Nearly sixty years ago, William Shatner took to the unfriendly skies in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Before William Shatner sat in the captain’s chair on the bridge of the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Original Series, he appeared in two separate episodes of The Twilight Zone, the anthology TV series created by Rod Serling. But it’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” that still gets travelers’ blood pumping when they think about flying.
In the episode, Shatner portrays Bob Wilson, a man who is flying home with his wife Julia (Christine White) after he’d spent time in a sanitarium recovering from a nervous breakdown. In the midst of the flight, Wilson sees something strange on the wing of the plane. And it’s something only he can see—a gremlin.
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” became one of the most popular episodes of the series and has even been remade twice when the franchise was continued in the 1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie, and in the 2019 Paramount+ series. As for why it’s still so popular, Shatner, when speaking with Yahoo about his new book, Boldly Go, said that it taps into people’s fear of flying.
The Twilight Zone episode fastened onto our fear of flying according to William Shatner.
"The actor explained that there are people who are fearful of flying even when there is not reason to be. He went on to say that in all the flying he’d done, “I may have had a lightning strike or there was a loud bang, but nothing approaching the ‘I’m gonna die here’ feeling. So I think that’s what the show fastened onto — our fear of flying.”"
No matter how many times people are reassured that it’s safe to fly, there will always be those who cannot stomach the idea of stepping foot on a plane. To those who suffer from this fear, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” isn’t helpful. But it remains a classic and truly great episode even though Shatner, at one time, thought it might be the worse thing he’d ever done.