“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is the third episode of the fifth season American television anthology series The Twilight Zone, based on the short story of the same name by Richard Matheson, first published in Alone by Night (1961). It originally aired on October 11, 1963 and is one of the most well-known and frequently referenced episodes of the series. The story follows a passenger on an airline flight to notice a hideous creature wandering around the wing of the plane while it is in flight.
In 2019, Keith Phipps of Vulture stated that the episode “doubles as such an effective shorthand for a fear of flying”, making it endure in popular culture.
While traveling by airplane, Robert Wilson (William Shatner) sees a gremlin (Nick Cravat) on the wing. He tries to alert his wife Julia (Christine White) and the stewardess (Asa Maynor), but every time someone else looks out of the window, the gremlin hides itself near the engine, so Robert’s claim seems crazy. Robert admits the oddness of the gremlin avoiding everyone else’s sight but not his. His credibility is further undermined by this being his first flight since suffering a nervous breakdown six months earlier, which also occurred on an aircraft. Robert realizes that his wife is starting to think he needs to go back to the sanitarium, but his more immediate concern is the gremlin tinkering with the wiring under one of the engine cowlings, which could cause the aircraft to crash.
In response to his repeated attempts to raise an alarm about the gremlin, the flight engineer (Edward Kemmer) comes out to evaluate the situation and the stewardess gives Robert a sedative to stop him from alarming other passengers. Robert pretends to down it with water, but does not swallow and secretly spits it out. He then steals a sleeping police officer’s revolver, straps himself in to avoid being blown out of the aircraft, and opens the emergency exit door to shoot the gremlin.
Once the airplane has landed, everyone believes that Robert has gone insane. In a straitjacket as he is whisked away on a gurney, Robert tells his wife that he is alone in his knowledge of what really happened during the flight. However, the final scene reveals conspicuous damage to the exterior of one of the aircraft’s engines, confirming that Robert was right all along.
Could this be a more recent Gremlin encounter over Los Angeles?