veered into a residential area, according to records of the incident.

Aside from its realism in terms of shooting location and a reasonably accurate depiction of airport operations in emergency situations, ‘Airport’ is propelled by the individual talent and the acting prowess of its cast. Leading the ensemble are, of course, the charismatic Dean Martin and Burt Lancaster. Dubbed the “King of Cool” by Elvis Presley himself, Martin had an easy air around him. In an on-set interview, Martin talked about the rest of the cast members and especially praised the acting skills of his co-star Jacqueline Bisset. “She’s pretty and she’s good too. She’s going to be a big star, I think,” the actor said.

Hailed as the harbinger of the disaster film genre, ‘Airport’ went on to have three sequels that were just as successful (‘Airport 1975,’ ‘Airport ’77,’ and ‘The Concorde…Airport ‘79’). Other notable films in the genre in the 70s are ‘The Towering Inferno,’ ‘Earthquake,’ ‘Hurricane,’ ‘Rollercoaster,’ and ‘Moby Dick.’ Though not a true story, ‘Airport’ shows how human intelligence and willpower can persevere even in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

Read More: Best Disaster Movies on HBO