Captain James Holland is the pilot on a routine flight from Frankfurt to New York, packed with people eager to be home for Christmas. When a passenger collapses from what appears to be a heart attack, Holland is forced to request an emergency landing at London's Heathrow Airport. But to his great surprise, the air traffic controllers will not let him land in England—they tell Holland that his sick passenger has contracted a dangerous new form of influenza and that the plane must return to Germany.
But when German officials also refuse the landing, and other European countries follow suit, Holland begins to suspect that he's in much more trouble than anyone's letting on. In fact, his sick passenger is carrying a deadly virus accidentally released from a Bavarian laboratory, and it is feared that everyone on board is now infected. At the same time, someone with access to the CIA's computers wants to shoot the plane out of the sky, and there is a United States ambassador on board with powerful terrorist enemies who want to see him dead. While the panic on the ground spreads from the White House Situation Room to a small airport in the Ukrainian Republic, Captain Holland has only one concern: Where and when can he land?