Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh-American actor, model and designer has been barred from boarding a flight from Mexico City to New York after he refused to remove his turban during a security check, drawing swift condemnation from the fashion community.
Ahluwalia, 41, based in Manhattan, said he checked in at Aeromexico airline’s counter at Mexico City’s international airport about 5:30 am yesterday and was given his first-class boarding pass with code ‘SSSS’ that he said meant that he needed secondary security screening.
“This morning in Mexico City I was told I could not board my @aeromexico flight to NYC because of my turban,” Ahluwalia, who appeared in the Oscar-nominated film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and the US television series ‘The Carrie Diaries’, wrote on his Instagram account, uploading a photo of himself holding up his now-useless plane ticket of Mexico’s largest airline.
When Ahluwalia showed up at the gate to board Flight 408 to New York City, attendants told him he needed to step aside and wait for other passengers to board.
His feet and bag were searched and swabbed. He was told to remove his sweatshirt and was patted down, the New York Times reported.
Then, he said, he was asked to take off his turban.
“I responded…That I won’t be taking off my turban,” he said in an interview from the airport in Mexico City. “And then they talked amongst themselves and they said, ‘OK, 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 Aeromexico flight until he met their security demands.
“It is a symbol of my faith,” Ahluwalia said, explaining why he would not remove the turban. “It is something that I wear whenever I am in public.”
Ahluwalia said he would not board a plane back to New York until the airline makes a public apology and airport security personnel get Sikh awareness training and better training on how to screen passengers with religious headwear.
A spokesman for the airline told CNN that Ahluwalia “was asked to submit to a screening and inspection before boarding, in strict compliance with TSA protocol.”
“We have offered the passenger (two) alternatives to reach his destination as soon as possible,” spokesman Amilcar Olivares said. “We sincerely regret any inconvenience caused by this incident.”
Ahluwalia alleged that the airline changed its tune after he made the situation public and acknowledged that they have offered him the chance to get on other flights.
The incident drew swift condemnation on social media and from the head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Steven Kolb described the situation as “outrageous” and described Ahluwalia as “overall the nicest guy in our industry.