On Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, security at Chicago O’Hare International Airport arrested Aditya Singh, a man who had allegedly been living in the terminal for three months, relying on the kindness of strangers for food and company.
Sound familiar? The story is vaguely reminiscent of the 2004 film "The Terminal," where Viktor Navorski, played by Tom Hanks, gets stuck living inside New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport after a war invalidates his passport and makes it so he can no longer enter or leave the United States.
However, Singh wasn’t stuck at the airport. He chose to stay there—for three months.
On Oct. 19, 2020, 36-year-old Aditya Singh boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Next up was Singh’s layover at O’Hare International Airport, where he would wait until it was time to board his flight back to India. Except that last part didn’t happen. Singh never boarded the flight. Instead, he was arrested in the terminal nearly three months later after two United employees discovered him and reported him to security.
Several reports mention that Singh, who has been described by friends to the Chicago Tribune as a “gentle soul,” came to the U.S. five years ago on a visa to complete a master’s program at the University of Oklahoma. After completing the program, Singh spent a few months in Southern California before booking a flight back to India once his visa was about to end.
According to police, the traveler-in-hiding said he holed up in O’Hare out of fear over COVID-19; however, text messages released between Singh and a housemate in California suggest that shacking up at the airport may have felt more like a spiritual calling for Singh. The source says Singh texted her in November that he viewed living in the airport “as part of a spiritual awakening of sorts.” In December, Singh texted, “I need to complete my karmic lesson that I’m learning here. Then I’ll be able to go back home to India.”
While some are focusing on exactly why Singh chose to hide away in an airport for so long, for others, his discovery raises important security questions. Not only is Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport one of the largest airports in the world, but it’s also one of the busiest airports in the United States, transporting nearly 80 million passengers each year. So, exactly how was someone able to hide in plain sight—in a secure area—for three months?
In a public statement released on Monday, the Chicago Department of Aviation asserted that they would continue to work with law enforcement partners on a thorough investigation. “While this incident remains under investigation,” the statement said, “we have been able to determine that this gentleman did not pose a security risk to the airport or to the traveling public.”
Singh is currently being held at Cook County Jail and is awaiting a court appearance scheduled for Jan. 27, 2021.
Chicago Tribune. "O'Hare is once again the nation's busiest airport in terms of total flights." Retrieved Jan 20, 2021.