Five of the Best and Worst Airplane Movies

I've always loved the movie "Airplane!" and I defy anyone to see it and not laugh out loud. It's a politically-incorrect extravaganza with a disco scene to die for and, yes, even a few lessons for us fliers.

Wait, movies about airplanes? Isn't that stretching it a bit for an airfare column? Maybe so. But it's a fun stretch, too, so join me if you need a break, and I'll sprinkle in a few practical tips for your next trip.

The following five films are personal choices in random order that are either wonderful -- or so bad, they're good. I haven't seen some in a while, so I relied on the folks at and other sites to refresh my memory.

Note my sophisticated rating system: five stars means the movie is supersonic and one star means stuck on the tarmac for eight hours.

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The Right Stuff (1983) -- Rating: ***

Tom Wolfe wasn't all that crazy about the way they adopted his stirring epic for the big screen, but I liked it -- and did you know that Sam Shepard, who played test pilot Chuck Yeager, was actually afraid of flying?

Loved this "Right Stuff" line, said by Dennis Quaid (as astronaut Gordon Cooper): "You boys know what makes this bird go up? FUNDING makes this bird go up."

That resonates with me because domestic aviation needs tens of billions of dollars to bring our air traffic control technology into the 21st century, but where is it?

Alas, the loss of a decade of domestic aviation growth in the past few years (tens of millions of seats) has artificially improved on-time stats and relegated this project to the back burner.

The iPhones many of us carry around have more computer power than our nation's air traffic control system, and that is a shame.

Airport 75 (1974) -- Rating: **

Charlton Heston had a long and distinguished career, but like a lot of good actors, got sucked into the disaster movie genre of the 70s (think "Towering Inferno" and "Earthquake"). And while "Airport" doesn't have a line to touch Heston's immortal words from "Planet of the Apes" ("Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"), it did allow him to say the semi-immortal, "Climb, baby, climb!"

"Baby" of course, was a 747 -- filled with oddballs, like an elderly movie goddess, a singing nun and assorted drunks -- all saved by our hero after a midair collision.

What can we learn from this flick? To keep quiet during emergencies, and listen to the crew. To keep your seat belt buckled. And don't overindulge in alcohol -- the better for you to react in emergencies.

Tip: In the highly unlikely event of an emergency -- like landing in the Hudson -- leave everything behind. Yes, that includes your laptop.

Snakes on a Plane (2006) -- Rating: *

This gory film features lots of snakes, of course -- but sadly, the reptiles don't have co-stars like Harrison Ford, various villains or even a lost ark. They do have the wonderful Samuel L. Jackson, but he is reduced to spouting lines like, "Great, snakes on crack."

The movie was massively hyped -- flackery on a truly boa constrictor-sized scale -- to no avail. As one reviewer put it, "The film failed to be frightening, suspenseful or dramatic, but accidentally succeeded in being absolutely hilarious."

Yet, even bad movies have something to offer, and lesson one from "Snakes" is not to get snookered by movie hype -- or, for that matter, cheap airline ticket prices. Bag fees alone can add 50 percent or more to your total air trip cost.

Just last week, Southwest, Frontier and Hawaiian added or raised fees, so here's a tip: Do your homework before purchasing airfare. You might find an airline with higher fares is a better deal if it offers to check bags for free. Or you can do as I do, and carry everything on.

A final tip, courtesy of "Snakes on a Plane": When an airline says not to let your carry-on "pet" roam free during a flight, they mean it!

Airplane! (1980) -- Rating: ****

This flick is nearly 30 years old but it still has me chuckling. A description doesn't do it justice because there are so many sight gags and yes, there are nuns and drunks galore, making it impossible to ever again watch "Airport 75" with a straight face.

Lessons? Well, a big plot turn centers on food poisoning, which means it's actually a good thing that most of the airlines don't feed us anymore -- so my tip is to pack your own sandwiches/snacks, and bring an empty water bottle to fill up at the fountain after security.

Casablanca (1942) -- Rating: *****

Even a sometime cynic like me can't help but fall for the charms of this Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman wartime romance -- and it regularly makes those "best movies of all time" lists. Nothing more to say, except -- if you haven't seen it, rent it.

So what do we learn? Well, there are those "letters of transit," vital for our main characters to move freely in and out of Morocco. Think passports and the movie teaches us to hang on to them. Carry them in a place that provides a degree of difficulty for pickpockets.

Tip: Remember that these days, U.S. travelers visiting Mexico or Canada by air, land, and sea need passports (or other approved documents).

Finally, wondering where the plane is in "Casablanca"? Well, the main airplane would be the one in the background as Rick and Ilsa say their wrenching goodbyes at the airport. Problem is, a real plane wouldn't fit on the soundstage, so what you see is a small model made of plywood, its flaws disguised by fog machines. Pixar it wasn't, but hey, it worked!

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.