Back in January a man, who had lived at Chicago O’Hare for three months, was arrested near Gate F12 after United Airlines employees confronted him. He showed an airport ID he’d picked up months earlier that didn’t fool anyone.
He spent October 19, 2020 – January 16, 2021 in the airport because he was afraid of Covid-19. He had flown to O’Hare but didn’t continue onto India as he’d planned. Ironically, the airplane cabin would probably have been safer from Covid than the airport itself. He relied on the kindess of strangers who picked up meals for him, and he talked to passengers about Buddhism and Hinduism.
The man was charged with felony criminal trespass for his time in a restricted area of an airport. And he’s now been acquitted, without having to submit a defense. He was allowed into the secure area having cleared security, after all. Although he’s been acquitted of trespass, he’s not out of legal jeopardy. While he was awaiting trial he was out on bail, and is charged with violating his electronic monitoring.
People living in airports during the Covid-era – due to travel restrictions that prevented them from entering countries or going home – wasn’t entirely uncommon and we’ve even seen people living in airport lounges unable to afford an airline change fee.
Probably the most famous person to live in an airport was Mehran Karimi Nasseri, because the Tom Hanks film The Terminal is loosely based on his story.
- The man spent 18 years living in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport’s terminal 1. He reported being kicked out of Iran for protesting the Shah, and eventually granted refugee status in Belgium. He moved to the UK, but lost his papers claiming his briefcase was stolen. When he returned to Britain border officials refused his entry, and sent him back on a flight to Paris where he had come from.
- Nasseri was offered residence in France and in Belgium, but wouldn’t sign papers agreeing to it because those listed him as being Iranian and he wanted to be a UK citizen where he says his father is from, and because he wanted the documents to reflect the name Sir Alfred Mehran.
Situations where people find themselves stuck in the airport aren’t common, but hardly unheard of. Three instances in the past decade include,
- A Taiwanese man spent more than a week living in the Perth, Australia airport after running out of money. He went to the airport, but his ticket was weeks away and he couldn’t afford change fees to depart earlier on Singapore Airlines low cost carrier Scoot.
- Ahmed Kannan spent four months in the Kuala Lumpur airport in 2013. He flew to Turkey without a visa and had his passport confiscated. He had been overstayed his Malaysian visa and was inadmissable there.
- Edward Snowden spent 39 days in the Moscow-Sheremetyevo airport before being granted temporary asylum. His U.S. passport had been revoked while enroute to Russia.