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'Flight,' with Denzel Washington, would be tough sell to airline

October 22, 2012|By John Horn
  • Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker in "Flight."
Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker in "Flight." (Paramount Pictures )

People who obsess about airline safety will doubtlessly be drawn to “Flight,” Nov. 2’s drama about the culpability of alcoholic pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) in an aviation disaster.  But there’s one place you likely will never be able to see the movie: on an airplane.

The fees that airlines pay for movies are but a small slice of a film’s overall income, but in some cases can add up to several million dollars, which can benefit a risky drama like “Flight.” But Paramount Pictures, the film’s financier and distributor, concedes “Flight” will be a tough sell to any airline, even though the carrier and the plane in the film are  fictional creations, and Whitaker's heroic flying may have saved countless lives.

“Don’t think it’s going to happen,” the film’s director, Robert Zemeckis, said of the chances that “Flight” would be shown at 30,000 feet.

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Delta Air Lines, which helped train Washington in a cockpit simulator, was concerned that the film was set in Atlanta, Delta’s main hub; that the film’s plane looked a little bit like an McDonnell Douglas MD-80, which Delta flies; and that the airline at the center of the story is a Southern regional carrier.

But the production filmed in and around Atlanta to take advantage of Georgia tax rebates, and the main similarity between the MD-80 and “Flight’s” jet is that both have engines mounted on the tail. (The real crash that was most pivotal in the film’s conception was a 2000 Alaska Airlines disaster involving an MD-83 in which 88 people died.)

On a recent United Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles, a United pilot was asked what he had heard about the film. “I think it’s terrible,” he said, basing his opinion on seeing the trailer, not the completed film. “We do a lot of good work up there,” he said, pointing to the cockpit, “and then these people come along — they don’t understand the work we do.”

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