The airline that prevented designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia from boarding a plane has publicly apologized.
Aeroméxico refused to allow the well-known Sikh American onboard his flight home to New York from Mexico City on Monday morning after asking him to remove his turban, according to Ahluwalia. He had offered to remove his turban in a private screening room, but was denied that request and told to book another flight, he said.
Ahluwalia, who was scheduled to appear at New York Fashion Week, will be staying in Mexico until the airline takes appropriate measures to accommodate his civil rights, he said. The Sikh Coalition, which has been handling all press for Ahluwalia, posted demands for a public apology from the airline, as well as “Sikh awareness training for airport security, and training on how to screen passengers with religious headwear.”
Aeroméxico responded on Tuesday afternoon with a statement apologizing.
“Aeroméxico is a global airline that has operations in countries around the world, which recognizes and is proud of the diversity of its passengers. Every day we work to ensure strict compliance with the highest safety standards, while we respect and value the culture and beliefs of our customers," the airline said in the statement. "We apologize to Mr. Waris Ahluwalia for the bad experience he had with one of our security elements in addressing your 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.”
Ahluwalia told NBC News that while he thanked Aeroméxico for the apology, it is only the first step of a larger conversation.
"The apology is great, but it’s past-looking," Ahluwalia said. "We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, so we have to be forward-looking."
The next steps for Ahluwalia and the Sikh Coalition are to establish training for airport employees. "The training assures no one will have to go through this, whether that person is Jewish, Muslim, Greek Orthodox Christian, anyone with head attire," Ahluwalia said. "It’s just something no one should have to face and I think we can get there together.Who can say no to education, to training? It’s a really simple request."
Gurjot Kaur, the senior staff attorney for the Sikh Coalition, responded to the airline's apology as well, telling NBC News, "We appreciate Aeromexico's apology and hope they will stand by their offer to learn from this incident and commit to providing diversity training to their staff. We are engaged in lengthy conversations with their legal counsel, and are eager to work with Aeromexico to move forward from this matter, and ensure the religious rights of all travelers are respected at Mexico City International Airport security checkpoints."
Ahluwalia also noted that the problem extends beyond the airline. "The issue is not just Aeroméxico here. They were trying to follow the TSA instructions to what they thought were a T, and there's confusion as to what those are," he said.
He added that the conversation will continue with the TSA in order to address the larger fundamental problems of clarity and transparency within the organization.
"They need to be clearer. There needs to be some conversation," Ahluwalia said. "Why am I on a list? I’m an actor and designer. Are we going backwards? Is McCarthy running for President? It’s not random — I get it all the time. For me to have to endure this every time is a bit ridiculous."
Despite what he's been through, Ahluwalia remains positive about using his case as a teaching moment. "Every time something like this happens, it’s an opportunity to show tolerance, to show understanding, which all comes under the umbrella of this thing called love," he said. "The most important thing to realize through all the madness and craziness and TSA regulations is that as a people, we can’t just look at organizations and institutions to guide how to behave. That creates a problem. We each have to take responsibility."
He added, "It takes each of us to realize we have the power to bring light into the world. If each one of us starts our day brushing our teeth, looking in the mirror, realizing we are love and light, that we are the manifestation of that, we can create change...It’s not done through corporations. It’s not done through countries. Change is done through individuals."