Airline apologises to Sikh designer barred from flight due to turban

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Feb 10, 2016 14:54 IST
Fashion designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia was asked to remove his turban during a security check at the Mexico City International Airport on Monday. His post on Instagram asking for an apology from the airline soon went viral. (REUTERS)

A Mexican airline on Tuesday issued an apology to Waris Ahluwalia, a well known Indian American Sikh designer and actor, for stopping him from boarding their flight on Monday because of his turban.

Ahluwalia, who made headlines in a GAP ad in 2013, had posted an image of his Aeromexico boarding pass on Instagram on Monday after being denied permission to board a flight from Mexico City to New York. Social media picked it up and turned the issue into a campaign, following Ahluwalia’s lead calling for education. He later refused to be flown home by the airline unless they apologised.

“We are a global airline that operates flights in different countries throughout the world and proudly embrace and recognize the diversity of our passengers,” Aermexico said in its apology, adding that they were working on ensuring compliance with safety standards “while respecting and valuing the culture and beliefs of our customers” .

Ahluwalia welcomed the airline’s apology. “We’ve gotten the apology and I’m grateful, and thanks to them for doing that,” he said.

The designer said he is now waiting for Aeromexico to implement special training on how to treat Sikh passengers, for whom the headgear carries religious significance.

“We’re just a few steps away from a lot of hugs,” he told The Associated Press.

Ahluwalia posed a three-point demand to the airline for agreeing to be put on another flight home, according to the Sikh Coalition an advocacy group.

(Ahluwalia’s Instagram account)

“I realize that this isn’t about my convenience or getting home for lunch today,” he told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “I realize that if I walk away, somebody else was going to go through this experience again.”

According to reports, Ahluwalia was put through an extra round of screening where his bag was searched, and he was patted down and asked to remove a sweatshirt he was wearing.

The security guard then asked him to remove his turban, which he refused. “I responded matter-of-factly that I won’t be taking off my turban,” Ahluwalia told the New York Times.

“And then they talked amongst themselves and they said, ‘O.K., then you are not getting on the flight.’ ”

Aeromexico on Monday night said that it is “obliged to comply with the federal rules determined by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for inspecting selected passengers travelling to the United States.”

However, US guidelines put into effect in 2010 no longer require air passengers to remove turbans if doing so makes them uncomfortable.

Sikh men are routinely subjected to extensive and intrusive screening at US airports, even for domestic flights. A former Indian Permanent Representative to the UN wasn’t spared either.

This has little to do with their being Sikh. Most times they are subjected to the treatment because they are mistaken for West Asians, specially men, who also use similar headgear.

A Sikh owner of a gas station became the first victim of the 9/11 backlash when he was shot dead by a man who wanted to avenge the attacks just four days after the Twin Towers were brought down in New York.

Ahluwalia’s GAP ad was defaced, also in New York, with anti-Muslim graffiti. Someone wrote “Make Bombs” on it, a take on the ad campaign’s slogan, “Make Love.”

The 41-year-old known for his House of Waris jewellery line also acts. He was recently seen in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

(With inputs from agencies)

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