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U.S. Airways Pilot Refuses to Fly Plane With Sikhs Onboard

December 24, 2008 by  


Courtesy India Post and New America Media

Editor’s note: This story appeared in New York Community Media Alliance’s “Voices That Must Be Heard.”

In a disturbing incident reminiscent of widespread discrimination in 2001, three eminent Sikh classical religious musicians, Gulbag Singh, Davinder Singh, and Iqbal Singh were kicked off a U.S. Airways flight, and were told that the U.S. Airways pilot for the plane was refusing to fly with them on board.

The incident occurred after Gulbag, Davinder, and Iqbal Singh cleared Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security and boarded U.S. Airways flight No. 0493, on Nov 15, 2008, in Sacramento, California, on their way to Salt Lake City, Utah.

The three were sitting together in the rear of the plane, in their assigned seats. After having been on the plane for approximately 10 minutes, they were approached by one of the ticket-reception desk workers and asked to exit the plane. While none of the three adequately comprehend or speak English, the group complied and exited the aircraft.

When it became apparent that the group was unable to converse with U.S. Airways representatives, a Punjabi interpreter was called to assist. The Punjabi interpreter informed Iqbal Singh, on behalf of the U.S. Airways representatives, that the U.S. Airways pilot for the plane was refusing to fly if they were onboard the aircraft. When Iqbal Singh asked why, airline representatives were unable to give a clear answer, and the interpreter went on to persuade the three not to raise any objection because it could lead to more problems.

The group, having become concerned, fearful, and worried about what had happened, took the only option they were given, which was to stay the night in a hotel and depart on a Delta Airlines flight the following morning to Salt Lake City, Utah. Commenting on the discriminatory and publicly humiliating treatment, Gulbag Singh commented,

In the formal complaint letter to U.S. Airways, United Sikhs, a Sikh advocacy group, stressed the severity of the racial profiling and discriminatory treatment, asked for an apology and compensation for the three Sikhs, and offered training for U.S. Airways staff. Sikhs will not stand to be discriminated against.

“I would like to ask the average American to think about how they would feel if they were cleared by security, were sitting on their plane, and then were asked to leave for no good reason. It is ridiculous that a person should be submitted to such second class treatment,” said the complaint in Punjabi.

“There is no satisfactory justification for U.S. Airways to treat people in this way. This is a clear violation of civil rights and they must take immediate actions to address this issue,” stated Harpreet Singh, legal director, United Sikhs. The organization has written to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and U.S. Airways, warning legal recourse against the airline unless prompt action is taken to redress the incident.

In a separate incident, on Nov. 17, at Logan International Airport, in Boston Massachusetts, a Sikh man, Jaspal Singh, was sent to secondary screening where he was subjected to humiliating treatment when a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) roughly searched his turban, almost untying it, after threatening him with arrest. United Sikhs has written to and spoken with the TSA [Transportation Security Administration], which is currently reviewing video footage of the incident.
The organization has meanwhile cautioned the Sikh American community that due to the high volume of passengers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, they may face improper or discriminatory treatment while traveling, and that they should contact United Sikhs to seek legal recourse.

11-1, reprint

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