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Turban-Wearing Sikh American Actor Is Barred From Aeromexico #WTFnews


Waris Ahluwalia said Aeroméxico prevented him from boarding a flight to New York because he refused to remove his turban affiliated with his Sikh faith. Creditvia Waris Ahluwalia 

An American actor and designer said he was barred from boarding a plane in Mexico on Monday for a flight home to New York because he refused to remove his turban during a security check.

The actor, Waris Ahluwalia, who follows the Sikh religion and wears a turban, said he checked in at the Aeroméxico counter at Mexico City’s international airport about 5:30 a.m. and was given his first-class boarding pass with a code that he said meant he needed secondary security screening.

When he showed up at the gate to board Flight 408 to New York City, Mr. Ahluwalia said, attendants told him he needed to step aside and wait for other passengers to board. After they did, his feet and bag were searched and swabbed, he was told to remove a sweatshirt and he was patted down. Then, he said, he was asked to take off his turban.

“I responded matter-of-factly that I won’t be taking off my turban,” he said in an interview Monday afternoon from the airport in Mexico City. “And then they talked amongst themselves and they said, ‘O.K., then you are not getting on the flight.’ ”

He said he was told by another airline security official that he would not be boarding any other Aeroméxico flight until he met their security demands.

“It is a symbol of my faith,” Mr. Ahluwalia said, explaining why he would not remove the turban. “It is something that I wear whenever I am in public.”

A statement released by the airline Monday said that Mr. Ahluwalia’s screening was in compliance with Transportation Security Administrationprotocol and that the airline had offered him alternatives to “reach his destination as soon as possible.”

It gave no further details but added that it regretted the inconvenience.

Mr. Ahluwalia, 41, who grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is an actor and a designer based in Manhattan known for his House of Waris jewelry line and other design work. He was recently nominated for best supporting actor by the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards for his role in a Canadian thriller, “Beeba Boys.” He also had roles in two films directed by Wes Anderson, “The Darjeeling Limited” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and in Spike Lee’s “Inside Man,” in which he played a character who was forced to remove his turban.

Mr. Ahluwalia is also a social activist who has campaigned for greater awareness of the Sikh religion. In 2013, he appeared as a model in a Gap “Make Love” advertisement that was posted in New York City subways and later defaced with racist graffiti.


Waris Ahluwalia in 2013.CreditCasey Kelbaugh for The New York Times 

On Monday, Mr. Ahluwalia shared parts of his airport security story on social media, publishing an image of his boarding pass on Instagram. The letter “S” was printed on it four times and encircled with a marker — symbols he said were meant to alert airline crew that a passenger must go through an extra security check.

Speaking from the first-class lounge about five hours after the episode, Mr. Ahluwalia said he had contacted the Sikh Coalition, a civil-rights group for American Sikhs, after he was told that he could not board and that his bag would be removed. Some earlier reports had indicated he had offered to remove the turban in a private room, but Mr. Ahluwalia later said that he had not made such an offer.

He was still at the airport more than 12 hours later. Mr. Ahluwalia said he planned to remain there as lawyers from the Sikh Coalition and Aeroméxico discussed the matter by telephone. He said he had no immediate plans to board another flight.

Sikh men wear the turban as a symbol of commitment to equality and social justice. Gurjot Kaur, a senior staff lawyer with the Sikh Coalition, said that the episode in Mexico City highlighted similar problems that men with beards, people with religious headwear and women in Islamic head coverings often encounter at airport security, where they are often unfairly associated with terrorism.

“It does play to the larger issue of profiling,” she said.

Ms. Kaur said the coalition had asked Aeroméxico’s lawyer for a public apology for Mr. Ahluwalia and a commitment for security personnel to undergo diversity training. She said she was speaking with the airline’s lawyer, John Barr. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mr. Ahluwalia said he was in Mexico to attend an art fair as a guest of L’Officiel magazine. He said he did not encounter similar scrutiny at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he boarded his Aeroméxico flight in New York last Tuesday.

Mr. Ahluwalia said it was not the first time that his turban had caused consternation. He said he had been questioned about the turban at airports in the United States and abroad but had never been denied access to a flight.

At some airports, however, he said he has had to “rub the turban,” while trying to hold a straight face, for security officials “and then put my hand in front of them, and they swab my hands.”

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