The real star of the show, the Boeing 707 (a 707-348C, serial no. 19351 [503rd 707 off the production line], originally registered N324F), was leased to MCA/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.
Burt Lancaster, who headlined the film 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 10% profit participation once the movie hit $50 million, and the film grossed $45.3 million 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 he was interested in.
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, who portrayed Joan, one of the stewardesses aboard the "Golden Argosy" in her first and only film role, was an actual 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.
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.
Albert Reed, who played Lt. Ned Ordway, in charge of Security, was a member of the Airport Security Division at Los Angeles International Airport. He served from 1959-83, 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.
During the scene where Mel Bakersfeld and Commissioner Ackerman are arguing over closing down the airport, there is a model in the office of the proposed Super Sonic Transport (SST) to be built by Boeing before funding for it was cut.
The final feature film score in the prolific 40-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 Newman which came posthumously.
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 execs 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.
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.
Guerrero, Van Heflin's character name in this film, was also the name of the Mexican town in the film They Came to Cordura (1959), in which Heflin's character, US Army trooper John Chawk, earned a Medal of Honor for his bravery in a battle with Mexican bandits that took place there.
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 (age 52) being almost exactly double Bisset's age (age 25) at time of filming.
The airplane model used for the miniature shots in this movie 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 and the airplane model on wires.
Near the end of the film, Barry Nelson's character 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.
Ever since the introduction of the MPAA two years prior, Airport was one of the few G rated films to recieve an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The others are Oliver! (1968) which won it, Funny Girl (1968), Fiddler on a Roof (1971), Sounder (1972), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Babe (1995), and Toy Story 3 (2010).
When Helen Hayes won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Airport, among the other nominees she bested were Karen Black and Lee Grant. Karen Black would go on to star in the first "sequel," Airport 1975, and Lee Grant went on to star in Airport 1977.