Airline: The Complete Season 1 (review)

It’s a bit of a labeling error to call this series from cable network A&E and Britain’s London Weekend Television a “reality” show, unless you’re talking about the original reality genre: the documentary. There’s nothing of the exhibitionist game show about the surprisingly engrossing minidoc that is each of these standalone episode — no one gets voted out of the terminal, though some unruly passengers do get escorted off the premises by security, and others storm off in a huff. An LWT film crew followed around employees of Southwest Airlines, the fourth-largest carrier in the U.S., at both LAX and Chicago Midway airports as they wrangled thousands of passengers every day, racking up 5,000 hours of footage that’s been whittled down to a little over six hours across 18 fast-moving episodes (each about 20 minutes, the fade-ins and -outs for commercials having been removed). There’s no overt commentary on how the managers and flight attendants and check-in clerks and other customer-service folks handle travelers who are angry, frustrated, annoyed, very frequently drunk, and, very occasionally, perfect pleasant in the face of overbookings, blackouts, screaming kids, cancelled flights, and unevenly applied corporate policy. But in the aggregate, though there are no continuing stories, each episode contributes to an illuminating cavalcade of human behavior at its worst… and once in a rare while, at its best. There are no extras at all on the DVDs, and because of a rights issue, the series’ original theme song — a cover of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” — does not appear on this presentation, and the end credits of each episode run silently.

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