Airport security and Sikhs
As you walk into the airport, the feeling of uneasiness begins. You check your bags in and follow the signs for departures. As you make your way around winding corridors and endless escalators, you approach the source of your anxiety, there it is right infront of you: airport security.
This is a feeling I'm sure many of you are familiar with. The feeling that you have committed some imaginary crime and you are just waiting to pulled out for it.
I understand the airport security procedures are not exactly anyone's idea of fun, I also agree on their importance, however I do disagree with the way certain airports run their procedures, and I definitely disagree with the notion that as a Sikh, I should be made to feel like I am a problem, or a criminal.
However, if you know your rights as a traveller, you don't always have to feel like you're at the mercy of security and this can help give Sikh travellers their confidence back.
Why is security important
In a post 9/11 world, airport security procedures have tightened across the world, especially in western nations. In addition to the horrific events in New York in 2001, there have been a number of other incidents that have progressively made security procedures more strict.
Security is paramount and most of us are happy to submit to security checks in order to ensure any potential incidents are caught and we can travel in relative safety. The introduction of new security measures can act as a credible deterrence, however, there is a fine line between good, efficient security and an exercise in prejudice, which unfortunately has been an increasing problem as highlighted in a number of high profile cases.
Most airports in European and North American countries have both Advanced Imaging Technology machines and traditional walk through metal detectors. In many of the smaller airports, or airports in Asian, African and South American countries, traditional walk through metal detectors are the norm.
Even if you use an Advanced Imaging Technology machine, you should still expect an extra pat-down if you wear a dastaar (turban). This is largely because a dastaar does not fit the natural contours of the head. A tightly tied patka should not be subject to similar procedures.
In my experience, especially in Europe where there is a large Sikh population, guards are generally respectful and will use a metal detector as opposed to a traditional hands on pat-down. This is something that most Sikhs will not raise issue with, its a small extra procedure for the safety and comfort of all passengers.
A large issue for Sikhs is being asked to remove dastaars or patkas. You should only be asked to remove your dastaar if the metal detector is triggered. You have the right to refuse to remove your dastaar if you successfully clear the metal detector procedure.
Should the metal detector procedure require you to remove your dastaar you have the right to ask to be taken to a private area, this right cannot be refused.
Are you being mistreated?
Although most security personnel are respectful and do their job to the best of their abilities, there have been numerous incidents of overzealous individuals, singling out Sikhs for extra screening procedures such as the removal of dastaars with no valid basis. This is especially an issue in the United States.
Should you be placed in such a situation, the first course of action is to remain calm and ask why you have been asked to remove your dastaar or refused to fly. You should give evidence based views, showing specific parts of relevant legislation that can be found on the Sikh Coalition's pages or at www.fly-rights.org.
If after providing evidence, you are still being mistreated, the next course of action is to request the individual in questions name and badge number. They are required to give you this information. If they refuse, ask to speak with their supervisor.
You can file a complaint directly through the aforementioned fly fights page, but I recommend also filing a complaint to the Sikh Coalition and the Sikh Helpline (if in the UK).
Knowledge of your rights is by far the most effective tool to fighting prejudice and ensuring that issues with airport security for Sikhs are eventually overcome.
Credit to the Sikh Coalition for the availability of airline rules for Sikhs. Please use these only as a guide, and be sure to read local laws and regulations before flying.