Sikh actor barred from Mexico flight sees 'small victory'

MEXICO CITY -- An Indian-American actor and designer who was turned away from an airline flight after refusing to remove his Sikh turban during a security check said he's "thrilled" that Aeromexico is vowing to overhaul its screening protocols.

See Full Article

In an interview Tuesday night at a Mexico City hotel where he ended up extending his stay by two nights, Waris Ahluwalia also expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support on social media that he believes helped pressure airline executives to change and apologize.

Ahluwalia showed an excerpt from an email that he said came from Aeromexico. The text said the airline had "issued a directive to its staff regarding the religious significance of the Sikh turban" and planned to ask that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and the Mexican government implement sensitivity training on religious headwear for airport agents.

"That's all I wanted, and here it is in a few lines -- it's right there in black and white," he said. "I'm getting goosebumps right now that if this makes a difference for anyone travelling into the country or leaving the country, then it was all worth it."

He said the agreement had been worked out by lawyers for Aeromexico and the Sikh Coalition in New York and the deal had not yet been made public.

Aeromexico said earlier in the day that because of the incident it intended to revise security protocols to respect cultural and religious values of its customers.

The turban carries deep religious significance for Sikh men. Many members of the Sikh community have objected to the practice of frisking turbans, calling it unnecessary in a world with machines for body scanning and metal detection.

Ahluwalia, who had travelled to Mexico for an art fair, left his hotel around 4:30 a.m. Monday planning to catch a morning flight to New York. When he checked in he noticed the boarding pass had an "SSSS" notation on it, which he said he has encountered "more than a dozen times" before at airports and apparently flags passengers for secondary screening.

After passing through the security checkpoint, he said, he was pulled aside at the gate and checked with a wand, a pat-down, and swabs on his belt and bag.

"Then they asked me matter-of-factly, 'Can you take off your turban?"' Ahluwalia said. "At that point I said the thing that I always say when I've been asked that before. I said, 'I will not be taking my turban off here."'

Ahluwalia said he was then told he would not be boarding any Aeromexico plane and should arrange to fly with another carrier.

He turned to Instagram to let his followers know what had happened. Word spread rapidly on social media, and within about an hour airline executives tracked him down at the gate and offered him a boarding pass for the next flight to New York.

He declined, deciding to speak up as an actor and prominent member of the Sikh community to demand change.

"That was the moment I realized that if I didn't say anything, if I didn't do anything, if I didn't step out of my comfort zone, that this could happen again to someone" else, Ahluwalia said. "And I couldn't in good conscience get on that plane knowing that someone else would have to experience this."

He returned to the hotel.

That night, Aeromexico issued a statement saying it was "committed to transporting all its passengers without regard to their religion, social status or gender ... but the airline 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, U.S. guidelines put into effect in 2010 no longer require air passengers to remove turbans if doing so makes them uncomfortable.

On Tuesday, the airline issued a more explicit apology to Ahluwalia "for the unfortunate experience he had with one of our security guards during the boarding process prior to his flight."

Ahluwalia said he isn't angry with Aeromexico or the agents who turned him away.

"The only way to combat that is with love, is with tolerance, is with understanding and is with education," he said.

He noted he was booked to return home Wednesday on the same Aeromexico flight he was blocked from.

"The reality of the situation is that it could have happened anywhere -- and it has happened everywhere," Ahluwalia said. "It just so happened it went this far here."



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Larry David: My ‘Curb’ character is no Trump

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Larry David says the man he plays on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and President Donald Trump have nothing in common. David was promoting a new season of the HBO comedy at a TV critics’ meeting Wednesday when a reporter compared his blunt-spoken TV character, also named Larry David, and the president. Source
  • Ben Affleck and Matt Damon reunite for TV series

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are reuniting for a new TV project, titled City On A Hill. The actors, who worked together on docu-series Project Greenlight - in which they offered wannabe filmmakers the opportunity to realise their dreams, are executive producing the new series, which is inspired by an idea from Affleck and writer Chuck MacLean. Source
  • Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon to star in TV series

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Former TV sisters Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are joining forces again for a new series. The two stars, who played siblings on Friends, have signed on to star in an untitled show which will centre upon New York’s morning shows “and the larger New York media scene that they inhabit”. Source
  • Maria Bello joining 'NCIS'

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Actress Maria Bello has joined the cast of global TV hit NCIS as a regular. The former Prime Suspect and E.R. star will be introduced early in the upcoming 15th season of the show, which returns to TV at the end of September. Source
  • Warwick Davis, Ron Howard reunite for Han Solo spinoff

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Warwick Davis has reunited with director Ron Howard on the the upcoming Han Solo movie. The actor and Howard first worked together on 1988’s Willow and on Wednesday, the filmmaker revealed Warwick has a part in the new Star Wars spinoff. Source
  • Meg Ryan and John Mellencamp are back together: Report

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Meg Ryan and John Mellencamp have reportedly rekindled their romance. The You’ve Got Mail actress dated rocker Mellencamp for three years before the couple called it quits in August, 2014, parting on what appeared to be bad terms, and earlier this year, Mellencamp revealed Ryan wasn’t too fond of him because of the way he had acted in the relationship. Source
  • Elizabeth Hurley and David Foster dating: Report

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Elizabeth Hurley is reportedly dating songwriter and composer David Foster. The celebrated music producer split from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid, the mother of models Bella, Gigi and Anwar Hadid, in December 2015, and he has now reportedly moved on to a relationship with actress and model Hurley. Source
  • ‘The Emoji Movie’ review: It’s not evil, but it's 'meh'

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    There are five stages of grief in preparing to watch “The Emoji Movie.” The first is denial that this actually exists. The second is anger that now even storytelling has been reduced to those reductive blobs. The third is bargaining that, hey, they made “The Lego Movie” work against all odds so maybe some smart folks actually pulled this off. Source
  • N.S. Art Gallery says exhibit of Leibovitz portraits now up to photographer

    Entertainment CTV News
    HALIFAX -- It's all up to Annie Leibovitz now. Unless the famed American photographer personally signs off on an exhibit to display her iconic portraits, they will remain in storage at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Source
  • June Foray, voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, dead at 99

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- June Foray, who provided voices for Rocky the Flying Squirrel and characters in hundreds of classic cartoons, has died at age 99. Foray died Wednesday at West Hills Hospital in Los Angeles. Source