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I heard about the young girl who was forced to remove her scarf in front of everyone next to an Air Canada gate. It is clear discrimination, I have never heard of anyone forced to remove their headgear in the airport. I've also heard many stories about Muslim families who were removed from the place because they spoke in Arabic, wore scarves or had a long beard.

I am worried that a similar occurrence could happen to me or a member of my family given that I'm Muslim, speak Arabic and my wife is wearing a head scarf.

What are my rights as a passenger to prevent such discrimination? How can I prevent airline employees from insulting me and my family in front of everyone at the airport?

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    @JonathanReez It looks like the OP edited back in a bunch more non-neutral stuff like what you took out once already. – Joseph Sible Sep 25 at 1:25
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    @JosephSible rolling back the question to make sure its neutral. asmgx - please keep your question polite and avoid statements which could be construed as offensive. This is a sensitive topic so we want to make sure it's being discussed in a polite and friendly form. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Sep 25 at 1:39
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    When the comments have been moved to the chat, post your new comments in that chat. We can only move them one time and once done the rest can only be deleted, not moved. – Willeke Sep 25 at 14:40
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    Your title is unhelpful. This is not discrimination, this is a border guard being stroppy because you disregarded a rule. It's the price of travel these days. – RedSonja Sep 26 at 4:57
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    I guess you didn't read the article properly. She was taken away in a private place, escorted by a female agent, to check identity. She then have been allowed to put it back and board normally. She was not forced to remove it in public. – Antzi Sep 27 at 2:11
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I think the key word in your initial statement is that you heard about it. The fact that this occurred was deemed serious enough that it made it to the international news outlets. Now, of course, that's not to say that every such incident makes the news, but it does mean that such incidents are obviously rare or there would be more than very occasional such incidents being reported.

Unfortunately discrimination can and does occur on airlines, just like it occurs in most parts of the world - but the odds of it escalating to the point of you being kicked off the plane or your wife being forced to remove her headscarf would be so low as to be considered zero on most airlines and in most countries around the world.

Specific to your wife's head covering, there are situations where she could be asked to remove it, but this should be done in a private area. For example, here are the USA's TSA comments on head coverings.

As far as what you can do to minimize the chances of an incident, the only advice I could give would be the same that I'd give to any passenger, regardless of race or religion - consider the feelings of everyone else on the plane, and try not to do anything that would cause any undue impact or concerns to others on the plane. For example, there was a recent report of a passenger praying whilst on a plane, which people took offence at - not for religious reasons, but because in doing so he was blocking access to the aisles and toilets.

Similarly I would probably not recommend you decide to start speaking Arabic to another passenger located on the other side of the plane (ie, at a high volume) - just as I would not recommend a passenger shout out a welcome to his friend Jack on the other side of the plane ("Hi Jack!").

In a perfect world, such discrimination would not exist, but the simple fact is it does. As much as I hate to give advice to try and minimize your profile in places such as (Western) airports and aircraft, the simple fact is that doing so will likely result in an easier trip for you.

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    Canada definitely has a policy that you can request removal of headgear be done in private with a female officer. – DJClayworth Sep 24 at 18:25
  • @DJClayworth What about speaking Arabic?!! – asmgx Sep 25 at 22:37
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    @asmgx it's not about speaking Arabic per se, but about doing so in such a way that it causes concern. If you're shouting or screaming that'd be disruptive and you'd be asked to stop no matter what language you use, and removed from the flight if you continue. – jwenting Sep 26 at 3:31
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    @asmgx I was half-joking, but the point I was making was that Arabic probably won't be an issue unless you seem suspicious (for instance, a terrorist). "Allahu akbar" is well-known as being a battlecry for Islamic terrorists, so if you shout it in an airport they'll probably assume you're about to commence a terror attack and react accordingly. – nick012000 Sep 26 at 4:26
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    @asmgx I'm pretty certain it won't matter what foreign language you speak: be it Arabic, Mandarin or Klingon, most people won't recognize it anyway and will react the same. They will, however, recognize if you're speaking too loudly (and shouting in a foreign language is likely to trigger more concern than shouting in a language others understand) but again, it won't be because you're shouting in Arabic - because most people have no idea how it sounds anyway. – Denis Sep 26 at 11:14
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I fail to see where in this case, quoted in the question, that it is a clear case of discrimination.

