This Sikh Actor Says He Was Banned From A Flight Because Of His Turban

Photo: Gareth Cattermole/ Getty Images.
A famous actor and designer's experience with airport security is bringing attention to the discrimination that remains all too present for members of the Sikh religion.

Waris Ahluwalia, known for his House of Waris jewelry line and roles in films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, was supposed to fly from Mexico City to New York City on Monday. But he says he was prevented from boarding his Aeroméxico flight because of his turban.

"Dear NYC fashion week. I may be a little late as @aeromexico won't let me fly with a turban," Ahluwalia wrote in an Instagram post. New York Fashion Week begins on Feb. 10.

Ahluwalia told the New York Daily News that he was told he "will need to book another flight" after he refused to take off his turban during a security screening. Doing so would go against his Sikh faith. Followers of the centuries-old religion, which originated in the Punjab region of India, are required to wear a turban.

"That is not something that I would do in public,” he told the Daily News. “That’s akin to asking someone to take off their clothes.”

Even his request to move the screening to a private room was denied, he told New York magazine in an interview. Ahluwalia took his grievances to Instagram, posting updates from the airport. The posts have amassed thousands of likes and comments in just a day.

The airline offered Ahluwalia a seat on another flight, but he turned it down, according to New York magazine. He said he planned to stay in Mexico until the airline issued a public apology and agreed to more sensitivity training.

"At that point, it was too little, too late," he said. "I realized in that moment that the problem was that if I got on that plane, this could not only happen again but would happen again."

The Sikh Coalition, a civil rights group aiding Ahluwalia, has also been calling for more action from the airline. The organization has long been campaigning to end racial and religious discrimination faced by Sikhs at airports, even launching a mobile app allowing users to report incidents here in the United States.

Aeroméxico, meanwhile, issued a statement apologizing to Ahluwalia "for the bad experience he had with one of our security elements in addressing your flight to New York in the Mexico City International Airport."

"This case motivates us to ensure that security personnel strengthen its care protocols, always respecting the cultural and religious values of customers," the statement read.

Refinery29 has reached out to Ahluwalia and the Sikh Coalition for interview requests. Check back for updates.

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