A full aircraft is flying out of Los Angeles International Airport at night, heading east to Boston. Later in the flight, Dinah Bellman, a blind girl, awakens and asks her aunt for water. When she gets no response, she calls for help, but only Brian Engle, an airline pilot who is a passenger on this flight, awakens to Dinah's call for help. Other passengers then begin to rise up out of their seats. The mystery begins when these nine people discover they are the only ones left on the plane; not even the pilots are aboard. Brian and Nick Hopewell, a mysterious British man, discover the plane is on autopilot.
Brian attempts to radio for help, but receives no response, not even from Strategic Air Command, which should be on-air at all times. The other passengers discover that strange objects have been left behind in the passenger seats, such as watches, surgical pins and pacemakers. They subsequently introduce themselves; Bob Jenkins is a mystery novel writer, Laurel Stevenson is a schoolteacher on vacation to meet a man from a singles ad in a newspaper (though she omits this part out of embarrassment), Don Gaffney is a tool-and-die worker going to meet his new granddaughter, Albert Kaussner is a violinist on his way to music school in Boston, Bethany Simms is meeting her aunt where she will be taken to drug rehab, Dinah Bellman is on her way to Boston for optical surgery, a man later revealed as Rudy Warwick remains asleep, and a suspicious businessman remains silent. He is later revealed to be Craig Toomey, a mentally unstable man who has knowingly and proudly caused a $43 million loss to his company. Dinah, who possesses psychic powers, sees through Toomey's eyes and recognizes him as a threat.
Brian takes over the plane and announces that, for safety, the flight will be redirected from Boston to Bangor, Maine. Toomey aggressively protests and announces that it is crucial that he attends his business trip in Boston. In a flashback, it is revealed that Toomey was abused as a child by his overbearing and sadistic father; when Craig failed to make straight A's, his father warned him about the "Langoliers"; creatures that chased down the lazy and devoured them. He is desperate to reach his appointment in Boston in order to announce his willful loss of finances to his boss and be freed of his father's wrath.
The plane lands at Bangor International Airport and the passengers find that it is devoid of life and electricity; even cars and battery-powered devices are useless. Dinah confesses that she hears an eerie "crunching cereal" sound in the distance that is coming closer and demands that they must leave before it reaches them or they will die; the sound eventually becomes loud enough that all the survivors hear it. Toomey sneaks away from the group while the rest find a restaurant and decide to stop for food. They then find that food and drinks have no flavour, matches do not light and sound does not reverberate. Toomey returns with a gun and takes Bethany hostage while demanding a flight to Boston; in an attempt to rescue her, Albert is shot, but the gun has no force and the round harmlessly bounces off his chest.
Toomey is captured and Bob deduces that, as they flew through an unusual aurora borealis during the flight, they have flown through a rip in the space-time continuum, traveling about 15 minutes into the past, where anything with energy has moved on without them; therefore, jet fuel would be useless. However, using Bob's logic, Albert correctly deduces that, since the plane contains electricity and life, that it contains its own pocket of the present time; therefore, anything loaded into the plane would subsequently regain its energy, even jet fuel. During this period, Nick and Laurel begin to fall in love.
Toomey escapes from his trap; now completely insane, he stabs Dinah in the chest and kills Gaffney, fearing that they are disguised Langoliers. Albert subdues Toomey and Nick plan to kill him in revenge before Dinah insists that he stay alive, to which Nick reluctantly obliges. The remaining survivors return to the plane to refuel it. Toomey regains consciousness, and Dinah communicates with him telepathically to convince him to come to the tarmac, where his Boston bosses have arrived to meet with him. He hallucinates the board of directors are there, along with his boss (Stephen King in a cameo appearance), where he gleefully confesses to purposely losing millions. He is overjoyed until his boss transforms into his father, who chastises him.
The plane completes its refueling just as Toomey regains awareness and sees the Langoliers approaching. He screams loudly and runs, drawing them away from the plane. Toomey is killed by the Langoliers and the plane narrowly escapes.
Nick and Brian discuss their reasons for traveling to Boston: Nick is an assassin for the British government on a mission in Boston to murder the girlfriend of a prominent IRA supporter; Brian is returning to Boston to attend his ex-wife's funeral, whom he feels terrible guilt for after presumably striking her in an argument. Soon, Dinah dies of her injuries after telling Laurel that she had no regrets; she was able to use Toomey's eyes to see one last time.
The plane flies toward the time rip once again, only for Bob to have Brian turn the plane away at last second after realising that only those on board who were awake disappeared when first entering the rip. Brian finds that the only way to safely enter the rip is to reduce the cabin pressure to make all the passengers lose consciousness, while one person sacrifices themselves to turn the pressure up just before entering the rip. Nick volunteers, much to Laurel's dismay.
Nick takes Laurel aside and asks her a favor: to travel to England and tell Nick's estranged father that he was finished with his career as a hit man and that he wanted to atone for what he had done by sacrificing himself to save the lives of the others. He shares a passionate kiss with Laurel before proceeding with the plan; Brian reduces the cabin pressure, all the passengers lose consciousness, while Nick breathes through an oxygen mask and turns the pressure up before entering the rip, after which he vanishes.
The passengers awake and Brian lands the plane at LAX. At first, it appears to be dead and lifeless, just like Bangor, but not exactly. They hear a noise; not like the eerie, crunching noise from Bangor, but a gentle, soothing hum. They also find that air has scent, food has flavour and sound reverberates. Bob deduces that they have returned several minutes into the future and that the present is moments away from catching up to them. Bob has everyone line up against a wall to avoid the impending flow of traffic. A vibrant flash of colours shines while the present timeline catches up to them and many people appear as the timeline returns to its normal state. Overjoyed, the group runs outside together and jumps for joy in a freeze frame shot.
- Stephen King makes a cameo appearance as Craig Toomey's boss in a hallucination. Director Tom Holland also makes an appearance as Nick's boss.
- Tom Holland would direct another Stephen King film adaptation, Thinner the following year.
- Perfect Strangers, which stars Bronson Pinchot as Balki Bartokomous, appears on a tv in a scene from "It", another Stephen King film adaptation, perhaps as a nod to his role in The Langoliers.
The film recieved mixed reviews from critics. Audiences liked the first half, but found the second half to be a "letdown" because of the poorly computer generated langoliers. Many audience members also agree that the cast was rather "dishwatery", but aknowledge that Bronson Pinchot as Craig Toomey was one of the best actors in the film being as a villain. Fans applaud the film's build up and setting, but almost everyone agrees that the effects of the langoliers were horrible.
- Press the The Langoliers end credits❓