In 10 Words or Less
Fly the unfriendly skies
Anyone who has ever flown on a commercial airline will recognize the people featured on this series. From the parents of young children who seem to think other people actually care what they think, to the guy who threatens a lawsuit at the drop of a hat, most every passenger is a customer service disaster just waiting to happen. Though the crew can do everything they can, sometimes, things just don't work out, which is when all hell breaks loose. Then again, some people find a happy ending, which is good too. But it's the chaos that's the reason people watch this kind of television.
"Airline" follows the Southwest Airlines crews, both on the ground and in the air, at several airports across America. Incredibly, they were able to get Southwest to cooperate, when the words "This is the last time I'm flying on Southwest" and "I'm going to sue" are thrown around liberally. Anyone with any sense in their head will quickly recognize these are the only recourse of frustrated people though, and not the end result of bad service. It's simply the reality of the complicated world of air travel. No one gets stressed the way people at airports do.
There are no continuing storylines, though several of the characters on the airline's side of things make repeated appearances, including Customer Service Manager Colleen, Customer Service Supervisor Michael and Customer Service Supervisor Susie. Their personalities come through over the course of the season, but the focus of the show is always the customers. Each episode has three concurrent storylines, often sharing a theme, like love stories, family or animal flight, and a narrator who helps tell the tale.
Though there are plenty of varied stories told on this series, one is heard more often than any other: drunk passengers. It's amazing how many people waiting to get on a plane get completely blitzed, a condition Southwest refuses to allow people to fly in. Perhaps it's a symptom of the airline's low fares, but the clientele has an unfortunate subset of what can only be termed as trash. One particular episode finds a woman who is held off a plane to her wedding, because she's drunk, only to display true class and say she'll go smoke a joint since she can't fly. It's hard to say who you feel worse for: the crew that has to deal with these people or the people who have to fly with them.
The series has plenty of drama going on, but the sense of humor is just as important. No where is that more obvious than in an episode about two pilots about to marry. Ironically, after watching people suffer from delays over and over again, their transportation is held up. The comedy prevents the series from getting too heavy, mirroring the reality of life and its ups and downs. Nothing reveals a person's darkest depths like hearing the word's "Your flight's been canceled," just as nothing makes them happier than "We found you a seat."
The 18 episodes of the series' first season are split over two DVDs, which come packaged in ThinPaks, housed in a cardboard slipcase. The menus are animated in nicely minimalist style, with options to play all the episodes or select individual ones. The episode selection menu is a list of text titles of the nine episodes. There are no language options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
Note that the series' original theme song, "Leaving on a Jet Plane," couldn't be licensed for this release, which means the opening music is a generic, though appropriate piece of instrumental music, and the end titles are silent. There's also no fade to black where the commercials were, so these episodes fly by.
Presented in full-frame, the video is standard TV quality, with all the related issues (Moire effects, washouts, video noise, etc.) There's nice color, and the image detail is rather nice. There are some unusual artifacts across the very top of the frame, but on most monitors, they shouldn't be noticeable. Some occasional pixilation and compression is evident, but it's not a serious problem.
The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0, and the quality is exactly what one might expect from a "documentary" TV show. A center-speaker presentation all the way, the dialogue is captured cleanly, and the assorted airport noise around it doesn't interfere. It's a nice job all around, and is better looking and sounding than it ever did on TV.
There isn't a single extra included on these DVDs.
The Bottom Line
Southwest Airline took quite a chance in opening their operations to "Airline"'s cameras, but apparently it was a calculated risk, as their profits are up and the airline is doing quite well. That's probably because the series promotes an understanding of the industry, by showing that often the problems are created not by the company, but by the passengers themselves, and though it may be a show for the camera, the crew are exceedingly helpful, though still human. The DVD package is barebones, and doesn't even feature the show's original theme song, but for fans of the series, it's an optimal presentation in terms of audio and video. Watching people complain about something just about everyone deals with at some point may not sound like fun, but it's definitely interesting, and is worth a look.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.