Burt Lancaster, who headlined the movie above the title with Dean Martin, made a great deal of money from the film, which was a huge hit. Lancaster's contract gave him a ten percent profit participation once the movie hit fifty million dollars, and the film grossed 45.3 million dollars in North America alone. Despite the financial windfall, Lancaster said that the movie was "the worst piece of junk ever made." He said he only made this film in return for the studio agreeing to finance several non-commercial films, in which he was interested.
Albert Reed (Lieutenant Ned Ordway, in charge of Security) was a member of the Airport Security Division at Los Angeles International Airport. He served from 1959 to 1983, retiring as Chief of Security. The Airport Security Division was later re-structured with upgraded training and, in 1984, became the Los Angeles Airport Police.
The real star of the show, the Boeing 707 [a 707-349C, serial #19351 (503rd 707 off the production line), originally registered N324F], was leased to Universal Pictures from Flying Tiger Airlines (now merged with FedEx) for the filming of the exterior shots. After filming was completed, the aircraft returned to Flying Tiger and was later sold, going through various owners before meeting a tragic end. It crashed while on landing approach on March 21, 1989, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The field and terminal scenes were filmed entirely at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, due to the abundance of snowfall during the winter months there, although at first, the film's producers were forced to use bleached sawdust as a supplement, to make up for the lack of falling snow, until a snowstorm hit the Twin Cities area during the production of the film.
Edith Head designed a line of "Airport"-inspired clothing for the Hystron Fiber Co., utilizing its Trivera polyester fabric. The line was called the "Airport Look" collection, and was launched with a fashion show in January 1970 for the New York Couture Business Council's press week. The line was not a success, and was quietly withdrawn.
Although it looks almost modern, the computer terminal in use by the reservation agents is the IBM 2260 Display Station, one of the first interactive computer terminals, introduced in 1964. Interactive computing over dedicated networks found one of its earliest applications in the airline ticketing and reservation system.
The final feature film score in the prolific forty-year career of Hollywood pioneer Alfred Newman, whose music for this movie garnered posthumous Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, plus a Grammy nomination for the soundtrack release on Decca Records. This film was also the last credit during Newman's lifetime, although there were three score or theme credits for him, which came posthumously.
During the scene where Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) and Commissioner Ackerman (Larry Gates) are arguing over closing down the airport, there is a model in the conference room of Boeing's proposed Super Sonic Transport (SST) with TWA livery. Once thought to be the future of air travel, in reality, America's SST never made it beyond the design stages.
Trans Global Airlines was the name of the fictional airline for the film. For many years it was not unusual to see props from the movie (with the fictional TGA logo) in other Universal films where airliner interior scenes were shot.
Patty Poulsen (Joan), one of the stewardesses aboard the "Golden Argosy" in her only film role, was a stewardess for American Airlines. She was the winner of a stewardess beauty contest in which one of the prizes was a role in this film. She was also used heavily in American Airlines' advertising of its new uniforms during the mid to late 1960s, photos that have, more recently, appeared in several different coffee table books celebrating the history of the airline hostess.
This was based on actual events. The incident of the first domestic terrorism in the bombing of Continental Airlines Flight #11 from O'Hare (Chicago, Illinois) to Kansas City (Missouri) on May 22, 1962, which blew up over the Iowa and Missouri towns of Centerville and Unionville. The bomber's name was Thomas Doty, Jr., who lived in a Kansas City suburb.
When production costs spiraled over budget, Universal Chairman Lew Wasserman told Producer Ross Hunter to shut it down. Hunter persisted, and finished the film. Universal executives predicted the film would be a flop, and premiered it in many markets, hoping to recoup their loss before word of mouth killed it at the box-office. The film turned out to be a hit, and brought in huge profits. Hunter publicly boasted that the film paid the salaries at Universal for several years, thus earning Wasserman's eternal enmity and resulting in Hunter's contract not being picked up for renewal.
The airplane model used for the miniature shots was also used in Emergency!: The Girl on the Balance Beam (1976). It was used when the paramedics rescue an actress in a harness for a flying scene. She is in front of a night sky backdrop, with the airplane model on wires.
Ten years after the release of "Airport", Paramount Pictures released "Airplane!" a film that mocked the Airport series, that among other items used the same type of 707 model "flying" through dry ice made "clouds."
Although the ages of the characters are not discussed in the film, the actors portraying Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin) and Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset) had a huge age disparity, with Martin (fifty-two) being over twice Bisset's age (twenty-five) at time of filming.
This was among the first films ever to top $100 million at the box office, but still ranked second for 1970. It was out-grossed by Love Story, which took in $106 million. Both were nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, but eventually lost the top Oscar to Patton.
Based on the bombing Continental Airlines Flight 11 in 1962 by Thomas Doty, unlike the film, the explosion caused the inflight destruction of the 707. Incredibly one passenger out of the 45 onboard, despite falling over 26,500', survived the impact but died 90 minutes later. Doty's motive was so that his wife and daughter would be able to collect on the $300,000 of life insurance. His widow attempted to collect on the insurance, but, when Doty's death was ruled a suicide, the policy was voided, and the widow was only able to get a three dollar refund.
In shots of the airport terminal one can see ticket counters for Northwest Orient Airlines, Western Airlines, Pan Am, TWA, & Continental Airlines. As of 2017, none of those airlines exist due to bankruptcy or merger.
Guerrero (Van Heflin) was also the name of the Mexican town in They Came to Cordura (1959), in which U.S. Army trooper John Chawk (Heflin), earned a Medal of Honor for his bravery in a battle with Mexican bandits that took place there.
In the scene of the physician treating seriously injured Stewardess Gwen Meighen, one can see emergency First Aid using items available onboard. This includes the use of small bottles of liquor or perfume to sterilize wounds and the use of a magazine and tape to immobilize a seemingly broken arm.
Near the end of the film, Anson Harris (Barry Nelson) looks at the damaged 707 and says he's going to write a letter thanking Mr. Boeing. The founder of the Boeing Company, William Boeing, died in 1956. His son William Boeing, Jr. was an aviator, but deserved no credit for the making of the 707.
The 707 model used when describing the decompression was hand made rather than a typical factory model. The windows are square, irregular and obviously hand-cut, plus the restrooms in the back do not reflect the design of the aircraft.
The film had a cast of stars as 'long as a jet runway': amongst the many actors in uncredited passenger roles, 16 of them appeared on Bewitched (1964), most of them in credited parts. The best known of these was Sandra Gould (as Gladys Kravitz), sitting next to Father Lonigan.