Somali-Canadian forced off flight from Toronto to Paris because his plane's route was through U.S. airspace

January 30, 2017, 6:46pm

A Canadian citizen originally from Somalia was forced to leave an Air France flight from Toronto to Paris on Friday evening because it would “overfly the United States (and its territorial waters),” according to a letter from the airline given to the passenger that night.

Somalia is one of the seven Muslim-majority countries named in the immigration and visa ban, as part of the executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. The passenger was not planning to go through a U.S. airport on his trip; he initially flew to Toronto from Ottawa, and his final destination was Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.


The letter provided to the passenger by Air France, which VICE News obtained, advised that he call the American consulate in Toronto for more information. A spokesperson for Air France declined to comment, citing the company’s policy not to divulge passenger information.

The order signed by President Trump does not mention prohibiting citizens of Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering U.S. airspace or territorial waters. An official at the Department of Homeland Security told VICE News that “there’s nothing in the executive order that relates to air space and there was no guidance that went out that would’ve applied to this situation.” The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

It isn’t unusual for airlines to check passenger manifests with the governments of other countries. However, the incident highlights the messy and inconsistent rollout of Trump’s executive order, and the confusion among airlines on how to comply with it.

The passenger, who requested anonymity to speak with VICE News out of concern for his ability to travel, said that Air France was trying to get him clearance to board the flight, but that “the American government did not want to get rushed.”

The passenger, who lives in Ottawa, is married to an American citizen. A representative at the U.S. consulate in Toronto declined to comment, saying it was closed because of ongoing protests outside the building. The consulate suspended services on Monday ahead of planned demonstrations against Trump’s refugee and immigration bans.

On Monday evening, after driving to Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, the passenger was slated to fly on a different Air France flight to Paris, which would put him at his destination three days later than planned.

“At the end of the day, as long as they clear me, it’s fine now they’ve had their time to do their due diligence,” he told VICE News earlier on Monday. “I was there at the wrong place, wrong time.”

Across the U.S., journalists, lawyers, and advocacy organizations have struggled to get clarity as to which people are being detained by Customs and Border Patrol, and why they are being held. For example on Saturday, a DHS official said that the visa ban extended to lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders) from the countries affected by the order. On Sunday, White House aides walked that policy back, although the extent of their policy shift remains unclear.