What happens if a flight gets diverted to an airport where I don't have rights to enter the country?

  • 3
    I don't think anyone expects it to happen to them, but it's nice to know what to expect if it does.
    – Mark Mayo
    Dec 21, 2014 at 1:55
  • @pnuts I have an EU/Schengen passport and there might be a Canadian passport in my near future (I passed my citizenship exam six months ago) so most countries aren't a problem and yet... I fly a real awful lot. So I was wondering.
    – user4188
    Dec 21, 2014 at 4:25
  • 1
    I've been diverted to a nation other than the intended destination. While no visa would have been required it was a non-issue anyway as we never went through immigration. They shuffled us around within the secure area to a plane heading to our original destination. Dec 21, 2014 at 5:20
  • An interesting scenario would be the emergency landing of an 'enemy' aircraft or citizens from an enemy country. The fomer situation would be rare to impossible because they would not have overflight rights, but it's conceivable an Israeli passenger could find themselves in Saudi Arabia .. Presumably they would be accommodated without a visa in some way. Dec 21, 2014 at 14:22
  • Here's another example where it would have happened to anyone on the plane that had (or would have needed) a Schengen visa as they need special permission to enter Greenland: cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/…
    – Eric
    Nov 15, 2017 at 2:41

4 Answers 4


There are many factors here:

  • Does this airport has scheduled flights by the same airlines? If yes, then this means there is maintainance staff ready to fix the problem and there is a supply for spare parts, expect a delay! but most likely you will just spend the time onboard or if you got lucky in an airport lounge. No visa would be required or anything.

  • Is this an airport where the airlines has no scheduled flights for the airlines and thus no representatives? or is the technical problem beyond quick repair? This might be a problem, the plane will be fixed, there are contracts with other airlines or maintainance companies which can fix the plane, of course not as fast as it should be especially if there are spare parts required, in many cases the airlines will need to send the spare parts next day. Also, in cases where the plane diverts to a small airport with few to no services available. If any of the above is the case, then expect one of the following:

    • A long wait in the aircraft or the airport until the plane is fixed.
    • Is there an airport hotel? airline might try to book it for passengers till the plane is ready to fly again.
    • In case the plane has to spend a night or two to be fixed, there is an emergency visas to be issued by the officials at the airport for those passengers who can not enter the country without a visa. This can take long time depending on the country, but it will be issued at the end. Out of a first hand experience, it is a process that takes a lot of time and a tiring one. Same type of visas can also be issued for passengers who got sick suddenly and needs a quick medical help and the pilot decides to divert. In my case, they kept the passports at the airport and we got them back next day before departure.

Also, fixing the plane is not the only issue here, the plane can be fixed in two hours but it will not be able to take off due to crew legality, this is actually might be the reason in the rare cases of spending a night in an unscheduled city. Crew has certain amount of hours to work depending on the airlines and local regulations, they will never be able to exceed the maximum allowed hours for safety reasons, last thing you want is a sleepy cockpit crew!

Bottom line, do not expect to spend a night in an unscheduled city if you ever had a diversion, airline will try its best to avoid that, expect a long delay most likely inside the plane. Diversions are expensive in terms of money and official paper work, and can cost millions if the plane was not fixed on the spot.

  • I guess, as usual, I over answered it.. it was only about visas I do not know why did I add all this extra information... Dec 20, 2014 at 23:17
  • There can be additional problems if your plane is diverted into an airport that doesn't normally do international flights, and there are no customs/immigration staff there to issue emergency visas
    – Gagravarr
    Dec 21, 2014 at 3:49
  • Just one tiny correction; if you're currently being indicted by the International Criminal Court you're less likely to get an emergency visa..!
    – Ben
    Dec 21, 2014 at 9:14
  • @Ben there are 8 people wanted by the ICC altogether; that's a very unlikely situation :)
    – user4188
    Feb 19, 2015 at 2:37

What happens if a flight gets diverted to an airport where I don't have rights to enter the country?

You will spend a long time waiting. Most of the time you will be either in an air-side lounge or on the plane itself. 'MeNoTalk's answer is great but I wanted to add some additional outcomes which I have seen happen.

In some of the EU countries, including Switzerland, you can be 'herded en-mass' on to a tour bus and given a drive around the city with a multilingual speaker. Invariably this will end with someone boarding the bus with a trolley full of of profoundly overpriced souvenirs. I have seen this happen with both Aeroflot and Rossiya airlines.

Other times a tour agent will board and give a slide show about the city. Same airlines, same motivation.

And other times the airline will have a new feature film they can show you.

Only in the rarest of cases will you be issued a temporary admission and permitted to leave the airport unescorted.

There are no known cases where a flight was diverted or landed and a passenger was challenged for not having a visa, diversions are part of everyday life. 'MeNoTalk' didn't mention what happens if there's an open arrest warrant for you in the country...

Passenger details may be screened in their database for arrest warrants and if something flags up, you will be in trouble. In the US, this will include state level database enquiries like child support.

Finally, an unscheduled landing does not 'count' in your travel history. It only 'counts' if you are admitted. You do not need to declare it on visa applications that ask for your travel history.

  • 1
    Do you mean 'White Nights'?
    – Gayot Fow
    Dec 21, 2014 at 12:47

The simple answer is that you will be accommodated by one method or another.

Not sure how many countries actually have me-no-talks "emergency visas" for diverted flights, most will simply secure the passengers in a designated area and never officially stamp them into the country. Countries may issue emergency entry permits/visas for medical emergencies, but usually not for short term diversions (but before someone gives me grief, yes there are exceptions)

If the delay is one that maybe remedied within a reasonable amount of time (weather diversion or maintenance issue), then passengers will often be held in an airport lounge or waiting area until the issue is resolved or the weather passes.

If the delay is one that will be many hours over night, then passengers may be taken to a nearby hotel, their passports held until time to return to the airport and prohibited from leaving the hotel.

I have been through both of the above scenarios.

While some countries have the "time killing" tours that Gayot mentioned, I think those countries are in a minority and those options are reserved for regional flights where visas are not a huge issue.


We recently flew on China Southern Airlines from Vietnam to Australia with a short stop over at Guangzhou China. Due to weather we were unable to land at Guangzhou so they diverted us to Haikou China. That was OK for the passengers that had Chinese Visas, but all other 24 international passengers were detained and told we must purchase a Chinese visa which could only be paid by cash in RMB (Chinese money) which none of us had, they wouldn't accept credit cards or any other currency. We weren't allowed in or out of the airport without a Visa to obtain RMB and they couldn't exchange money where we were being held, for hours they kept saying you must pay for Visa with Chinese money. So it was a catch 22. The immigration people hardly spoke a word of English, they took our passports off us & we were there for about 6 hours while they tried to figure out what to do with us. Finally they found someone that spoke a little English and our airline organised and paid for a temporary Visa for us, at 3.30am they popped us in a bus and put us up in a hotel for 2 hours. Collected us at 5.30 am and took us back to the airport flew us back to Guangzhou and from there back to Australia (or to what ever country we were going to) all courtesy of the Airline, however the language barrier was quite an ordeal and it took many hours each step of the way to organise it all.

  • 1
    I don't know what to do with this answer. Am I really supposed to believe that a Chinese international airline has no English speaking personnel?
    – motoDrizzt
    Jun 6, 2017 at 11:00
  • 3
    @motoDrizzt At an airport that sees very little traffic from English speaking countries? I would believe it. May 21, 2020 at 2:09

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