Teen says he was "humiliated" at Meadows Field

Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 01:17:17-04

Karanvveer Singh Pannu was in Bakersfield last weekend speaking at a Sikh Youth Symposium and at the Sikh Peace Parade about his book called "Bullying of Sikh American Children."

"I've had a pretty good weekend promoting my book and talking to various people about the issue of bullying," said Pannu.

Then on Sunday, Pannu was dropped off at Meadows Field Airport to go back home to New Jersey.

"I get dropped off around 3:30 pacific standard time and I'm going through TSA and that's when it all started," said Pannu.

Pannu said his metal bracelet, which is part of his faith, triggered the metal detector. He was then pulled aside and asked to do a self pat of his turban. After that, his hands were swabbed to check for explosive material and the test came back positive.

"Then they pulled me aside to the secondary screening room where they continued their process of trying to find out what I was hiding in my turban," said Pannu. 

Pannu says he was asked to remove his turban, and at first he refused, but then decided to after they told him he wouldn't be able to fly home if he didn't.

Pannu said he was humiliated as they searched his hair and scanned his turban. When no explosive material was found, he was told he was free to go. 

The family Pannu stayed with in Bakersfield says they were shocked to hear what happened. 

"The removal of a Sikh's turban is akin to being strip searched," said Balmeet Singh whose family hosted Pannu during his stay in Bakersfield. 

"Something happened in Bakersfield, something happened to my guest, something happened to a teenager who is such a motivated person," said Manbir Singh, who invited Pannu to Bakersfield. "It hurt me." 

The Sikh Riders of America who started their group to educate people about the Sikh community said this happens too often and something needs to be done. 

"I don't think TSA is doing it on purpose. It's definitely just a policy change which needs to be done and it can be done. It's just we need a dialog between TSA and the Sikh community and TSA to make this change and make it easy for everybody who's traveling," said Mandeep Singh Chahal.

TSA said they could not comment on the incident specifically, but provided the following statement. 

"All TSA officers are trained to treat all passengers with dignity and respect, and receive periodic training regarding cultural and religious sensitivities. When additional screening is needed that requires the removal of religious apparel, our officers offer private screening and request the passenger remove the item.

In 2007, TSA revised its screening procedures for head coverings based on discussions with representatives of the Sikh community. All members of the traveling public are permitted to wear head coverings (whether religious or otherwise) through security checkpoints. All persons wearing head coverings may be subject to additional security screening, which may include an officer-conducted or traveler self-conducted pat-down.

TSA does this to ensure that prohibited items or weapons are not concealed beneath any type of clothing and brought onto an aircraft.  This policy covers all headwear and is not directed at any one particular item or group. 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."