Feb 10

Sikh actor Waris Ahluwalia: Education must follow apology over turban incident

Sikh actor Waris Ahluwalia: ‘This is about education’ 05:05

Story highlights

  • Airline offers apology to Waris Ahluwalia over botched security screening
  • He says Aeromexico wouldn’t let him board a flight because of his turban
  • The designer and actor had roles in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Inside Man”
 (CNN)Waris Ahluwalia may make it back to New York in time for Fashion Week after all.

Two days after Aeromexico kicked the Indian-American actor and designer off a flight after he refused to remove his turban during a security screening, the airline and the Sikh celebrity appear to have reached an agreement.

Ahluwalia has accepted an apology from the airline, and Aeromexico has pledged to improve its training for how to screen passengers with religious headwear, the Sikh Coalition said.

That means Ahluwalia, who’d been staying in Mexico City until his demands over the situation had been met, will be heading back to New York on a flight Wednesday, according to the coalition, which is representing Ahluwalia.

Ahluwalia said Aeromexico staff and security screeners told him Monday to buy a ticket on a different airline after he refused to remove the turban he wears as part of his faith.

Aeromexico offered an apology Tuesday, saying it “recognizes and is proud of the diversity of its passengers.”

“We apologize to Mr. Waris Ahluwalia for the bad experience he went through with one of our security personnel,” Aeromexico said in a statement.

The airline said it works to maintain strong security measures while respecting its passengers’ cultures and beliefs.

But Ahluwalia said those who wear turbans shouldn’t face discrimination. Travelers should be taken into a private area if they’re asked to remove their turban, he said, as required by the policy of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Aeromexico’s apology “is a brilliant first step” but “there is a lack of understanding,” Ahluwalia told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

He thanked the airline for its apology, but called the gesture “past-looking” and that he wants to talk about “steps in the future.”

The actor had said he would remain in Mexico until there was dialogue with Aeromexico bosses about training their staff.

“Really, this is about education, about education of the Sikh religion, but also of other religions, and this is not just about me or Sikhs,” he said.

Aeromexico has “issued a directive to its staff regarding the religious significance of the Sikh turban,” the Sikh Coalition tweeted Tuesday night.

The airline plans to make a formal request to the TSA and the Mexican government to implement religious and diversity sensitivity training, according to the coalition.

“I was upset, I had anxiety, I was shaking, I did not speak,” Ahluwalia told CNN. “And then I realized, clearly, they have not been trained properly. I knew yelling will not do anything. It is about education and the policy.”

And so, days after he posted about fresh papayas and famed artist Frida Kahlo, Ahluwalia started sharing photos about his security screening.

Ahluwalia — whose acting career has included roles in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Inside Man” — drew attention to his plight on social media, posting a photo of what he said was his canceled plane ticket.

The Sikh turban: At once personal and extremely public

Sikh men have worn turbans since 1699 when the last living guru bestowed a unique Sikh identity based on five articles of faith. Among them were a steel bracelet signifying a reality with no beginning or end, a sword representing resolve and justice, and unshorn hair as a gift of God and a declaration of humility.

Some Sikh men don’t wear turbans and beards; others say they stopped after being mistaken for Muslims and being targeted after 9/11.

Losing the Turban: Indian Sikhs at odds on essentials

‘We have to be vigilant’

Ahluwalia said he has had brushes with bigotry before. In 2013, a Gap holiday ad with him drew widespread attention after someone defaced it in a New York subway station.

“Make Love” was crossed out to read “Make Bombs.” Beneath that, someone scrawled, “Please stop driving TAXIS.”

The company was quick to replace the ad and double down on its campaign, making the photo its background image on Twitter and Facebook and releasing a statement saying Gap “is a brand that celebrates inclusion and diversity.”

A 2013 Gap ad with Ahluwalia was defaced at a New York subway station.

That “was a great example for corporate responsibility,” Ahluwalia said, “but this is the exact opposite of that.”

“I didn’t ask to be a public face or voice of a religion. Sikhs have been in (the United States) for over 125 years,” he said. “I just want to make and create art.”

But Ahluwalia said he knew he needed to take a stand.

“I’m not sitting here angry at Aeromexico. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes,” he said. “But what makes us different is how we collect and respond and react to the mistakes we make. They did not know. I cannot blame them for that, but ignorance and fear is the flag humans carry, and we have to be vigilant to fight that.”