Ted Striker (played by Hays), a former fighter pilot who developed a fear of flying during the war, boards a Boeing 707 from Los Angeles to Chicago on fictitious Trans America Airlines to win the heart of Ellen (played by Hagerty). After a mechanical issue, Striker conquers his fear and steps up to save the doomed flight, all the while producing some fine one-liners and funny moments.
The film serves as a snapshot of flying in America during this time, complete with airport Hare Krishnas, gigantic economy seats, smoking sections, and hysterical passengers dressed to fly. With airport shots filmed in Los Angeles International Airport and the cabin a replica of the aircraft of the day, audiences are treated with a "who's-on-first" cockpit exchange and a genius take on the brace position.
Thankfully air travel only occasionally reminds us of this goofy story. If may not make you want to book a ticket, but you will laugh. Incidentally, an equally silly sequel, Airplane II, was released two years later.