Walk through the departure lounge of any airport at 4am and you will see sleeping bodies everywhere. There are those who have arrived early for the first flight as well as those who missed the last one the night before. Some are passengers on extended transits who, like many visitors to this website, chose a few hours of discomfort over the cost of a hotel. And then, even though it sounds crazy, there might be one or two who actually live there. Every single passenger has suffered at the hands of an airport terminal – the uncomfortable seats, the inedible food, the incessant noise – but most escape within 24 hours. Can you imagine having to endure that every day for weeks, months or even years? Well, for a variety of reasons, that’s exactly what the following people had to do.
Many might argue that spending less than a fortnight in an airport isn’t that impressive. In fact, there are probably passengers who have managed that simply by booking with a low cost carrier. However, Heinz Müller earns an honourable mention because he was marooned while looking for love. Müller flew to Rio de Janeiro in order to find a local woman he’d met on the internet and, strangely enough, this didn’t work out too well. The ex-pilot somehow ended up in Campinas Airport, living off donations of food and washing in the toilet sinks. He lasted 13 days before the authorities hauled him away for psychological evaluation, although it’s unclear what happened to him next. Rumours are he’s planning his next trip to Nigeria, where a recently widowed General’s wife is awaiting with $20 million.
It requires a lot of effort to force an entire airport to take out a restraining order against you, but Anthony Delaney managed just that. Having lost his $120k a year job in 2004, the former chef started to use London Gatwick as his new home. In 2006, the airport authority obtained a court order banning Delaney from the premises, but he took no notice. When he was eventually arrested in 2008 for breaking the order and baggage theft, his lawyer argued that sleeping in the airport was simply a solution to his client’s homelessness. The judge wasn’t exactly sympathetic, and provided an alternative solution by sentencing Delaney to 15 months in prison.
The economic crisis that engulfed the world hit Greece harder than most. The Mediterranean country’s dysfunctional tax system meant that the cupboard was bare when the bailiffs came knocking. Unemployment went through the roof at the same time that public welfare dried up, and many Greeks fled abroad in search of a better future. One such person was Athanasios who, together with his Bulgarian wife, Albena, headed for Germany in 2012. Six months later they were still living in Munich airport, along with Albena’s 15-year-old son who had recently joined them. Unlike Gatwick, Munich’s authorities turned a blind eye, allowing the family to stay while they looked for work. In the meantime, they survived by selling stuff they found in the trash and accepting aid from the Germans. To be honest, they could have stayed in Greece for that.
The Spanish airport of Palma de Mallorca was home to this solitary German woman for more than 10 years. Known to staff only as Bettina, she ended up in the departure lounge when she couldn’t find work. According to reports, Bettina was happy living from hand to mouth with her white cat, Mumu. Some say she was mentally ill, others that she enjoyed the lack of everyday problems. We say… bullsh*t! Despite the large number of Google hits, every single reference links back to the same Guardian article – there’s no official acknowledgement, no surname, no mention of what happened to her next, no nothing. Just like Tom Hanks’ character in The Terminal, Bettina’s story appears to be pure fiction.
Mohammed Al Bahish
As if being an Iraq-born Palestinian refugee weren’t unlucky enough, Mohammed Al Bahish must have broken a lorry load of mirrors before he set off for Almaty in Kazakhstan. All he wanted to do was marry the mother of his unborn child. Unfortunately, when documents proving his refugee status went missing and his visas expired, neither the Kazakhs nor the Turks would allow him in. Four times he flew between the two countries – probably earning more frequent flyer miles than any other refugee in history – before he was finally allowed to stay in the sterile zone of Almaty airport. Proving that there is Hell on Earth, Al Bahish then spent the next 150 days living in a tiny cell measuring 3m x 2m. He wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom alone and had to endure the airport’s P.A. system on a continuous loop. Worst of all, three times a day, every single day, the poor bastard had to eat airline food. In the end, Finland decided no human being should live like that and granted him asylum.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri
The current world record for airport dwelling is held by Mehran Karimi Nasseri and stands at a whopping 18 years. Born in Iran to educated parents, Nasseri’s life changed dramatically in 1977 when he was expelled from his home country for protesting against the Shah. He was eventually granted refugee status in Belgium, giving him the right to travel, and live, in Europe. For reasons that are still unclear, on his way to try and settle in the UK he misplaced these papers. The British authorities immediately sent him back to his departure point, which was Paris Charles de Gaulle. The French also refused entry, but had nowhere they could deport him to. Unable to leave the airport, Nasseri took up residence in Terminal One in 1988, where he remained until being hospitalised in 2006. There are several versions of what happened between these two dates, including claims that Steven Spielberg paid Nasseri around $250,000 for his story. Another common rumour is that Belgium actually offered him somewhere to live in 1995. Incredibly, considering he then spent another 11 years in departures, Nasseri said no because he wanted to live in England.
More people found living in airports:
- Sanjay Shah – Nairobi Airport (May 2004 – July 2005)
- Zahra Kamalfar – Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (May/June 2006 – 15 March 2007)
- Hiroshi Nohara – Mexico City Airport (02 September 2008 – 28 December 2008)
- Feng Zhenghu – Tokyo Narita Airport (09 November 2009 – 3 February 2010)
- Robert Wladyslaw Parzelski – Sao Paulo Guarulhos Airport (17 June 2011 – July 2011)
- Gary Peter Austin – Manila NAIA International Airport (19 December 2012 – 11 January 2013)
- Rodrigo Ben-Azul – Santiago de Chile Airport (November 2012 – January/February 2013)
- Edward Snowden – Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (23 June 2013 – 01 August 2013)
- Ahmed Kannan – Kuala Lumpur International Airport (21 May 2013 – 13 July 2013)
To me, an airport is a place to visit, not a place to live. Although perhaps the airport is preferable to many places on the planet, I am indeed fortunate to not have to live in one.
In my younger days, I would avoid paying for a hotel unless I got a full day in one. However, now I definitely gravitate towards getting a hotel room whenever it is justified.
The stories are interesting to read. However, I am very glad it isn’t me.
Those poor bastards who lived in NAIA or Nairobi airport…
I may be slightly ashamed to say…….I may have been caught on someones camera before taking a little nap in the airport terminal. The chairs are not comfortable to sleep in, I must say. Although maybe renting out rooms in 8hr blocks in a airport might not be such a bad idea. TV, Bed, and Internet service , I bet airports could make a shinny nickle for this service.
Edward Snowden 🙂