Sikh American designer, model and actor Waris Ahluwalia was prevented from flying home to New York City on an Aeromexico flight Monday when he refused to remove his turban. Now, Ahluwalia says he’s staying put in Mexico until he gets an apology and the airline agrees to institute training on how to screen passengers who wear religious headgear.
Ahluwalia, a prominent Indian-American known for his sense of style and his appearance in several Wes Anderson films, said he went through two comprehensive security screenings at the airport in Mexico City on Monday before boarding his New York-bound flight. After the screenings, he thought he was ready to board — but then security personnel asked him to remove his turban, religious headgear that Sikh men are required to wear.
When Ahluwalia refused, he was told he could not board the flight.
“A group of Aeromexico employees spoke among themselves in Spanish and then one guy came back to me wearing an orange vest over a suit and said, ‘You will not be flying Aeromexico and you will need to book a flight on another airline,’” Ahluwalia, 41, told the Washington Post.
That’s when Ahluwalia took to social media to let his thousands of Instagram followers know what was happening to him. “I was told I could not board my @aeromexico flight to NYC because of my turban,” he wrote on Instagram.
Aeromexico officials said on Monday that they had not violated Ahluwalia’s civil rights because they were acting “in strict compliance with TSA protocol.” But security officials say that does not require Sikhs to actually remove their turbans to get through airport screening.
"It's quite unfortunate that they've decided to place the blame on policy," Ahluwalia told the New York Daily News. "All I'm trying to do is have a conversation with them and say, 'Hey, let's figure this out.' If we approach this the right way, only good can come of this, so it doesn't happen again.
— Sikh Coalition (@sikh_coalition) February 8, 2016
The former Gap model -- he became the first Sikh to ever appear in a Gap ad, several years ago -- said he filed a discrimination claim with Mexican authorities. He was told he could fly home to New York, where he is expected at several New York Fashion Week events, on a different airline, but he’s refusing. He says he wants the airline to apologize and institute training for screening of Sikh and other turban-clad passengers. Until then, he’s staying put. The Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization, shared his demands in a tweet on Monday.
“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.”