In Defence of The Airport Run
“Well, if Hollywood movies have taught us anything, it’s that troubled relationships can be completely patched up by a mad dash to the airport!” - Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons
Uh-oh, it’s that part of the film. Our lead has broken-up with their love interest and has realised they made a mistake! To make it worst, said love interest is at the airport, a new opportunity across the country/world awaiting! Not to worry, though — five minutes before the credits roll, our lead decides to risk it all, chasing after them in hope they can rekindle the relationship before they leave!
This is the ‘Airport Run’ — a trope endlessly enjoyed, mimicked and parodied over the decades. We all know it, heck, we might even love it. But no one is willing to ask the hard questions, you know. Like, when did it begin? Is it still happening? And, most importantly — should it die?
Prior to the Airport Run, we had it’s distant cousin — the ‘Train-Station Goodbye.’ The classic parting of two lovers at the train-station. Similar in some respects, yes — however, it more commonly included a downer, bittersweet ending (as first seen in Since You Went Away (1944)). Alternatively, in the Airport Run’s most pure and common form, we’ll see the relationship reconcile to a happy ending.
The Airport Run to popularity in the mid 90s; the increased production of romantic comedies and “teen” movies coinciding with the affordability of air-travel. By the early 2000s it was everywhere, Garden State (2004), The Wedding Singer (1998), Love Actually (2003) and How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) to name a few. Friends partook in an Airport Run multiple times over it’s ten year series, including it’s finale — “The Last One” (2004). It’s also been popularised internationally, included the Korean Series, You Are Beautiful and Bollywood film, Whether You Know…or Not (2008).
Transcending formats and continents; the elements and drama behind the Airport Run can be classified into five key components;
— A sense of finality; with a new opportunity/life looming so far away, this often feels like the last chance our protagonist will have to be with the one they love. Sure, they could probably just give ’em a call when they land — but then there would be no grand gesture!
— Time pressure; we know what time the plane takes off, and everybody knows how long it takes to run through an airport (they are very big sometimes!). The circumstances are rife for dramatic tension, especially when coupled with…
— Obstacles; yeah, the emotional obstacles are long gone (we know they’re in love!) but physical ones remain — usually in the form of bumper to bumper traffic or hapless airport security who don’t understand romance.
— Visual; our lead is literally chasing after their love, visually demonstrating a character want!
— Established expectations; a recent addition, it’s reason the Airport Run lives on. It’s frequent use over the years leaves it rife for subversion, homage and parody.
Now that we know how it goes, filmmakers will set up an Airport Run and throw a spanner in the works to keep us on our toes. But ultimately, they’ll still deliver the trademark happy ending we so desperately crave.
This can be seen in The Mexican (2001), Jerry (Brad Pitt) arrives at the airport just as Samantha’s (Julia Roberts) plane has finished boarding. It appears that he is too late! That is, until we see that Samantha is standing right behind him, because (spanner) she had already changed her mind. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion. Similarly, often we’ll get the verbal set-up for an Airport Run, but have no one end up arriving to the airport at all — having changed their mind on the way (The Holiday (2006), Loveless in Los Angeles (2007)).
With any trope this engrained into the mainstream consciousness, it’s ripe to be parodied for comedic effect, as seen in Not Another Teen Movie (2001), Scrubs and 30 Rock. In said 30 Rock episode, Sandwich Day (2008), Liz (Tina Fey) is chasing after her boyfriend before he moves to Cleveland. She’s stopped at security and informed that she cannot bring her lunch into the departure gate. In true Liz Lemon style, she decides that she “can have it all” and forcibly eats a large meatball sandwich in front of a disgusted security officer.
This begs the question —now that the Airport Run is mocked and parodied by mainstream culture, should it just die? Answer — No. How dare you.
A further variation exists. Knowing that an audience still expect an eventual reconciliation (even after a spanner) — filmmakers can punish us for our faith in love.
This occurs in Saving Face (2004), when Wil (Michelle Krusiec) rushes to the airport to catch Vivan (Lynn Chen). Worried that Wil is too insecure to openly be with her, Vivian insists they publicly kiss to ensure that their relationship can move forward. Wil can’t, and so Vivian leaves.
There is room for Airport Run innovation. In Netflix series You Me Her, we saw it embraced and subverted in their recent season finale, ‘Trope Is A Four Letter Word’ (2016). In this instance, it played out within a polyamorous relationship for the first time on screen.
This is why the Airport Run has stood the test of time. Even though widely considered to be over-done, it is still being reinvented and kept fresh for audiences.
This being said, even when it’s done in it’s most cheesy and unapologetic form we’ll still eat up. With this, I leave you with my personal favourite Airport Run — The Wedding Singer (1998).