On Day Two, there is a brief excitement when people living in the airport recognize Elizabeth and Tyler. They seem to be in shock, and they complain that they wish their phones were working so they could tweet about hanging out with Arthur Leander’s kid at the end of the world.
One of the last vestiges of civilization is the obsession over celebrity, which continues even as the world is ending outside of the airport. Many wish their phones work, not for contacting loved ones, but for posting trivia on the internet.
By Day Three, all of the vending machines in the airport are empty, the battery in Tyler’s videogame is dead, and the girl needing Effexor is sick from withdrawal. A raiding party is sent to find drugs, and though they find useful items, they do not find the drug she needs. They dial 911 from a pay phone, but no one answers.
Three days into the new world, the effects of civilization’s end are being felt in different forms: the difficulty of attaining food, medicine, technology, and medical care in the form of 911 calls. Those in the airport must rely only on themselves to survive.
That night they break into the Mexican restaurant, where a man named Max leaves his credit card to pay. It remains untouched for ninety-seven days. The survivors have a bonfire out on the tarmac, getting drunk on Skymiles Lounge champagne. They hope a passing airplane or helicopter might see them, but nothing passes overhead.
Though it’s completely unnecessary, as currency no longer has value, Max offers to pay for the looted meal to ease the consciences of those living in the airport. They look for airplanes overhead, which here symbolize the notion that they might still be rescued.
On Day Five, they break into the gift shop for clean clothes. By Day Six all the snacks are gone. And on Day Seven, TV networks begin to blink off the air one by one. The power goes off and back on, meaning that it has switched to generator power. Since by Day Eight no one has come to the airport, a TSA agent named Tyrone goes out to hunt and returns with a deer.
Tyrone has the useful skill of knowing how to hunt, which in a previous life was for fun, but after the collapse has become a necessity for survival.
While everyone else eats the deer, the girl who needs Effexor sneaks away. They mount a small search party, but are unable to find her. She has left behind all her belongings, which reveal that her name is Lily Patterson. Someone places her driver’s license next to Max’s credit card.
Almost everyone in the airport celebrates the successful hunt, but without her medication Lilly wanders off by herself, presumably to die.
During this time, Tyler spends his days reading his comic books over and over again. Elizabeth constantly prays. The televisions are all silent. On Day Twelve the power goes out, though the toilets will still flush if they are filled with water.
Tyler, like Kirsten, obsesses over comic books after the collapse as an escape. Elizabeth, on the other hand, turns to her faith as a means to deal with the catastrophe.
On the Fifteenth Day, one of three pilots among the stranded people announces that he will take an airplane to LA in hopes of finding his family. He invites anyone who wants to come with him, and most people who live west or in Asia end up leaving the next day, hoping to find family or closer to home. This trip leaves only fifty-four survivors living in the Severn City Airport. As the time reaches the point when the plane is probably approaching LA, Clark thinks of his memories of the city, including the awkward dinner party at Arthur’s house. Tyler is almost always silent, while Elizabeth tells Clark, “I can’t wait till things get back to normal.”
The airplanes that take off are both a signal of hope and despair, since they signify that some pilots and passengers have the hope of reconnecting with family, but such a mission is extremely risky and unlikely to succeed. The flight leads Clark down a path of memory which reminds him of the award dinner party where he first met Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Elizabeth maintains the delusion that things will return to normal and that the collapse will somehow be undone.
After this departure to LA, another pilot named Roy announces that he’s going to do a reconnaissance flight on a small airplane. He never returns.
This doomed flight represents part of the “despair” side of airplane symbolism in the novel.
A little while later, Clark and Elizabeth discuss the end of civilization. She doesn’t believe that it has truly come to an end, and can’t understand Clark’s point that civilization was already fragile. She believes that this catastrophe will pass. She tells him about a book she read about vampires that made it appear as if the world had ended, but slowly revealed that in reality only North America had been quarantined to save the rest of the world from vampirism. Clark says he doesn’t think this is quarantine and that there is nothing else out there. Elizabeth maintains that everything happens for a reason.
