10 Lessons We Can Learn From John Hughes’ Planes, Trains And Automobiles


The movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles has long been hailed a classic, straight from the mind of John Hughes. Starring Steve Martin and John Candy as two very unfortunate travelers in the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday, the film held plenty of laughs and heartfelt moments.

RELATED: Why Planes, Trains & Automobiles Is John Hughes’ Best Comedy (& Ferris Bueller Is Second) 

While the film contained plenty of comedy and friendship, the film also provides many teachable moments that audiences can decipher as life lessons. Hughes knew how to blend comedy with real life, and this 1980s film is no exception in his collection of films.

10 How Not To Drive

Del and Neal in car, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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Audiences can definitely learn how not to drive from Del Griffith. He makes a series of mistakes that leaves their rental car fried and barely drivable, which nearly costs him and Neal the opportunity to make it back to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving.

Smoking in the car leads to a car fire, he gets stuck and drives with his legs instead of waking Neal, he nearly kills them on the icy roads, and he ends up going in the wrong direction after failing to pay attention, leading to a close encounter with two trucks. It’s a miracle they survived, but it gives the two friends quite a story to tell.

9 Take Security Seriously

Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes Trains and Automobiles

While in a questionable motel in Kansas, both Neal and Del are robbed of their cash while they sleep by a sneaky burglar. Granted, both men were tired and probably weren’t thinking about hiding their valuables, but their misfortune is the audience’s gain as they learn from the pair’s mistake.

If audiences should ever have to stay in a similar motel, they should definitely utilize some kind of security trick to ensure no one can get through the doors or windows, and hide valuables. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and audiences will be spared of Del’s and Neal’s misfortune; they were lucky the crook didn’t take their credit cards, too.

8 Plan Ahead

Planes Trains and Automobiles

Neal has an atrocious time trying to make it home from New York City to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner with his family. Perhaps if he had planned ahead, he wouldn’t have had such a struggle. It all began with a flight out of New York that he nearly missed because his meeting ran late; he should have gone with his colleague on a later flight.

RELATED: The 10 Most Iconic Outfits From John Hughes Movies 

As it was, he didn’t make it home until Thanksgiving Day anyway. If he’d switched his flights around, and had checked the weather back home, perhaps he could’ve come up with a back-up plan to fall on should his primary travel plans fall short.

7 “I Can Take Anything!”

Neal and Del, their fingers stuck to the dashboard in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

In one of the movie’s memorable quotes, Neal declares that he can take anything after enduring Del. The thing is, after everything he went through with Del and their trip, he’s probably right. His patience, willpower, tolerance, faith and more probably increased after their ordeal.

He has more patience for people’s quirks and imperfections because of Del, but audiences would think that the majority of Neal’s ability to take anything would derive from all his bad experiences, from being robbed to constant travel delays and more, within a short period of time. He was truly tested, and he passed.

6 Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

Neal’s first impression of Del isn’t the best, considering Del unintentionally stole Neal’s cab that he’d paid for. For the majority of the trip, Del tries to see the good in Neal and look at the bright side of their travel situation, but even he has his moments of imperfection.

Neal, meanwhile, misjudges Del and is quite brutal to him, until Neal gradually learns to “go with the flow”, as Del puts it. Turns out, there was a whole lot more to Del than Neal knew, and thankfully, he realized it in time to ensure Del didn’t spend Thanksgiving alone. Judgments don’t allow someone to know another’s life story.

5 Always Be Kind

Steve Martin in Planes Trains and Automobiles

When Neal approaches the kindly but unprofessional rental car agency employee, he’s already in a foul mood. It’s made worse by the fact that she’s keeping everyone waiting in line while she takes a personal phone call. By then, Neal has had it. Okay, that’s understandable, but had Neal handled the situation differently, he probably would’ve had a better outcome.

RELATED: The 10 Best John Hughes Films Of The 90s (According To IMDb) 

If he’d waited patiently until she got off the phone and told her how awful his trip had been, perhaps she would’ve been sympathetic and done something to help. Kindness goes further than unpleasantness.

4 Keep The Faith

Neal yelling in car rental lot in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Even when things look bleak, it’s important to keep the faith. Neal has some pretty dark moments where he’s faced with obstacles that appear as though he’ll never make it home.

Yet, when he least expects it, everything works out. This is mostly due to Del, especially when he shows up with a car when Neal was unable to get one after they’d already gone their separate ways. Things have a funny way of working out sometimes.

3 Friends Come When You Least Expect It

Neal Page and Del Griffith in Planes Trains and Automobiles

Though their relationship started out rocky, Neal and Del’s relationship molded into a solid friendship that ensured they would be best friends for life. Through a series of circumstances, they wind up traveling together and in the process see one another’s true colors as stress and craziness drive them to their limits, especially Neal’s.

However, imagine if Neal had had to go through the whole ordeal alone. If nothing else, he had someone to commiserate with the entire time.

2 Time With Family Is Important

Neal and Susan embracing in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

With constant delays, Neal comes to the realization that he’s “been spending too much time away from home.” He loves his wife and kids, but to a certain degree Neal has become something of a workaholic. There’s no doubt that after his struggle to get home, Neal reached a new resolve and sought a better work-life balance.

RELATED: 10 Best Characters From John Hughes Movies 

Kids grow up quickly, and time with them and his wife is precious and irreplaceable.

1 Be Thankful For What You Have

Neal and Del in Planes Trains and Automobiles

Neal doesn’t put the pieces together until the film’s end regarding Del. Through a series of flashbacks, Neal pieces together the clues that Del wasn’t telling him everything, and goes back just in time to retrieve his new friend and invite him to Thanksgiving dinner.

Neal has the family, the home and the job. Meeting Del when he did, and having the dreadful travel experience in addition, came at a perfect time for Neal to remember to be thankful for what he has, and to share it with others.

NEXT: John Hughes Film Soundtracks, Ranked 

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Updated: November 15, 2020 — 1:00 am

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