Viktor Navorski, a traveler from , arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, only to find that his passport is suddenly no longer valid. The United States no longer recognizes Krakozhia as a sovereign nation after the outbreak of a civil war, and Viktor is not permitted to either enter the country or return home as he is now . Because of this, Customs seizes his passport and airline ticket.
With no other choice, he settles in at the terminal with only his luggage and a peanut can, much to the frustration of Frank Dixon, the temporary customs director for the airport. Dixon is being considered for a promotion and becomes obsessed with getting rid of Viktor. Meanwhile, Viktor befriends and helps airport employees and travelers. Among them, a flight attendant named Amelia Warren, whom he sees periodically and tries to woo, presenting himself as a building contractor who is frequently traveling. Viktor had been hired by an airport contractor and paid under the table after he impulsively remodeled a wall at a gate that was scheduled for future renovation.
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