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Sikh Actor Barred From Boarding Plane for Wearing Turban, Rejects Return Flight to NYC

“I’m really lucky on my ‘random’ selection.”

Image via Instagram/Waris Ahluwalia

Sikh movie star, model and fashion designer Waris Ahluwalia spent Monday night in Mexico after refusing a return flight to New York City. Earlier in the day, the Mexican airline Aeromexico had barred Ahluwalia from boarding a flight because he refused to remove his turban at a security checkpoint.

“I’d love to get home and be home and see my family,” Ahluwalia told New York Daily News Monday evening. “But if this happened to me — and I know it’s happened to many other people — what’s to stop it from happening again?”

Ahluwalia, who was headed back home to New York for Fashion Week, shared on social media that he might be late to the festivities.

"Don't start the show without me," he wrote in a separate Instagram post.

The 41-year-old jewelry designer behind House of Waris said he would decline a trip home until Aeromexico issued an official apology for demanding that he publicly remove the turban he wears for religious reasons even though it never triggered a metal detector.

“This isn’t about me,” Ahluwalia told the Daily News. “This isn’t about one person or about religious tolerance. This is about civil rights and racial profiling and if I have to be a part of that dialogue, I will be.”

The actor and designer was trying to board his Aeromexico flight Monday at 7:15 a.m. when the incident prompted him to change his plans. When the news of what had happened to Ahluwalia reached New York, fashion world reps and fans rallied on social media to voice support:

Ahluwalia said security officers singled him out in a supposedly “random” search because of his religious headwear. They labeled his boarding pass "SSSS," a code signifying that a passenger must undergo thorough pat-downs and have their belongings swabbed for explosive residue.

Though metal detector wand used at the checkpoint never went off, airport security personnel still asked Ahluwalia to remove his turban regardless. He asked if he could be taken to a private area so that he wouldn’t have to publicly remove the headwear but was denied.

“(Removing the turban) 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.”

The “SSSS” designation is supposedly random, but Ahluwalia was not buying it.

“I’ve had the magic ‘SSSS’ before,” he said. “I’m really lucky on my ‘random’ selection.”

Aeromexico initially responded Monday by claiming that it had not violated the Ahluwalia's civil rights and claimed it was operating "in strict compliance with TSA protocol,” but security officials have since said that the rules do not require Sikhs to remove their turbans.

"It's quite unfortunate that they've decided to pace the blame on policy," he said. "All I'm trying to do is have a conversation with them and say, 'Hey, let's figure this out.' If we approach this the right way, only good can come of this, so it doesn't happen again.

Ahluwalia filed a discrimination claim with Mexican officials, but had yet to hear from the government as of Tuesday. He has also requested that Aeroméxico apologize and train its employees in how to handle all turban-wearing travelers, not just Sikhs.

Later Monday evening, the airline offered an official apology.

"We apologize to Mr. Waris Ahluwalia for the negative experience he had with an aviation security agent in Mexico City," the statement read. "We are following through to ensure that all aviation security providers will receive reinforced training to cover the cultural and religious values of all our customers."

Born in Amritsar, India, Ahluwalia has lived in the U.S. since he moved to Brooklyn with his family at age 5.

“I’m from a little town called NYC,” said the actor, who has appeared in three Wes Anderson films and the Spike Lee’s, "Inside Man." “And the people from my town are quite resilient. I’m not taking this personally, but this is an opportunity to spark some change.”

Ahluwalia's scene in "Inside Man" actually depicts the type of treatment the actor said he experienced during Monday’s security check. In the movie, set in New York, Ahluwalia gets aggressively interrogated by police who see his turban and assume he’s a terrorist.

“What happened to my f***ing civil rights?” he rails at the officers. “I go to the airport, I can’t go through security without a ‘random’ selection.”

(Content warning: profanity)

(H/T: New York Daily News)

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