Waris Ahluwalia was just nominated by Canada's Oscars for best supporting actor. He's appeared as the face of Gap clothing. And he's launched his own design line.
But he still can't get on an airplane in Mexico.
On Monday, Ahluwalia, an American Sikh, attempted to board an AeroMexico flight back from Mexico City to New York City. He had been visiting for an art fair, and had in fact been flown down by AeroMexico as their invited guest.
But when he got to the security line Monday morning, he was flagged for extra screening. Apparently, his boarding pass had been stamped with SSSS, referring to America’s Secondary Security Screening Selection.
At first, the inspection was routine, he told me, with an extra trip through a metal detector and a baggage search.
But then the crew asked him to remove his turban. This, he said, was equivalent to asking someone to remove their clothing in public. When he refused, he was told he would have to book a flight on another airline.
"I'm resilient," he said. "I know it's not about me. It's now about an opportunity to create change."
Ahluwalia's situation was flagged by human rights group The Sikh Coalition, and they were continuing to work with him an AeroMexico Monday.
In fact, Ahluwalia said, this isn't the first time he'd been detained by AeroMexico. In September, he was flagged for extra screening, and while he was ultimately allowed to board without removing his turban, he said he was at one point cordoned off by four passenger control ropes.
"I felt a little bit like a monkey," he said.
Nor is it the first time Ahluwalia has been caught up in controversy about his garb. When he became the face of Gap in 2013, a defaced photo of his ad went viral. Gap responded by placing Ahluwalia front and center as its cover image on Twitter and Facebook, the Daily News reported, and replacing every ad passers-by flagged as having been defaced.
As of noon Monday, Ahluwalia was still in Mexico, because he has demanded AeroMexico apologize, as well as have them institute religious sensitivity training for their security workers.
"It's just an opportunity to create change," he said.
AeroMexico did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.