Continuing with the theme of '70s made-for-television movies set on unbelievably roomy commercial airplanes comes the ERNEST BORGNINE-led THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 401. The opening credits feature a flight crew of pretty stellar actors (RUSSELL JOHNSON of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, HOWARD HESSEMAN of WKRP fame, and the lovely and talented KIM BASINGER); however, save for BASINGER, none of the aforementioned icons survive the routine flight from New York to Miami and all perish when their plane crashes in the swampy Florida Everglades.
Of course, a major airplane disaster is no match for co-pilot BORGNINE, and he manages to make it out of the bog and to the intensive care unit where he flat lines in the subsequent scene, but not before telling his wife that he loves her and their two small children. Cut to the obligatory graveyard scene, followed by some reminiscing over the loss of Papa Bear BORGNINE, and the lives of those that work at the airline seemingly return to normal. The salvaged pieces of the crashed plane are used as replacement parts for other planes within the fleet and BASINGER eventually finds herself passing out peanuts and reminding passengers to return their seat-back trays to the upright position.
Alas, BASINGER is not the only flight crewmember from the doomed Flight 401 to return to the friendly skies; the ghost of BORGNINE joins her. At first he only appears to the female stewardesses in the galley, and their claims are dismissed as hysteria by smarmy airline pencil pusher GARY LOCKWOOD. In fact, he sends BASINGER off to a company therapist before allowing her to fly again, and she delivers one of those over-the-top, Emmy-baiting monologues about her dead Mama worthy of recitation by MARY CATHERINE GALLAGHER. The supernatural cameos by BORGNINE continue to escalate, and after the male pilots begin to substantiate the stewardesses’ claims, LOCKWOOD begrudgingly agrees to attend a séance to rid the airline of its in-flight ghost once and for all.
As far as séances go, THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 401 features a real snoozer. No crystal balls, no Ouija boards, just two really dull mediums who tell us that the late co-pilot is attached to the repurposed parts of the plane and he wants everyone to be safe. Even BORGNINE skips this scene and it anticlimactically ends on a dull note with a stock shot of the clouds and a voiceover saying that the ghostly appearances promptly stopped after the séance.
Based on a book based on the actual crash of an Eastern Air Lines plane, THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 401 pales in comparison to THE HORROR AT 37,000 FEET. It tries too hard to be serious, and sidesteps it full potential. With BORGNINE haunting the plane and a young BASINGER pushing a drink cart, one should expect first-class thrills, not cramped, coach chills.