A Cathay Pacific passenger boarded a flight from Canada to Hong Kong back in March, intending to connect to Vietnam. Hong Kong transit was shut down March 25. Vietnam closed its border to arrivals. He lived inside the airport for three months.
While there Cathay Pacific was obliged to feed him. No one knows why he stayed, though, other than perhaps these free provisions – because he was a Hong Kong resident and entitled to entry (with quarantine).
Since he spent 3 months in the airport, now that he went through Hong Kong immigration on Thursday he didn’t need to do a 14 day quarantine on arrival. He tested negative for COVID-19 and just went home.
The Hongkonger was one of several high-profile cases that raised questions about the government’s handling of transit passengers this month. More than a dozen travellers were left inside the airport with nowhere to go due to the border restrictions and airlines mistakenly allowing customers to take flights despite the border closures.
People in transit were largely left there unless they “posed a danger or national security concern for Hong Kong.” Still, lawmakers are concerned that a resident was left airside for so long when they could have been brought home.
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.