TSA Turban Regulations

Sikh Turban and Airport Security Post 9/11

London Heathrow Airport
Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

The distinctive Sikh appearance of beard and turban is often at odds with society's dictates. Schools and government agencies periodically challenge the wearing of five kakars, the required articles of faith. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack of the World Trade Center, some people view Sikhs wearing a turban and kirpan, a ceremonial short sword, with suspicion. Sikhs have been victims of sporadic hate crimes across the United States. Air travel has become more difficult for everyone, and Sikhs in particular.

TSA Turban Regulations

In October of both 2007 and 2010, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued new regulations. Checking headwear and religious headgear such as turbans includes possible removal of turban by Transportation Security Officers (TSO) and these 100% mandatory procedures:

  • Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machine scan or full body pat down.
  • Hand wand and pat down of the turban.

TSA regulations and screening procedures and advice for Sikh travelers are provided by the Sikh Coalition.

Airport Security Screening Procedures

All travelers are advised to remove shoes, coats, and headwear for mandatory AIT screening or complete body pat down.

The removal of headwear does not apply to Sikh travelers wearing turbans, or religious head coverings.

Sikh travelers should request to stand in line for the Puffer, a machine which blows air at the turban, without touching it, in order to detect chemical traces, such as gunpowder, or other explosives.


Security officers may ask a Sikh traveler to remove a turban or other headwear. A Sikh traveler who does not wish to do so, must refuse, and explain that their turban, or other head covering, is a religious article.

Sikh travelers need to be sure not to have any metallic items, such as the kirpan (short ceremonial sword), on their person. If the metal detector alarm goes off, a screener uses a hand wand to try to identify the source of the metal.

If a hand wand alarm sounds near or around a Sikh travelers head, the screener may want to pat down the turban, or other headwear. If a Sikh traveler knows what is triggering the alarm, the object may be surrendered to avoid a pat down.


Whether or not an alarm is triggered, a Sikh traveler wearing a turban is automatically subject to nonmetallic screening by a security officer and may choose. An officer may suspect a turban or other head covering which is bulky or lumpy. An officer may ask to pat down the turban or other religious headwear for a chemical trace test. A Sikh traveler who objects to having the officer pat down their turban, must indicate that they would prefer and are willing to, pat down their own turban.

A different officer will take the Sikh traveler aside and supervise the pat down. The officer will rub the Sikh traveler's hands after the pat down with a small piece of cotton cloth and put it into a machine that checks for trace chemical residues.

The officer will pat the turban if the Sikh traveler does not object, and conduct a chemical residue test. The Sikh traveler, who does not object to the officer doing the pat down, may still request a private screening area.

Additional Screening

An officer may request removal of a turban, or religious headgear, only when the Sikh traveler is unable to pass metal detection, or after a pat down when a concern has not been resolved. The Sikh traveler always has the right to request a private screening area for any search requiring the removal of the turban. Sikh travelers who have cleared all screening procedures are allowed to board their flights.

Report a Complaint or Violation of Civil Rights and Liberties

The TSA website provides all necessary information for reporting concerns regarding civil liberties. Flyers can also use Flyright Android Phone AP to report violations as soon as they occur.

Respect for Hair & Turban

Why is so much emphasis put on the Sikh turban? All Sikhs have a code of conduct they are expected to follow. A Sikh is expected to keep all hair intact and the head covered. The rule of dress for Sikh attire, is a turban for the Sikh man. The Sikh woman may wear a turban or elect instead to wear a kind of traditional headscarf with or without the turban.

What is the significance of keeping the hair covered? At the time of initiation into the order of Khalsa, immortalizing amrit nectar is sprinkled directly on the kes (hair). Khalsa initiates consider the kes to be sacred thereafter. It is forbidden to dishonor the kes. The baptized Amritdhari Sikh, has specific mandatory requirements involving kes which must be adhered to or invoke punishment and penance.

Why the concern about removing the turban? A Sikh feels naked without the turban and normally removes it only in the most intimate of circumstances such as bathing the head and hair daily. Care and cleanliness of the kes is stressed. After washing the kes:

  • The kanga, a wooden comb, is used to detangle the kes.
  • The kes is twisted into a joora, a knot atop the head.
  • The kanga helps to secure the joora and is kept with the hair at all times.
  • The keski, a protective length of cloth, binds the hair atop the head and may be covered by a turban or chunni.

From the purely practical aspect it is inconvenient to remove a turban in public:

  • A Sikhs hair, uncut from birth, or re-birth as Khalsa, may grow to shoulder, waist, hip, knee length or longer.
  • A turban maybe be 4-6 yards in length or longer and a half yard to 2 yards in width.
  • The turban may take 20 minutes or more to tie, requiring the use of both hands, and is not to touch the floor at any time during the process.
  • The salaee, a small pointed tool used for tucking ends of hair and smoothing the folds of the turban, is unlikely to be permitted past a checkpoint.

Why are Sikhs so concerned about having the turban touched? It is considered a great dishonor for anyone to violate another's turban by removing It, and very disrespectful if touched with unwashed hands, or by one who does not themselves respect and adhere to Khalsa principles, especially where the use of tobacco is involved.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "TSA Turban Regulations." Learn Religions, Mar. 4, 2021, learnreligions.com/tsa-turban-regulations-2992999. Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2021, March 4). TSA Turban Regulations. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/tsa-turban-regulations-2992999 Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "TSA Turban Regulations." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/tsa-turban-regulations-2992999 (accessed May 29, 2023).