Arpinder Kaur a 28 year old flight instructor in San Antonio, USA has become the first turbaned woman Sikh pilot for a major US Airline.
San Antonio, Texas: Sitting in the cockpit with her pilot’s uniform topped off with a turban Arpinder Kaur has become the first turbaned pilot hired by a commercial airline in the United States. With support on the ground for Sikhs from advocacy groups to make flying easier without hate and abuse, now with a turban wearing pilot, flying could be another avocation for dynamic young Sikhs.
In March 2008, after resolving the issue of wearing her dastaar on-the-job, with the help of the Sikh Coalition, Arpinder Kaur was officially hired by American Airlines Corporation (AMR) as a First Officer. She filed her grievance for accommodation of her religious article of faith based on American Airlines’ allowance of “regulation approved hats”. An agreement was reached that is consistent with state and federal anti-discrimination law. In June 2008 she finished her pilot training program and is now flying Embraer Jets for American Eagle, the largest regional airline system in the world, that is part of AMR based out of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
When Arpinder Kaur was asked why she chose to do this, she said, “Two of the reasons I did this were: first, my love of flying and, second, to set a precedent for the community so they know you can be in your Sikh appearance and do anything out there; so that my younger brothers and sisters (the rising generation) will pursue their passions while practicing their Sikh faith.”
It had long been her dream to become a pilot, but at the age of 15 , during her first flight from India to reside in the US, she asked a stewardess on her British Airways flight if she could sit in the cockpit. It was a simpler time before 9/11 when the pilots allowed her to sit and observe for an hour. That was all it took to make her sure that being a pilot was what she wanted to do. Despite the hardships which included later earning a 4 year degree in Information Systems and her mother’s belief that it was too dangerous for a girl to be a pilot. Kaur has chosen to follow her passion; while using it as a means for supporting her family. Kaur said it was the love and support of her husband, Pritpal Singh that pushed her forward on the path toward becoming a pilot. Kulbir Singh Sandhu, captain with AMR mentored her throughout her aviation career. From 2003 to 2005 Kaur was trained by Jesse Sherwood in Kansas. With the help of these individuals and others along with her own perseverance and determination, Kaur and American Airlines have shown that accommodation and not assimilation is the way to harness the strength of diversity in America.
Harinder Singh, executive director of the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI) in San Antonio, Texas said, “This is a great day for the Sikhs in America. Religious accommodation, not assimilation, is what the founders of this great nation envisioned and we are thrilled American Airlines celebrates the rich religious and cultural diversity of all American populations.”
- See 17 year old Raj Singh's film on her on Youtube , "Arpinder Kaur: Piloting a Life" / a Sikh Net Youth Online Film Festival entry.