The story takes place mainly over the course of one evening and night, as a massive snowstorm plays havoc with airport operations. The storyline centers on Bakersfeld's struggles to keep the airport open during the storm. His chief problem is the unexpected closure of primary Runway three zero, caused when a landing airliner turns off past the wrong side of a runway marker light, burying the plane's landing gear in the snow, and blocking the runway. This becomes a major problem as another airplane, Trans America Flight Two, experiences an midair emergency and returns to Lincoln. This requires that the runway become quickly available. The runway numbers in the novel differed from those in the later movie, as did numerous other details. The closing of runway three zero requires the use of shorter runway 25, which has the unfortunate consequence of causing planes to take off over a noise-sensitive suburb, whose residents picket the airport in protest.