‘Northern Comfort’ Ending Explained & Movie Summary: Does Sarah Get Rid Of Her Aerophobia?

Hafstein Sigurðsson’s Northern Comfort addresses the fear of flying, which is still one of the most common phobias worldwide. As someone who has a mild fear of flying, I can see where the characters are coming from when they wrestle with their fear. For some people, the very thought of boarding a plane can trigger anxiety and feelings of impending doom. Come to think of it, so many things can actually go wrong when you’re mid-air; the possibilities are endless, and that’s the kind of thought process the characters find themselves in in this comedy drama. While the film in itself doesn’t have much to offer, Hafstein has still efficiently captured the anxiety, embarrassment, and chaotic nature of the main character’s fears that come with the thought of flying. 

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Spoilers Ahead


What Is The Plot About?

Sarah, a woman with an irrational fear of flying, works as a builder in London and is in a relationship with Tom, a single father. Tom has been organizing a trip to Cabo Verde for Sarah and her daughter. However, Sarah has not been honest with them, pretending to have overcome her fear of flying. As the departure date approaches, Tom arranges a meeting with his ex-wife, Liz, hoping Sarah will bond with her before the trip. During the meeting, Liz subtly mocks Sarah for her fear of flying. Despite Sarah’s attempts to hide her phobia, it is quite serious, leading her to hide in her room while she is supposed to be on a work-related trip to Los Angeles.

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To deal with her fear of flying before the trip with her boyfriend, Sarah has secretly enrolled herself in a course offered by ‘Fearless Flyers,’ an organization that helps people overcome aerophobia. Alongside a group of like-minded individuals grappling with the same fear, Sarah has been diligently attending these sessions for some time. Now, they eagerly await the final stage of the course—successfully boarding a flight.


Why Does Sarah Alter Her Plan With Tom?

Two days before the trip, Sarah gets a call from the Fearless Flyers office that her flight experience has been postponed by a day making it on the same day as her flight with Tom. For Sarah, the practical experience is extremely important, as she still hasn’t gotten over her phobia, and until she goes through this experience, she won’t be able to go on the trip with Tom. This prompts her to change her plans with Tom. She tells him that she will join him at Cabo Verde later in the evening because of some work issues. 

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What Happens During The Flight Experience?

The flight experience of the group begins with a series of misfortunes. Firstly, Esther, the instructor in charge of Sarah’s group, fails to show up due to personal reasons. In her place, Charles, the assistant instructor, steps up as the acting leader, despite his lack of experience. The group comprises eccentric characters, each employing different coping mechanisms for their fear, which further complicates Charles’ task.

When Charles announces that the group will be taking a three-hour flight to Reykjavik, two attendees immediately leave. In the waiting lounge, Sarah suddenly experiences a panic attack, and to calm her down, Charles tries to hug her, but Tom, Sarah’s boyfriend, catches sight of this and leaves, suspecting her of cheating, intensifying Sarah’s anxiety. Finally, the group reluctantly boards the plane, taking seats in the business class. As the flight takes off, there’s a collective sigh of relief, marking the first step in their flight experience.

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Alfons, a photographer, and his Instagram model girlfriend, Coco, flout the course rules by consuming alcohol. Meanwhile, Edward, a former army officer and renowned novelist, secretly takes sleeping pills to ease his flight. Tragedy strikes when the plane encounters severe turbulence, turning the atmosphere inside the cabin into chaos. Under the influence of his medication, Edward, who was passed out, appears to be dead to the group, further unsettling them. Due to the turbulence, Coco ends up throwing up on Sarah, adding to her distress.


How Does Sarah Get Stuck In Reykjavik?

Soon after the turbulence subsides, they land at Reykjavik airport, but all their flights appear to have been delayed for three hours. Edward suggests to Charles that they get another flight back home, but Charles, who is inexperienced, prefers that they wait for the company-designated flight only. This further causes a dispute within the group. When Charles goes to the reception to inquire about the flight, he is told that the flight is delayed by 9 hours because there has been a malfunction following a partial breakdown in one of the engines of their return flight. To prevent further chaos, Charles lies to the group about the reason for the delay, which they ultimately find out. In protest, the group demands that they be provided with accommodation for the time being. 

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Sarah, on the other hand, is facing another dilemma as she is supposed to return to London to board the flight to Capo Verde to join her boyfriend, who is not picking up her calls following the incident at the airport. Another series of comic misfortunes takes place at the hotel after a violent mutiny from Edward, who seems to have awakened his Royal Marine alter-ego and immobilized Charles. Evading Edward, Sarah books a cab to Reykjavik airport to catch the return flight, but her driver turns out to be a drunk who runs the car off the road. Caught in the blizzard, Sarah is unable to board the flight, forcing her to return to the hotel. 


Does Sarah Get Over Her Aerophobia?

Sarah finally manages to speak with Tom, who is furious upon discovering her lies about her fear and her fabricated work trip and realizing she stayed home instead. Despite Sarah’s attempts to explain herself, Tom struggles to believe her, intensifying her desperation to return to London.

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The following day, the group heads to the airport only to discover that all flights have been canceled due to a storm. Despite Charles’ frantic efforts, there seems to be no solution for their departure from Iceland. In a stroke of luck, Sarah spots Ralph, a pilot who had previously made inappropriate advances towards her despite being married. Ralph is scheduled to fly a cargo plane to Berlin, despite the storm. Seizing the opportunity, Sarah confronts Ralph about his behavior and blackmails him into allowing them to board the cargo load. Despite Ralph’s warning about the potentially terrifying flight due to the weather, Sarah, driven by desperation, decides to board the plane. As the cargo plane takes off, Sarah initially feels uneasy but gradually gains control over her fear. Towards the end of the movie, she finally makes it to Cabo Verde to join her boyfriend and his daughter. 

The situation in which Sarah finds herself at the end of Northern Comfort adheres to the principles of behaviorism. When she finds herself in her unfortunate predicament, her desperation eventually helps her become desensitized toward her aerophobia. This method of controlled exposure, even though considered problematic nowadays, was a pretty common approach used by the early practitioners of behaviorism to rid people of their psychological fears. 

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Shrey Ashley Philip
Shrey Ashley Philip
A teacher, photographer, linguist, and songwriter, Shrey started out as a Biotechnology graduate, but shifted to studying Japanese. Now he talks about movies, advocates for ADHD awareness, and embraces Albert Camus.

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