Several Passengers Have Been Stuck Living In Airports Because Borders Are Shut Down

With borders closing in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, and national policies in some cases changing quickly, some passengers got stuck in the middle. Most people got advance notice, but what if their flights home were cancelled? Or there was confusion, and they were allowed to board a flight when they won’t be admitted at their final destination? Not every country ran rapatriation flights, either.

Back in March I wrote about several passengers stuck in transit at airports, not able to take their connecting flight because borders are closed at their destination, not able to enter the country where they’re transiting because of coronavirus restrictions, and possibly not even able to be returned to where their journey began.

At the time there were 22 Indian citizens stuck at the Dubai airport because of the Indian government’s closing of its borders. Some of these passengers had flights scheduled to arrive before India’s lock down, but their flights were cancelled due to weather.

In addition there were 3 people living in the Taipei international airport, connecting from Auckland enroute to mainland China. That air route was closed, and since they weren’t New Zealand citizens they couldn’t be returned to Auckland either.

Would you believe though that months into the global pandemic there are still people stuck living in airports?

Three Nigerians have been stuck in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport for nearly three months.

They have been in the departure area, receiving food and drink from airport security officers and airline staff, since late March.

Immigration cannot allow them entry because they do not have visas, Pol Lt Gen Sompong said.

They were waiting for connecting flights to Myanmar and Laos when the governments of both countries suddenly imposed travel restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19, he said.

The airlines they travelled with — Emirates and Etihad — also halted services, preventing them from returning home, he said.

Despite plenty of shower facilities in lounges at the airport, the three haven’t been able to shower in three months and don’t have a change of clothing, but have received meal boxes every day. They’re booked onto Emirates for travel June 4 when the airline is expected to resume its flights.

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,

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

(HT: Paul M.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There were also several Pakistani citizens stuck across various airports (Istanbul, Qatar, Kualalumpur, Dubai, Bangkok) when Pakistan suddenly shutdown airspace.

    Most had to live in the airports for about 4-5 days, and then Pakistan ran rescue flights (at-least, I know they ran rescue flights from Dubai and Qatar, and provided a hotel to the ones in KL – not sure if other cases were resolved).

    South Africa did their ban the best way tbh – they gave about 3-4 days full notice so no passenger can be stuck mid-transit.

  2. Faithful reader living in Taiwan here. Can confirm the story where 3 passengers stuck in the Taiwan Taoyuan Airport.

    After getting permission from the NHCC (Taiwan’s central command for COVID-10), the three passengers left Taiwan to continue their journeys the next morning. Two passengers were Japanese heading back to Tokyo. The other, a British citizen, was on his way to Shanghai. Air New Zealand will be fined because of this incident with an undisclosed amount though.

  3. 25 Russian citizens who had come to Japan for some sort of work were stuck at Haneda for one week before Russia sent a plane to rescue them.

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