Imagine Being Paid $250,000 by Spielberg While Stuck in an Airport for 18 Years

Landing in the Airport

Landing in an airport can be a rather joyous event. Finally, you have arrived at your destination or you are waiting for a connecting flight. Sometimes there can be a delay between flights. In this case, Iran born Mehran Karimi Nasseri had to wait 18 years to board his next plane!


Sir Alfred Mehran (Mehran Karimi Nasseri (Photo by Eric Fougere/VIP Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

Mehran Karimi Nasseri, also known as “Sir Alfred Mehran” got himself in quite a big pickle in this story of hope, frustration, friendship, and way too many MacDonald burgers.

“Sir Alfred’s” Background

Mehran Karimi Nasseri was born in 1942 in Iran and grew up in fairly good conditions as his father was a doctor who worked for an oil company. Nasseri expressed that his mother was a nurse from Scotland working in a similar area to his dad.


(Photo by Christophe Calais/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 1973, at the age of 31, Mehran arrived in the United Kingdom to study a three-year course in Yugoslav studies at the University of Bradford.

Next: Banned from your own country

Expelled from Iran

When he was 27, Mehran protested against the monarchy in Iran which was eventually toppled. Nasseri said that he was expelled from Iran in 1977 for protests against the Shah. Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was the last Shah of Iran, overthrown in 1979.


Source: Toronto Star

He was expelled from the country and his citizenship was revoked. He was eventually rewarded refugee status by the United High Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium.

Having Your Citizenship Revoked

When Mehran’s citizenship was revoked, he was stateless. About 1 in 750 people globally are stateless – which is a very frightening statistic. What it means is that they are not citizens of any country.


(Photo by Christophe Calais/Corbis via Getty Images)

When this happens, many inconveniences occur. You cannot get social benefits and travel becomes an obvious problem. There are many ways to become stateless but a major one is plotting to overthrow the government of a country like Alfred allegedly did.

Next: The big lie that complicated things

The Big Lie

The lady bringing up Mehran Karimi Nasseri all his life was not in, in fact,s real mother. As stated earlier his mother was a Scottish nurse. He only found out this information after his father died. Things were complicated due to this.


Source: Celtic Life International

Firstly, Alfred would be eligible for British Citizenship. This would be a wonderful benefit but Alfred would not be able, under Iranian law to inherit his father’s inheritance.

Wanting Citizenship

As a stateless person, “Sir Alfred” wanted to make his way to London to apply for British citizenship but (and this is a big but) he lost his refugee papers. He expressed that they were stolen while other people believe he got rid of them. Nobody knows the actual truth.


Mehran Karimi Nasseri (Photo by Christophe Calais/Corbis via Getty Images)

Now, things become sticky as Mehran Karimi Nasseri makes his plans to board different plans to get on with his life and make progress.

Next: Caught between a rock and a hard place

Taking Off

“Sir Alfred” left Belgium, arrived in Paris de Gaulle airport. He then somehow, as if it was a miracle, boarded a plane and landed in London. It should be noted that this shouldn’t have happened because, as most of us know, in order to fly internationally, we require a few things.


(Photo by Eric Fougere/VIP Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

To begin with you need a valid passport and visa and obviously, “Sir Alfred” did not. It was obviously a big airline mistake. These days airlines will get a fine of almost $3500 for each passenger they fly without a valid passport or visa and have to fly the passenger back to their origin free of charge.

Getting Stuck

Upon arrival in the UK, “Sir Alfred” was sent back as he did not have a passport to get in. He was sent right back to Paris de Gaulle airport Terminal 1. Now, for the exact same reason that “Sir Alfred” couldn’t enter the UK, he also could not enter France.


(Photo by Eric Fougere/VIP Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

Normally, in a case like this, the person would be sent back to their home country where they could in an emergency, enter without a passport. But “Sir Alfred” had no home country so he couldn’t leave France either. He was honestly stuck in Paris de Gaulle airport Terminal 1.

Next: Home sweet home

Calling the Terminal Home

Soon after he was placed in a jail in the terminal for a brief period and then made a bright red bench inside the airport his home. That’s where he lived for the next 18 years.


(Photo by Eric Fougere/VIP Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

Now, if you are going to be stuck anywhere for 18 years things could be worse than a fancy airport in France. In the airport he, had a bathroom, places to eat – with quite a variety! He even had a doctor which came free of charge.

Trying to Get Out

Of course, there were attempts to get “Sir Alfred” out of the airport by getting the refugee papers he needed. But, the problem was that in order to do so he would have to go to Belgium which he could not go to. It was a real “catch 22”.


(Photo by Eric Fougere/VIP Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

It’s important to know that “Sir Alfred” was in the public area of Terminal 1 during his stay but it would have been completely illegal to step even 1 toe outside the doorways of terminal 1, even if there was nothing physically stopping him.