Two other Air Canada employees then approached Fatima, reiterating she must remove the head covering because she wasn’t wearing one in her passport photo.

From the text, I assume, we are talking about a US Citizen with a US Passport.

Passport Photos

You cannot wear a hat or head covering.

  • If you wear a hat or head covering for religious purposes, submit a signed statement that verifies that the hat or head covering in your photo is part of traditional religious attire worn continuously in public.

If the person in question had no religious problem when the passport was issued, they should have no problem when using the passport.


In cases when the passport is issued with a headscarf that can seen in the photo, then it would be a case of discrimination if the person was required to remove it.

To prevent this happening with you wife, insure that her passport is issued with a photo that conforms to her religious beliefs.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Sep 26 at 1:33
  • When the comments are moved, you need to post comments in that chat. – Willeke Sep 26 at 8:09
  • This answer is illogical. The regulation you cite says that wearing a head covering is only allowed for religious reasons. It does not say that you must wear the same head covering on your passport photo, though. Moreover, people in Canada are free to change religious beliefs without requesting a new passport ("If the person in question had no religious problem when the passport was issued") – idmean Sep 26 at 15:31
  • Of course they are free to do so. And they can expect to be asked to remove it to conform to their picture. – Antzi Sep 27 at 18:41
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The best thing you can do is to carefully study the rules & regulations that unfortunately are different for every country & airline.

As long as you are operating within the stated rules you and your family should be ok. Millions of Muslims fly every day without any sort trouble or incidents.

If you feel that any specific rule or regulation is unacceptable to you, than you may have to consider choosing a different airline, destination or not fly at all.

Most airlines and countries will make reasonable accommodations for religious needs but there has to be a limit and that's NOT discriminatory. Consider the case of the Kirpan, which is a a ceremonial dagger that many Sikhs feel required to carry. Some countries and airlines do accommodations for this but it varies. There is no desire or intent to discriminate against Sikhs but there also needs to be a limit on what weapons can be on board, otherwise the whole security process would be pointless.

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    @PeterTaylor: That's a BS argument. Breaking into the cockpit to steal the fire axe is much more attention-grabbing and difficult than pulling out a dagger you were already carrying, and a team of attackers carrying daggers means they don't have to share a single fire axe. – user2357112 Sep 24 at 23:52
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    @asmgx: Of course. tsa.gov/travel/frequently-asked-questions/… Identify check is a basic part of the security check and some head covers interfere with that – Hilmar Sep 25 at 11:12
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    @asmgx: now you are just being argumentative. Millions of Muslims fly every day and it works just fine. Travel is a privilege, not a right. If you don't like it, stay home. – Hilmar Sep 26 at 1:18
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    @asmgx you have no right to be a nuisance to others on the flight, especially the crew. And from your attitude I'm starting to feel that that's exactly what you would be, and then claiming discrimination if you're asked to stop your actions. And no, being asked to stop shouting in Arabic (or indeed any language) isn't religious discrimination, even if you were reciting quran verses. – jwenting Sep 26 at 3:34
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    @Hilmar I'd say travel is a right. It's near impossible to earn a living confined to the walls of your home. But the form of travel ... that's certainly a privilege. – muru Sep 26 at 8:47
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Note: I refer to the TSA in this answer, but it applies to pretty much anyone (who has some authority over you) that you deal with at the airport.

  1. What are my rights as a passenger to prevent such discrimination?
  2. How can I prevent airline employees from insulting me and my family in front of everyone at the airport?

Answering your question exactly as it is phrased; there is no "right to prevent discrimination", and you cannot stop anyone from issuing an insult without physically preventing them to speak.

The thing is, there's little you can do to stop it when it happens; but you can retroactively file a complaint or seek recompensation if you suffer undue consequences. To that extent, your question of how to stop it before/as it happens can only be answered with "you can't", at least not without severe consequences (such as making a bigger transgression yourself, being detained, or simply denied to board your flight).

