If you’ve watched a certain type of science fiction, you’ve probably noticed something: weird things happen on planes. I recently started watching the show Manifest, the premise of which is that a plane goes missing and then reappears years later, to everyone’s surprise and consternation. Fringe had at least three episodes dedicated to bizarre happenings on planes. I’ve never seen it, but I imagine the accurately titled Snakes on a Plane fits this mold as well, as I understand the title is an accurate description of the entire movie.
So the question is: why?
The simplest answer is that planes are a convenient box to put your characters in. No way on. No way off. If something happens, no help is coming. You have to try to deal with it by yourself. It’s the perfect setting for a Blake Snyder style Monster in the House story.
Another answer is that we recognize the madness inherent in climbing inside a metal tube and hurling ourselves across the world at ridiculous speeds. The fact that we do it so often that it has become normal doesn’t change that. Telling ourselves stories about strange things happening while undertaking this wild endeavor is its own sort of catharsis: an acknowledgement, perhaps, that this is a far cry from walking, or running, or even climbing on the back of an animal five times our size and riding it to get from place to place.
Or maybe it’s because of the opposite. Most of us have ridden in planes frequently enough that it is commonplace and accepted as safe. Having something strange, dangerous, or bizarre happen in such a familiar space immediately draws us in and heightens the tension. After all, if it can happen on that plane ride, why can’t it happen on the next one we take?
Whatever the reason, it appears often enough that I’ve noticed it while just casually watching. Out of blatant curiosity, I did a quick search over at TV Tropes (yes, yes, foolhardy, I know) and discovered that I had just barely scratched the surface. This is unsurprising thanks to the aforementioned casual watching. Which speaks to my point. If we write enough stories about things happening on planes that there is an entire list of them, then clearly there is something about it that catches the human imagination. Or. You know. Several somethings.