Flair responds after Sikh flyer was asked to remove turban to board plane

Jul 9 2024, 7:56 pm

What was supposed to be a regular flight turned into a humiliating scenario for Navkaranpreet Singh Binner and his family after he said his father was asked to remove his turban before boarding a Flair Airlines flight.

Binner was travelling with his parents, who had come from India to visit him in Canada. He explained to Daily Hive that he managed to get a few days off from work, so he and his parents travelled to Winnipeg to visit family and friends.

The family flew with Flair from Waterloo, Ontario, to Winnipeg and had a return flight with the airline on July 6.

He told Daily Hive the family cleared security and headed to their gate. When it was time to board, they presented their identification and boarding pass to the gate attendant.

Binner said everything went fine for him and his mother, but the attendant stopped his father, who wears a turban. He claims the gate attendant asked his father, Sarabjit, to remove his turban to verify his identity before boarding.

In the Sikh faith, the turban (also known as a “dastar”) is an extremely important article of faith.

The World Sikh Organization (WSO) notes that “practicing Sikhs, the turban is essential to their identity, and removing it is inconceivable.”

Flair responds

Binner explained to Daily Hive that his father’s passport photo was taken five years ago when he had a shorter beard and didn’t wear a turban.

However, over the years, he has grown out his beard and now sports a religious head covering. Daily Hive has independently viewed a current photo of Sarabjit and his passport.

Binner said he and his family were taken aback by the gate attendant’s request. His father had flown to Winnipeg without any issues and had previously taken a flight to Toronto in May and was not asked to remove his turban when going through security or at the boarding gates.

The 23-year-old, who was acting as a translator for his parents, said he was confused by the gate attendant’s order.

“I [told] them you can’t do that because we already passed a security check,” Binner told Daily Hive. However, the gate attendant informed him that this was a Transport Canada policy.

Daily Hive has reached out to Transport Canada for further information.

Daily Hive also reached out to air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukács, who stated that if  “the turban was asked to be removed only for checking the ID, then it is probably reasonable — if it was needed for verifying the passport photo.” 

Father left “heartbroken”

Binner said he was left with no choice but to accompany his father to a washroom to help him remove his turban. A male staff worker joined them to verify his identity.

His father was then cleared to fly.

Taking off a turban is not a simple process. It involves unravelling several meters of fabric. Retying it also takes time, as it requires the fabric to be properly pleated and tied in place.

Binner said the incident has left his family, specifically his father, feeling “heartbroken.”

“Like [my dad is] still asking me, ‘Why did they do that?'” he said.

Now, he’s taken it upon himself to seek justice. Binner said he’s contacted a few human rights lawyers and has also contacted the World Sikh Organization (WSO).

In a statement to Daily Hive, Balpreet Singh, the WSO’s legal counsel, said the incident was an “unacceptable situation.”

“[The turban] is an essential article of faith and it represents a commitment to the faith and represents dignity and sovereignty. Removing it in public is shameful,” stated Singh.

“For a situation like this, where an individual has gone through security checks — and this was just a pre-boarding ID check — I’ve never heard of this happening before,” he added.

Singh went on to say that in this case, Mr. Binner felt that “he had no choice” but to remove his turban, “and that’s just really unacceptable.”

“The power dynamic here was very much in favour of Flair, and it was indeed an abuse of power as far as we’re concerned,” noted Singh.

In a statement to Daily Hive, Flair said it recognizes and respects “the significance of religious articles of faith, including the importance of a Sikh turban and that its removal can cause significant distress.”

“Agents are required by Transport Canada to verify the identity of all passengers. In this instance, the passenger’s identification could not be verified as the passenger’s chin and forehead were obstructed in the passenger’s photo identification,” continued the airline.

Flair told Daily Hive that it is continuing to investigate and has contacted the WSO to assure that “the matter is being taken very seriously” and “will work with the agency for guidance on improving our sensitivity training.”

The company also confirmed that it had been in touch with and apologized to Binner.

“We want to reassure you that Flair Airlines is handling a recent incident with great care,” concluded the airline.

Editor’s note: In a previous version of the story, Daily Hive erroneously stated that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) was involved in security matters at flight gates. CATSA reached out to Daily Hive to clarify that Transport Canada has jurisdiction over the matter. Daily Hive has reached out to Transport Canada and will update this story as soon as further information is received. 

Simran SinghSimran Singh

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