I do understand where you're coming from. But the problem is that I can't tell you where to draw the line on taking a stand.

If you feel like you're being subjected to unfair treatment, but the TSA agent is adamant about their (let's call it misguided) position; do you want to stand on principle and risk not boarding your flight, or would you rather ensure that you can board your flight? I can't answer that for you. There are financial and moral ramification to either option, and you need to weigh your own priorities here.

If you want to avoid escalation while still attempting to avoid unfair treatment, you can ask for a supervisor to oversee/confirm what the TSA tells you.
But I've also heard about cases where this response actually caused an escalation, or where the supervisor shares the same (misguided) position and thus doesn't resolve the situation for you.

You can study up on the related rules and regulations, you could even take a printed version of it with you; but I can't guarantee that the TSA agent (or their supervisor) are going to not believe you at your word, or interpret your response as combative.

There is no universal surefire way to stop a TSA agent (or anyone else for that matter) from making a mistake. In the end, at the moment of dealing with them, they have the final say on whether you are allowed to board your flight. If they are wrong and you are unable to convince them of that in the moment, your only other option is to retroactively seek recompensation for unfair treatment.

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    "TSA" appears to refer to the US agency, but the question mentions Air Canada employees. – MSalters Sep 24 at 14:17
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    @MSalters: I'm not even from the US. I simply used "TSA" as the more recognizable "whoever you deal with before boarding", but the answer applies to pretty much any interaction, not just with security personnel. I'll add that mention to the answer for clarity. – Flater Sep 24 at 14:18
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    In that case, it might make sense to distinguish the three main categories. "TSA" would then cover government agents in any role, including customs and immigration officials. But you also have airline staff (e.g. the Air Canada employees) and airport staff. Does this distinction matter? Well, you mention "seeking compensation". You have a contract with the airline, not the airport. And seeking compensation from a government is yet another matter. "Being detained" is typically only possible by the government, while the airline can deny boarding. Etc. – MSalters Sep 26 at 13:28
  • @MSalters: It matter in regards to who to talk to when you seek recompensation, but it doesn't matter in an answer which focuses on the fact that there is no pre-emptive prevention, only correction after the facts have occurred. – Flater Sep 27 at 9:25
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Depending on what exactly your wife is wearing, you may consider avoiding travel to countries which tend to value secularism over religion. For instance, in France your wife can be fined for wearing a full-face veil in public areas, including airports. She can also be requested to show her hair for identification purposes, although if you insist, the check will be done in a private area by female personnel. The latter will obviously result in a significant delay, so be sure to arrive to the airport well in advance.

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You fail to see the other side of this exchange.

The security checks at the airport serve multiple purposes, and one of them is to ensure that the person entering the airport is a registered passenger, i.e. is the person the boarding pass has been issued to. For the purpose of identification, a comparison between the passport picture and the actual person may be necessary.

The interest of dozens or hundreds of other passengers are on the other side of the equation, which is why the airport authorities have rights that can infringe upon certain individual rights of less value. Not feeling comfortable about showing ones face or hair in public, for religious or personal reasons, is a lesser right in this case than multiple people's fear for their safety.

There is no discrimination, because every passenger is verified at this step, it just happens that some make it more difficult. Many men experience scrutiny if their choice of facial hair has changed between now and their passport picture, for example. There is also no insult intended, because the purpose of removing a scarf is not to hurt you or your family, but to complete a mandatory step of the security procedure.

If you understand that, you can find and offer solutions that will satisfy both sides. Your wife can remove her scarf in a closed room with only female security officials present, for example. They get their wish to positively identify her and she gets her wish to not show herself in public.

If you consider that an insult, you might want to consider not flying at all. I'm a frequent flyer and a white male, and while I'm commonly waved through, I have had my belt, my pockets, my carry-on bag and my shoes examined at various occasions. I've had full pat-downs as well. It's a part of airport protocol.

protected by Mark Mayo Supports Monica Sep 26 at 1:31

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