We revisit the linear stability of a falling liquid film flowing through an inclined narrow channel in interaction with a gas phase. We focus on a particular region of parameter space, small inclination and very strong confinement, where we have found the gas to strongly stabilize the film, up to the point of fully suppressing the long-wave interfacial instability attributed to Kapitza (Zh. Eksp. Teor. Fiz., vol. 18 (1), 1948, pp. 3–28). The stabilization occurs both when the gas is merely subject to an aerostatic pressure difference, i.e. when the pressure difference balances the weight of the gas column, and when it flows counter-currently. In the latter case, the degree of stabilization increases with the gas velocity. Our investigation is based on a numerical solution of the Orr–Sommerfeld temporal linear stability problem as well as stability experiments that clearly confirm the observed effect. We quantify the degree of stabilization by comparing the linear stability threshold with its passive-gas limit, and perform a parametric study, varying the relative confinement, the Reynolds number, the inclination angle and the Kapitza number. For example, we find a 30 % reduction of the cutoff wavenumber of the instability for a water film in contact with air, flowing through a channel inclined at
and of height 2.8 times the film thickness. We also identify the critical conditions for the full suppression of the instability in terms of the governing parameters. The stabilization is caused by the strong confinement of the gas, which produces perturbations of the adverse interfacial tangential shear stress that are shifted by half a wavelength with respect to the wavy film surface. This tends to reduce flow-rate variations within the film, thus attenuating the inertia-based driving mechanism of the Kapitza instability.