Viktor (Tom Hanks) plans to visit New York. When he lands in JFK airport, officials tell him that he visa has been cancelled. Apparently, during the time he was flying to the US, his country Krokozia was in the middle of a political coup. The President and other leaders had been murdered by rebel forces. There was a new government in place and all travelling rights had been suspended by this new government. The US could not let Viktor into New York until his country was reclassified - and a Visa reissued.
Since Viktor wasn't eligible for any refugee status or hadn't a committed a crime the airport officials couldn't send him home nor let him into New York. He was classified as "unacceptable" and had to stay in the international transit area. He was given food vouchers, but he lost them. He had no food. His English was poor too, so no one really helped him. He studied the airport system and found that if he returned push carts, he would get quarters out of the machine. He was able to feed himself for a while, but then the airport official hired some guy to return all the carts. The airport official was inline for a promotion and didn't want Viktor in his airport during inspection. He told Viktor the times when the guards would be off duty in hopes that Viktor would make a run for the door into New York. He could then call the police and Viktor would no longer be his problem.
Viktor stayed and made a few friends with all the airport staff and the people working in the stores. He lived in the airport for 9 months almost and met Catherine Zeta Jones, a airline stewardess. During those 9 months, Viktor managed to find a construction job with contractors building a new wing to JFK. He and Catherine Zeta Jones went on a few dates, but Catherine had a boyfriend. The boyfriend was married but they were both on and off.
Viktor always had a can of peanuts with him. The airport official was curious to see if he was smuggling something illegal. They sought the help of Zeta-Jones and found out the it held signed business/name cards. In 1945, his father had meet a bunch of people at some sort of gathering. In the next 40 years, he wrote letters to all these different people to have them sign a name card and sent it to him. Before he died he had collected all but one.
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