A traveller at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, USA. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
The fear of being exposed to COVID-19 has deterred many from airport travel. But for one 36-year-old Indian-American, staying at the airport seemed safer than going home.
On 16 January 2021, two United Airlines employees found that an Indian-American man, Aditya Singh, was living in a secured part of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, reports Chicago Tribune. He had stayed undetected for the last three months at O’Hare, which is the world’s sixth-busiest airport.
Singh was wearing an airport ID badge that had been reported missing by an operations manager on 26 October 2020. Singh was arrested, and charged with felony criminal trespass to a restricted area of an airport and misdemeanour theft. At his court hearing the next day, prosecutors said that he had been “scared to go home due to COVID.”
A California resident of Orange, a half-hour drive from Los Angeles, Singh has a masters’ degree in hospitality and is unemployed. He lives with roommates and has no criminal record. He had flown from Los Angeles to Chicago’s O’Hare airport on 19 October 2020, stayed on in the restricted airport area, and survived on food from other passengers.
Singh has been barred from entering O’Hare airport if he is able to post the $1,000/Rs73,300 bail for release. Judge Susana Ortiz said, “The court finds these facts and circumstances quite shocking for the alleged period of time that this occurred. Being in a secured part of the airport under a fake ID badge allegedly, based upon the need for airports to be absolutely secure so that people feel safe to travel, I do find these alleged actions do make him a danger to the community.”
US authorities have noted that Singh had not posed a security risk. The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement on 18 January 2021: “CDA has no higher priority than the safety and security of our airports, which is maintained by a coordinated and multilayered law enforcement network. While this incident remains under investigation, we have been able to determine that this gentleman did not pose a security risk to the airport or to the travelling public. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners on a thorough investigation of this matter.”