On September 25, 2011 i flew from Mexico City (MMMX) to Frankfurt, Germany (EDDF).

It was a comfortable night flight in a Boeing 747 until we started to fly over the Gulf of Mexico in holding pattern.

After some time, the passengers started to ask what was happening and the cabin crew told, that everything was fine.

After more time the flight crew told, that the United States airspace was denied to our flight and that the crew was doing everything possible to arrive to Frankfurt on time, including the request of permission to Lufthansa central for changing the route adding a refueling stop somewhere.

We threw 18 tons of fuel over the Gulf of Mexico and returned to Mexico City airport.

Mexican federal police entered to the cabin and peacefully took some passengers out.

The airplane was quickly refueled and because the long runway was under a routine maintenance, we had to wait a lot inside the plane.

People got crazy, some passengers were worried about losing connections with other airlines. On the second attempt the airspace was granted and landed in Frankfurt with around 4 hours delay.

Why can US deny airspace to commercial flights?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Related, maybe even a dupe $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 17:07

4 Answers 4


Every country regulates its airspace. You will find the ones for the US airspace on the FAA website.


What went wrong is speculation, but most probably had to do with Advance Passenger Information System (APIS). When filing a flightplan the passenger list is transmitted and the request for overflight was obviously denied.


Overflight privileges are part of what is known as freedoms of the air. In this case it would be the 1st freedom of the air, which is overflight without landing. These freedoms are negotiated between nations by treaties. In this case it would be a treaty with Germany, since it was a German airline. It's most likely a treaty with the EU, which Germany is part of.

I don't know the specifics of the treaty with the EU, but they certainly have 3rd and 4th freedoms. I can't imagine they wouldn't have 1st freedom rights. I'm sure aircraft have to meet certain requirements, but that wouldn't likely be the problem. The treaties will also allow for each country to ban specific flights or airlines. This often happens when an airline has numerous safety violations, but once again, it was Lufthansa, so that's not likely either. There are probably stipulations in the treaty as to certain passengers for security risks, etc. Since they removed passengers it obviously had something to do with those specific passengers. They may have been on a US no fly list or something. No way to tell.


By the Convention of Chicago, each ICAO member State

A. Is sovereign for its airspace, in accordance with article 1:

The contracting States recognize that every State has a complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory.

B. Has the possibility to limit its airspace access to commercial aviation in any way deemed necessary, in accordance with article 9 (b):

Each contracting State reserves also the right, in exceptional circumstances or during a period of emergency, or in the interest of public safety, and with immediate effect, temporarily to restrict or prohibit flying over the whole or any part of its territory, on condition that such restriction or prohibition shall be applicable without distinction of nationality to aircraft of all other States.

This convention was signed in 1944 and, with its 19 annexes, is the base for commercial aviation all over the world.

See more on Wikipedia: Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation


Obviously the "removed passengers" were on some kind of US "no-fly" list at a bare minimum. Possibly they might have been on some US "wanted" list, who knows? All nations retain the right to say who can and who can't fly through their airspace. Nothing new here. Next time the Mexicans will probably be a bit more careful about who they let fly through US airspace, obviously.

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    $\begingroup$ It seems unlikely that it's because some of the passengers were wanted in the US. If that was the case, the US would be delighted if the plane overflew them and had to make an unscheduled landing on US soil. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ I'm curious why the US would care about someone on an overflight being on a no-fly list so long as they didn't land in the US - if they're worried about hijackers, they should note that it's just as possible for a plane to be hijacked outside the US and then flown into it. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 4:17

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