This post was originally posted at The New Democrat
To understand Airport 1975 you have to understand the times when the movie was made and the 1970s as a whole. People were into this type of disaster movie. Disaster movies were popular in this decade. There's a laundry list of them, including Airport 1970 and its three sequels, including Airport 1975, Airport 1977, and Airport 1979. Earthquake, also with George Kennedy and Charlton Heston, takes place in Los Angeles.
Americans, then as well as today, liked seeing people pushed to their limits with their lives and health at risk and not knowing if they will survive the experience. In Airport 1975, the head stewardess has to fly the plane herself, at one point. This, and a mid-air transfer of a pilot between planes, are excellent examples of people under pressure pulling off extraordinary things when they have to.
The plot of Airport 1975 is fairly simple. A 747 is flying through pretty awful rainy weather. There is a small charter plane nearby that, apparently loses contact with the ground controllers. These two planes do not know they are in the same area headed right at each other without enough warning to avoid collision. The pilot of the small plane has a heart attack and loses control. His plane hits the 747 with its five-hundred, or so, passengers.
The collision kills the navigator and co-pilot. The pilot survives but is blinded and barely conscious. There are no other pilots on the plane but, except for a hole in the cockpit, it is in decent shape and doesn't have to crash if someone can fly it. The head stewardess (Karen Black) conveys the situation the situation to the airline's command center.
She, with instructions, from Al Murdock (Charlton Heston) the company's chief aviation instructor, flies the plane, including pulling the it up so that it doesn't run into a mountain. They attempt a mid-air transfer to get an actual pilot in the cockpit into the plane. The first attempt fails with the pilot falling to the ground. The second attempt succeeds in inserting Murdock into the plane. He takes over and saves the day, so to speak.
I'm a big fan of Airport 75, even though it is an airplane disaster movie. It has a very funny cast, Sid Caesar, Jerry Stiller, Conrad Jannis, Normal Fell and others. It's a well written movie with funny people making the best of a horrible situation, not knowing if they will ever be able to crack jokes on the ground again, and using humor to avoid going crazy in an extremely stressful situation.