YOU’RE PROBABLY FAMILIAR WITH WARIS AHLUWALIA. He’s a favorite actor of director Wes Anderson, and has appeared in The Life Aquatic: With Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. He also had a role in the Spike Lee heist movie Inside Man. If you don’t know him from his acting you might know him from his fashion design, House of Waris, or his viral gap ad.
Aeromexico, on the other hand, seemed fixated on something else: Ahluwalia, who was flying from Mexico City back to New York on Monday, is an Indian-American, is a Sikh, and he wears a turban. Ahluwalia is used to receiving extra scrutiny in airport security lines because of how he looks — which, in itself, is appalling — but when Aeromexico searched him, they insisted Ahluwalia take off his turban. He refused.
“A group of Aeromexico employees spoke among themselves in Spanish,” Ahluwalia told The Washington Post and then one guy came back to me wearing an orange vest over a suit and said, ‘You will not be flying Aeromexico and you will need to book a flight on another airline.’”
According to US rules, TSA employees are required to offer a private room in which Sikh flyers can take off their turbans, which are symbols of piety, self-respect, and obedience to the founders of the Sikh faith.
Unable to board the plane, Ahluwalia started posting about it on social media, which caused a viral firestorm. Aeromexico quickly offered him another ticket, saying that he wouldn’t have to take off his turban, but Ahluwalia refused, saying he wanted an apology and a promise to better train airline employees as to how to sensitively work with Sikh passengers in the future.
The airline apologized, and appears to have made that promise.
“We apologize to Mr. Waris Ahluwalia for the bad experience he had with one of our security elements while boarding his 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.” They have since issued a directive to their employees regarding Sikh turbans.
“I’m not sitting here angry at Aeromexico. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes,” Ahluwalia told CNN, “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.”
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