On Monday, Waris Ahluwalia—a prominent New York model, actor, and jewelry designer—noticed that his AeroMexico boarding pass had four S’s, which meant he’d be subject to a second screening at the Mexico City International Airport as he was ready to depart back to New York to attend Fashion Week. This was no shock to Ahluwalia who told BuzzFeed News that he’s usually singled out at airports.
“It’s amazing how many times I’ve been randomly selected,” the actor explained.
But this time, it was different.
Ahluwalia rose to fame in 2013 when he became the first Sikh man to model for a Gap ad. He also starred in critically acclaimed films “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” so his face is instantly recognizable to people around the world—except in the Mexico City International airport, apparently.
Security only saw one thing: his turban.
Ahluwalia got through the first layer of security without any issue, but then was asked to step over and go through an additional layer at the boarding gate itself. They then proceeded to make the actor wait until everyone else had boarded the plane before they conducted a second check on him which included going through his personal bag, making him remove his sweatshirt and shoes and then performed a full-body check. The last thing they asked Ahluwalia was to remove his turban.
Anyone who is familiar with the Sikh religion understands that Sikhs can ONLY remove their turbans within the privacy of their own homes, as Ahluwalia explained to security.
“I said, ‘That’s not going to happen,” Ahluwalia told BuzzFeed. “They talked amongst themselves in Spanish, and then an airline official came up to me and said I will not be flying on any AeroMexico flights and will have to book myself on another flight.”
TSA protocol says that anyone who wears something covering their head MAY be asked to undergo a full-body pat-down or even be asked to remove the covering in a private screening area. However, according to the Sikh Coalition, Sikhs have the right to refuse to take off their turbans in public.
It was then that Ahluwalia and the Sikh Coalition demanded a PUBLIC apology from the airline in a tweet with three particular demands that soon went viral. The three demands were the following:
1) A public apology form AeroMexico.
2) Sikh awareness training for airport security.
3) Training on how to screen passengers with religious headwear.
In an moment of déjà vu, Ahluwalia actually portrayed a character in a similar bind in the Denzel Washington hit film “Inside Man” years ago. Ahluwalia’s character was being interrogated by some NYPD officers, and they questioned the turban.
“I’m not talking to anybody without a turban. It’s part of my religion to cover my head in respect to God. I’m a Sikh,” he replied in the film.
On Monday evening, AeroMexico complied to Ahluwalia’s wishes and issued a public apology after the actor refused to leave the city until they made the statement.
“We apologize to Mr. Waris Ahluwalia for the unfortunate experience he encountered with one of our security guards during the boarding process of his flight to New York at the Mexico City International Airport,” the apology reads. “This incident inspires us to make sure that our safety personnel strengthens its customer service protocols with full respect for the cultural and religious values of our customers.”
This wasn’t the first time he had been subjected to scrutiny by Mexican security.
“In September, I had the SSSS on my boarding pass,” Ahluwalia told BuzzFeed. “They created a little box for me next to the boarding gate, sort of like I was a monkey.”
Hopefully AeroMexico makes good on their promise and trains their security on how to properly screen people of different religions.
“I’m not angry,” the actor assured. “Let’s just make that change so that no one else has to deal with anything like this again.”