world of aviation logo

Man who inspired ‘The Terminal’ dies at Paris airport

written by Casey Martin | November 15, 2022

A file image of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport (Fyodor Borisov/Wikicommons)

The man who was the inspiration for The Terminal film starring Tom Hanks has passed away.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian exile, has called Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport home for the past 18 years after falling into legal limbo in 1988.

Nasseri, 76, died on 12 November after suffering a heart attack in the airport’s Terminal 2F. According to the Paris airport authority, police and a medical team treated him but were unable to save him.

Nasseri lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 until 2006. He originally stayed because he didn’t have residency papers and was stuck in legal limbo, then decided to stay on his own accord.

He had planned to settle in the UK but claimed that his residency paper was in his briefcase that was allegedly stolen.

British immigration officials returned Nasseri from London to France. Court cases ruled that he couldn’t legally be expelled from the airport, nor could he be given permission to enter France and, as he had no country of origin to return to, he began living in Terminal 1.

Nasseri was born in Iran. He left Iran in 1974 to study in England. Upon returning, he said he was imprisoned for protesting against the Shah and was expelled without a passport.


He applied for political asylum in several countries in Europe but was denied. Nasseri claimed that the UN refugee agency in Belgium granted him refugee credentials and it was this refugee certificate that was allegedly stolen at a Paris train station.

French police arrested him but due to a lack of documents, he couldn’t be deported.

During his stay at the airport, he adopted the nickname Sir Alfred, became well known to staff and slept on a red plastic bench surrounded by boxes of newspapers and magazines. He spent his days writing in his diary, reading, and studying economics.

He became a minor celebrity among passengers and has been the inspiration for documentaries, operas and most notably, Steven Spielberg’s film The Terminal.

In 1999, he told The Associated Press while smoking a pipe on his bench, “Eventually, I will leave the airport, but I’m still waiting for a passport or transit visa.”

During the same year he was granted refugee status in France, meaning that he could have legally left the airport at this stage. However, Nasseri was reluctant to leave the airport after spending over 10 years of his life in the terminal.

In 2006, Nasseri was hospitalised and moved from the airport to live in a Paris shelter. That was to be the end of his residency in the airport, as he didn’t return once he had recovered until this year.

In recent weeks Nasseri had returned to the airport, reportedly to live permanently once again. In a way, Nasseri’s return to the airport brought his story full circle before he sadly passed away.


Each day, our subscribers are more informed with the right information.

SIGN UP to the Australian Aviation magazine for high-quality news and features for just $99.95 per year