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Airport Hailey 1968.jpg
Airport original book cover
Author Arthur Hailey
Genre(s) Disaster
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date 1968
Pages 440

Airport is a bestselling 1968 novel by Arthur Hailey about a large metropolitan airport and the personalities of the people who use, rely and suffer from its operation. This book was adapted into a major motion picture starring Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Dean Martin and Van Heflin, among others.

Plot summary

The story takes place at a fictional Chicago airport called Lincoln International, based very loosely on O'Hare International Airport.

The main character is Mel Bakersfield, the General Manager, whose devotion to his job is tearing apart his family and his marriage to his wife Cindy, who resents his use of his job at the airport as a device to avoid going to various after-hours events she wants him to participate in, as she attempts to climb into the social circles of Chicago's elite. His problems in his marriage are further exacerbated by his romantically-charged friendship with a lovely divorcee, Trans America Airlines passenger relations manager Tanya Livingston.

The story takes place mainly over the course of one evening, 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 light, burying the plane's landing gear in the snow, and blocking the runway. The stuck plane later becomes a major problem as Trans America flight two experiences an emergency which requires that the runway become 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. The short runway two five is also later inadequate to land TA flight two which has suffered major mechanical damage due to explosive decompression caused by the detonation of the bomb brought on board by D.O. Guerrero.

The book presents an overview of the vast and complex operations involved in operating a major commercial airport, much of which is still applicable nearly 40 years later.

Joe Patroni is the tough, grizzled, head of maintenance operations for Trans World Airlines (TWA), at Lincoln, who is drafted in by Bakersfeld to move the disabled aircraft. He fights to do so under the aircraft's own power without damaging it. This is in spite of the emergency, which could require the airplane be pushed off by snow plows (which would destroy the aircraft).

D.O. Guerrero is a desperate man who is determined to find a way to solve his financial problems, regardless of what it will cost others. He builds a carry-on suitcase bomb that he takes onto Trans America Flight Two, "The Golden Argosy", a Rome-bound Boeing 707, in the hope of providing an insurance-fraud death benefit to his wife. The bombing plot is foiled with the assistance of a little old woman, Ada Quonsett, a habitual stowaway, whose help is enlisted by the flight crew of flight two to get at the bomb being held by Guerrero.

Vernon Demerest is a womanizing pilot for Trans America Airlines and brother-in-law to Bakersfeld, who opposes him on a number of issues. Vernon's lover, airline stewardess Gwen Meighan, reveals to him that she is pregnant. They are both on duty aboard the Trans America flight that Guerrero bombs.

A mostly separate plot line concerns Mel's brother Keith, an air traffic controller tormented by guilt and flashbacks from a past mid-air collision.

Earlier in his writing career, Hailey also wrote "Runway Zero Eight", which was a novelisation of the television play Flight into Danger (1956) and later inspired the films Zero Hour! (1957) and Terror in the Sky (1971). The plotline also figures prominently in the comedy spoof Airplane! (1980).


  • Rock/Pop superstar Gwen Stefani (see No Doubt) was named after the character 'Gwen'. Stefani's mother was reading the book while pregnant.


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