AeroMexico barred Sikh designer Waris Ahluwalia from boarding plane because he was wearing a turban.
Waris Ahluwalia, the Sikh American actor and designer, was not permitted to board an AeroMexico flight due to his turban. He had a valid ticket and wanted to board the flight from Mexico City to New York. The actor subsequently shared a photo of the ticket to social media through Instagram. He hashtagged the photo #FearIsAnOpportunitytoEducate.
An AeroMexico spokesperson confirmed that Ahluwalia was not allowed to board the New York bound flight. The official said that the latter was requested to inspection and screening, as dictated by TSA protocol. The communication further mentioned that AeroMexico offered Ahluwalia a number of alternatives to reach New York as quickly as they can. The official went further and said that the airline regrets any kind of inconvenience caused as due to this particular incident.
Ahluwalia wrote that turban was the reason he could not board the AeroMexico flight. A number of organizations were quick to seize this opportunity. The Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF) released a statement where it criticized the airline for its actions. It expressed concern and disappointment that Ahluwalia was told to remove the turban before taking the flight. SALDEF noted that to any Sikh, the turban is a part of his identity. The removal of a turban is equal to a strip search. The communication stated that an apology must be tendered by all security personnel involved in the case. They also must be given appropriate training in religious and cultural awareness.
AeroMexico also posted a statement. It explained that its charter is to transport any and all passengers independent of their gender, religion or social status. It pointed out, however, that it must meet all federal safety requirements as stated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the United States. These requirements review all passengers traveling to the U.S. AeroMexico expressed its regrets concerning the passenger’s inconvenience when these procedures were being applied.
Ahluwalia is known for his prominent Make Love campaign for Gap stores. As a Sikh model, that was the first time he debuted in an advertisement which was exhibited all over the U.S. Racist graffiti soon defaced a few advertisements. In response, Gap quickly repaired the displays and used Ahluwalia's photograph in the company's Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In a statement released by Sikh Coalition, Ahluwalia said “My turban and beard represent my commitment to equality and justice.”
Eventually, AeroMexico realized their mistake and offered him a ticket, but Ahluwalia refused to take it. Ahluwalia is seeing this as an opportunity to ignite lasting change in how those with religious headwear are treated. “At this point,” he said, “I realize that this isn’t about my convenience or getting home for lunch today. I realize that if I walk away, somebody else was going to go through this experience again.”
He’s made three demands: 1. A public apology from AeroMexico, 2. Sikh awareness for airport security, 3. Training on how to screen passengers with religious headwear.
— Sikh Coalition (@sikh_coalition) February 8, 2016