At half past six on a Friday evening in January, Lincoln Internation-ftl Airport, Illinois, was functioning, though with difficulty. The airport was reeling — as was the entire Midwestern United States— from the roughest winter storm in half a dozen years. The storm had lasted three days. A United Air Lines food truck, loaded with two hundred dinners, was lost and probably snowbound somewhere on the airport perimeter. A iearch for the truck — in driving snow and darkness — had so far failed.
United's Flight III — a non-stop DC-8 for Los Angeles, which the food truck was to service — was already several hours behind schedule. Similar delays, for varying reasons, were affecting at least a hundred flights Of twenty other airlines using Lincoln International.
On the airfield, runway three zero was out of use, blocked by an Aereo-Mexican jet — a Boeing 707 —- its wheels deep in wet ground beneath snow, near the runway's edge. Two hours of intensive effort had foiled to get the big jet moved. Now, Aereo-Mexican, having exhausted its own local resources, had appealed to TWA for help.
Air Traffic Control, because of the loss of runway three zero, had instituted flow control procedures, limiting the volume of incoming traffic from adjoining air route centers at Minneapolis, Cleveland, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Denver. Despite this, twenty incoming flights were orbiting, some nearing low fuel limits.
In the main passenger terminal, chaos predominated. Terminal waiting areas were crowded with thousands of passengers from delayed or Canceled flights. Baggage, in piles, was everywhere.
The wonder was, Mel Bakersfeld thought, that anything was continuing to operate at all.
Mel, airport general manager — lean, noisy and a powerhouse of disciplined energy — was standing by the Snow Control Desk, high in the control tower. He peered out into the darkness.
Maintenance snow crews were nearly exhausted. Within the past few hours several men had been ordered home, though they had already used sleeping quarters at the airport provided for just this kind of emergency.
At the Snow Control Desk near Mel, Danny Farrow — at other times an assistant airport manager, now snow shift supervisor — was calling Maintenance Snow Center by radiophone.
Danny was seated at the Snow Desk, which was not really a desk at all, but a wide, three-position console. In front of Danny and his two assistants — one on either side — was a battery of telephones and radios. Surrounding them were maps, charts, and bulletin boards recording the state and location of every piece of motorized snowfighting equipment, as well as men and supervisors. There was a separate board for banjo teams — moving crews with individual snow shovels.
Mel said, "That United flight finally took off, didn't it? Without food."
Danny Farrow answered without looking up. "I hear the captain put it to the passengers. Told them it'd take an hour to get another truck, that they had a movie and liquor aboard, and the sun was shining in California. Everybody voted to get the hell out. I would, too."
Tanya Livingston was a passenger relations agent for Trans America, and a special friend of Mel's.
In a note brought by messenger Tanya suggested that they should have coffee together. He would stop at his office first, then, on his way to the terminal — Mel thought — he would drop by Trans America to see her. The thought excited him.