Is It That Hard For TV Shows To Portray Air Travel Correctly?

This is a bit of inside baseball, but as I’m catching up on TV with my wife, I came across another of those instances where television and movie producers are quite liberal with how they portray air travel.  No, this wasn’t like the movie Up in the Air, where they show a MD-80 (a small, single aisle plane) taking off from an airport before switching to George Clooney’s character sitting in a lie-flat seat on what presumably is a 767, a much, much bigger plane (and, vice versa).  But, even my wife who’s not a travel geek like me picked up on it pretty quickly.  Or that Die Hard movie (2, I believe) that’s supposed to take place at Washington Dulles.

Suffice it to say I’m not normal when it comes to obsessing about pointing out these inaccuracies.  I think I still have bruises from my wife elbowing me in the ribs every time I pointed out one of these errors when we went to see Up In The Air in the theater. Anyway, back to our problem at hand.

It was an episode of the new show Madam Secretary on CBS.  We’re 3 or 4 episodes in and enjoying it.  I did my best to screen shot a couple of examples of the opening scene to illustrate the inconsistency.  The episode starts and Washington Dulles Airport:


Yup, that’s Dulles.  But, the next scene, supposedly inside Dulles Airport?  Uh, no.


This appears to be gate 6 at JFK’s Terminal 8, American Airlines’ home.  You can see the American Airlines color scheme just below the word “Beijing” on the left-hand side of the screen as well as an American Airlines boarding sign at the right of the screen.


In the background of this picture is a sign hanging from the ceiling with yellow, black and green panels.  While this color scheme isn’t unique to JFK, when you combine that with the American Airlines logo and other visual aspects of the terminal, I’m pretty sure it’s JFK.  But, it’s not an American flight.  Or, at least they don’t position it that way.


The person accepting tickets at the gate is not wearing an American Airlines uniform, despite the signage and color scheme at the gate.  To my knowledge, the only other carrier at JFK that flies to Beijing nonstop is Air China, and they don’t wear those uniforms either.  I can totally see why the producers might not want to portray a specific airline in the show (or the airline might not consent).

But, since the story line doesn’t really require the passenger to be boarding a flight from Dulles versus JFK, why not just call a spade a spade, or an airport an airport?


  1. I’ve done a little work in television and advertising production, and it usually comes down to where you can get access to film at the right price and on the right schedule. They probably just couldn’t get permission to film at Dulles. Or often they film at sites that aren’t currently in use, or can be taken out of circulation for a day or a week– an out of use hospital wing can be rented out for filming, e.g. I don’t think they’re trying to be accurate or would debate the inconsistencies, but 99% of their audience probably wouldn’t notice.

    1. Thanks for the background, Regan. The only thing I didn’t get was why they just didn’t say they were at JFK. It wasn’t critical to the plot that they be at IAD. But, hey, I’m a bit obsessive. 🙂

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