Next: Being bull-headed

A Stubborn Man

Eventually, after around 10 years, both France and Belgium offered him residency but he refused to sign the papers that would finalize this as it listed him as Iranian. He was vehemently against the Iranian government so he would not hear of it.


(Photo by Eric Fougere/VIP Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

It is very possible that the state of “Sir Alfred’s” mental state deteriorated but he actually grew fond of his “home” and had made friends there.


Luckily “Sir Alfred” had savings and for the majority of the early years, relied on the banks in the airport and the occasional cash that strangers in the airport gave or sent him.


(Photo by Eric Fougere/VIP Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

This was an airport after all and there was a post office too. There were so many options of things to do in the airport. There were books to read and different things to buy and at least he wasn’t left stranded on an island – there were people to socialize with.

Next: A brilliant move

A Brilliant Mind

Now, remember that “Sir Alfred” came from a well-to-do educated family and was an intelligent man himself. In 2004 while still in the airport, he published his autobiography called “Terminal Man” by Sir Alfred Mehran. It was co-written with British author Andrew Donkin and reviewed in the Sunday Times as being “profoundly disturbing and brilliant.”


Mehran Karimi Nasseri (Photo by Christophe Calais/Corbis via Getty Images)

This was a brilliant move on his behalf and opened his unbelievable story to the world. After all, his story was completely unique. Many people would have lost their minds in his situation.

The Terminal Movie

Although this book made him some money, DreamWorks Pictures paid him $250 000 as they were making the film “The Terminal” with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.


Source: Let There Be Movies

This movie was directed by Steven Spielberg but it was not based off “Sir Alfred’s” story. Rather, it was loosely inspired so the payment (not a big amount for a huge movie production house like DreamWorks Pictures) was mostly legal cover to make sure that later “Sir Alfred” wouldn’t sue.

Next: Finding freedom

Getting Out

There were interviews obviously around this time and “Sir Alfred” had expressed that he was getting out within weeks but eventually his departure did not come by choice.


(Photo by Christophe Calais/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 2006 he was hospitalized for 6 months with medical issues. Towards the end of January 2007, he left the hospital and was taken care of by the airport’s branch of the French Red Cross.

A New Home

On 6 March 2007, he was transferred to Emmaus charity reception-center in Paris’s 20th arrondissment (an administrative district).



Since 2008 he has continued to live in a homeless Paris shelter. No doubt his life is very different now and he probably misses all the friends he made at the airport during those many years of “entrapment.”

Next: An inspiring story

Other Works of Non-Fiction

“Sir Alfred’s” story inspired the 1994 French film “Tombés du ciel, starring Jean Rochefort. It was internationally released under the title “Lost in Transit”. The short story “The Fifteen-Year Layover”, which was written by Michael Paterniti and published in GQ and “The Best American Non-Required Reading”, chronicles “Sir Alfred’s” life.



Alexis Kouros made a documentary in 2000 about “Sir Alfred” called “Waiting for Godot at De Gaulle”. In 2001, Paul Berczeller and Glen Luchford made the mockumentary “Here to Where”, also featuring “Sir Alfred”. In 2001, Melissa Hibbard and Hamid Rahmanian made a documentary called “Sir Alfred of Charles De Gaulle Airport.”

Other Residents of Airports

Mehran Karimi Nasseri wasn’t the only person who ended up living in an airport. Denis Luiz de Souza of Brazil has been living in São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport since 2000 until present day. After frequent conflicts at home, he decided to take refuge in the airport. It seems that he suffers with mental illness.


Denis Luiz de Souza. Source:

Hassan Al Kontar from Syria lived in Kuala Lampur International Airport, Sepang, Malaysia from 7 March until 1 October 2018 (for 208 days). He was deported to Malaysia in 2017 after overstaying in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) for 5 years.

Next: The “donut” home

Charles de Gaulle Airport

In case you didn’t know or have never visited Charles de Gaulle Airport, it’s important to remember it’s a vast, sprawling airport (shaped like a donut) with four active runways which has grown immensely. It’s about three times the size of Heathrow (London).


Terminal 2E, Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (Photo by: Dave Walsh/VW Pics/UIG via Getty Images)

It occupies a large chunk of Paris itself and it is not that old in international terms. The only negative issue with it is the fact that there is not much sense to the layout and it is not very organized with regards to interior design.

Making Sure You Never Get Stuck Like “Sir Alfred”

When travelling always make sure you have your passport and visa with you. You may even bring your ID Card. Remember your international driver’s license and cash as well as credit card/s. Put this all in a separate bag from your main bag and close to your body at all times.


(Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

It’s also often a good idea to get your luggage protected with extra layers of plastic so that you end up with all your goods when you arrive at your destination and don’t forget to make your suitcase stand out (like tying big fluorescent green ribbons on it) so that you recognize it on the conveyor belt.