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."


Latest Entertainment News

  • Aretha Franklin cancels concerts due to doctor's orders

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK - Aretha Franklin is cancelling two upcoming concerts on doctor's orders. The Queen of Soul's management team says in a statement Friday that Franklin will not perform March 25 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey. Source
  • Hedley singer Jacob Hoggard investigated by Toronto police

    Entertainment CTV News
    Toronto police are investigating Hedley frontman Jacob Hoggard after a series of sexual misconduct allegations surfaced. No charges have been laid and police will not reveal what allegations they are probing. Toronto police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray confirmed that the Sex Crimes Unit is involved in the ongoing investigation. Source
  • Canadian DJ Datsik cancels tour amid sexual misconduct allegations

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- Electronic musician Datsik has cancelled his upcoming shows after multiple sexual misconduct allegations were levelled against him by anonymous users on social media. The Kelowna, B.C., native issued a statement on Facebook saying he planned to back out of his scheduled performances, which included stops in Toronto and Laval, Que. Source
  • 'I hope to be back with more stories to tell:' actor Irrfan Khan diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumour

    Entertainment CBC News
    Indian actor Irrfan Khan, whose roles in Hollywood films such as Slumdog Millionaire, The Amazing Spider-Man and Life of Pi have brought him fame, has been diagnosed with a tumour and is travelling overseas for treatment, he said on Friday. Source
  • Bollywood singer Daler Mehndi sentenced to jail after human trafficking conviction

    Entertainment CBC News
    A popular Indian pop singer was convicted of human trafficking and cheating Friday by a court that found he took money to pretend people were in his performance troupe so they could get jobs in North America. Source
  • Sean Bean on his many deaths and 'Game of Thrones' legacy

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Sean Bean is as famous for his rugged looks and thick northern British accent as the many creative ways in which he dies onscreen. He's been stabbed, shot, chased off a cliff, tossed off a satellite dish, beheaded, exploded, killed by arrows, and drawn and quartered in everything from the Bond movie "Goldeneye" to "Game of Thrones" and "The Lord of the Rings. Source
  • Neil Young is writing a sci-fi novel called 'Canary'

    Entertainment CTV News
    The Canadian musician, who currently stars in the film "Paradox," told Rolling Stone magazine that he is working on a science-fiction novel called "Canary." The novel is about a power company worker who discovers corruption in his firm and wants to expose it. Source
  • Popular Indian singer convicted of trafficking jobseekers to America

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW DELHI -- A popular Indian pop singer was convicted of human trafficking and cheating Friday by a court that found he took money to pretend people were in his performance troupe so they could get jobs in North America. Source
  • Movie reviews: 'Tomb Raider' reshapes Lara Croft character

    Entertainment CTV News
    TOMB RAIDER: 3 STARS The last time we saw archaeologist-adventurer Lara Croft on the big screen she looked like Angelina Jolie and was seen dunking a bad guy into a pool of acid, dissolving him and saving the world in the process. Source
  • Quebecor decides to not meet bid in Just For Laughs sale

    Entertainment CTV News
    MONTREAL - Quebecor Media has chosen to not exercise its right of first refusal in the sale of Just For Laughs, the comedy company said Thursday. A deal between the two firms gave the Montreal-based media conglomerate 12 days to make an offer equal to that of any potential competitor in the sale of Just For Laughs. Source