Elizabeth has faith that somehow the collapse of civilization isn’t what it seems. She likens it to something she remembers from a novel, where in the end, the situation isn’t as bad as it appears, and she winds up living in civilization once again. She maintains the belief that she first expressed at the dinner party—that everything happens for a reason, even the Georgia Flu and the billions of deaths.
In order to maintain appearances, Clark is careful to shave every three days. He believes that this will help prevent crime and a decay of the people in the airport. On Day Twenty-Seven, he parts his hair in the middle and shaves one side, returning to the style he wore as a young man. His friend Dolores gives him funny looks, but Clark feels more like himself than ever.
Clark maintains his physical appearance, as this gives him a sense of comfort and stability during the instability of the collapse.
To maintain his sanity, Clark trains himself not to think about and not to look at certain things. He tries not to think about the people he knew outside the airport, or the final airplane that landed but was kept away from the airport. Snow falls after Roy’s departure, and Elizabeth insists on keeping a runway clean, even after it’s clear that Roy won’t return, as preparation for the rescue she believes is coming. They once see a helicopter pass in the far distance, but they never see another aircraft in the air after that.
In another effort to maintain sanity, Clark doesn’t look at or think about the things that will make him face the harsh truths of the collapse, including the quarantined airplane. Again, we see Elizabeth’s persistent faith that things will work out, as she maintains the runways long after Roy’s plane is presumed lost forever.
Without artificial light, the night sky is brighter than anyone can remember seeing. Clark at first questions if the brilliance of the Milky Way is his own imagination, but Dolores confirms it’s just because the age of light pollution has ended. Always optimistic, Elizabeth maintains that the lights will eventually come back on someday.
The natural beauty of the world is able to shine without the artificiality of civilization, one of the few possible benefits of the collapse. But Elizabeth continuously says that the lights will return, that things will work out, even though it seems highly unlikely.
Every night, the citizens of the airport have a bonfire. Slowly, the conditions begin to feel normal. Tyler keeps mostly to himself and reads his comic books and the New Testament. The people living in the airport trade languages and learn to live together. There is a rape on the night of Day Eighty-five, and the assailant is tied up and forced into the forest at gunpoint.
Tyler becomes obsessed with the New Testament, clearly influenced by his mother’s strong faith that everything happens for a reason. In the airport, a culture and community begins to develop, even as crime breaks out within it.
Dolores wonders why no one has ever arrived at the airport. With Garrett, Annette, and Clark, she discusses the possible horrors occurring out in the world. Silently, Tyler wanders in and comments that everything happens for a reason, to which Garrett says that Elizabeth is a lunatic. Clark then suggests sending out a scouting party.
Tyler here expresses explicitly that he has inherited his mother’s belief that everything happens for a reason, even the Georgia Flu—an early indication of who Tyler will grow up to become. Clark comes up with the idea of a scouting to find out what is left of civilization out in the world.
The scouts, Tyrone, Dolores, and Allen, leave the morning of Day One Hundred. In the tension of waiting for them to return, Clark wonders what Robert would do if he were there. At this point, he arrives at the idea of collecting obsolete items and creating an impromptu museum. He thus begins the Museum of Civilization. Placing a snow globe on display, he considers how many human hands were required to design, manufacture, and ship the small product and marvels at what human civilization once was.
While turning to the memory of Robert as an escape, Clark comes up with the idea of the Museum of Civilization, which will preserve now obsolete items as a testament to the way the world once was. As he begins curating it, he thinks about how essentially human and reliant on individual efforts civilization once was.
The next day, the scouting party returns with some supplies. No one approached them during the journey, which they describe as silent. But a day later, a stranger (later named as James) walks in. The man seems stunned as opposed to dangerous. When instructed to drop his weapon, he cooperates, and slowly tries to speak. Crying, he tells the people from the airport that he was in a hotel and he followed the scouting party’s footprints. He’s crying, he says, because he believed that he was the only one who had survived.
James’ fear that he was the only one left exemplifies the extreme loss of lives and the isolation survivors felt outside of the airport, as he believed that the collapse was so extensive that he was the single human survivor. James also marks the first of many who will wander into and settle at the new town in the Severn City Airport.