Canadian comedian asked to remove turban at U.S. airport
A Sikh Canadian comedian says he was asked to remove his turban at a San Francisco-area airport on Monday during a security check, and was then denied a request to have a mirror so he could put it back on.
Jasmeet Singh said he initially passed the first security screening at the airport, which involved a full-body scan in an X-ray machine, a guard using a hand-held metal detector to screen his body, and a swab test.
"After all those tests one of the agents told me I had to go do some extra screening," he told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. "They took me into a private room, and one of the agents said I needed to remove my turban."
Singh, who wears a turban as part of his religion, said at first he asked the guards if they could simply pat his turban down instead.
"At the end of the day, I feel that it's just a cloth," he said. "And if you can feel through my sweater, you can feel through my turban."
But the security staff said Singh would have to remove his turban if he wanted to get on his flight. So, he agreed, and the guards ran the cloth through another X-ray machine.
But when the guards brought the turban back and told him he was free to go, Singh asked if they could bring him a mirror so he could retie his turban before leaving the room.
"Unlike a hat or a shoe, you can't just plop it back on," he said, explaining that it takes some effort to retie the cloth. "It takes time and precision, there's a beautiful art behind it," he joked.
Instead of accommodating Singh's "simple request," the guards told him he could walk to a public washroom and use the mirror there to retie his turban.
However, this is problematic for some Sikhs, Singh said, because many see removing their turbans as a form of undressing.
"If you're taking me to a private room to undress, which is what it is for Sikh men, you can't expect them to walk out undressed," he said.
And while Singh has removed his turban before in some of his online skits, many other Sikh men would be "extremely uncomfortable" with the request, he said.
He said he doesn't fault the security agents who screened him according to protocol, but believes there is a general lack of awareness and understanding surrounding turbans.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said in a statement to CTV News that “all TSA officers and contracted screeners are trained to treat all passengers with dignity and respect, and receive periodic training regarding cultural and religious sensitivities.”
When removal of religious attire is required, “our officers offer private screening and request the passenger remove the item,” the TSA said, adding that all people wearing head coverings may be subject to additional screening.
“This policy covers all headwear and is not directed at any one particular item or group,” the statement said.
“TSA recommends that passengers remove non-formfitting headwear before proceeding through the security checkpoint, but recognizes that passengers may be unable or unwilling to remove items for religious, medical, or other reasons. In that case, they should expect to undergo additional screening protocols.”
Earlier this month, Indian-American actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia wasn't allowed to board an Aeromeixco flight after he refused to remove his turban.
The airline later issued an apology, and said it was working to strengthen protocols in "respectful accordance with the cultural and religious values" of its customers.
Ahluwali welcomed the apology, but also stressed the need for increased education – a sentiment that Singh agrees with.
"Give respect; take respect, at the end of the day that's what it boils down to," Singh said. "I don't think that (the incident) was dealt with properly."
Singh, who goes by the stage name JusReign, is an active comedian on social media, with more than 680,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel.
He shared the incident on Twitter, where he has more than 189,000 followers.
so the @tsa made me take off my turban in extra screening or they said I wouldn't be able to be let through to catch my flight— Jasmeet Singh (@JusReign) February 22, 2016
and naturally I'm like nah I really don't wanna do that since I got a flight to catch, but the manager intervenes and says I have to— Jasmeet Singh (@JusReign) February 22, 2016
so I get into the private screening and take it off and they body search me and put my turban through another X-ray machine because "safety"— Jasmeet Singh (@JusReign) February 22, 2016
after finding absolutely nothing wrong because a turban is just cloth and the whole thing is stupid I ask for a mirror to tie it back again— Jasmeet Singh (@JusReign) February 22, 2016
the agent tells me there are no mirrors and that I can just walk down the terminal to the nearest restroom— Jasmeet Singh (@JusReign) February 22, 2016
without my turban on