A Guide to Flying as a Sikh
Travel Advice for Sikhs
As a Sikh, you have to right to travel anywhere and everywhere. However, there are restrictions on carrying Kirpans on an airline you may be flying with or the countries that you may be flying to. Laws and restrictions have arisen for this in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Scotland, Denmark and Sweden. Therefore, it's important to know where you're travelling to and with which airline you're travelling with as in some countries, you may receive a fine or get a sentence.
What is a Kirpan?
A kirpan is a sword typically between are often 3 and 9 inches long that are carried by Sikh's as part of religious commandments in which they are obliged to carry five things at all times. A Kirpan, Kesh (having uncut long hair), Kangha (small wooden comb), Kara (iron bracelet), Kachera (undergarment).
Why does a Sikh carry a Kirpan?
The reason why Sikhs carry a kirpan is because they have been instructed to do so by their Guru Gobind Singh who commanded Khalsa Sikhs to wear at all times in 1699.
Top Tips fir flying as a Sikh
Do your homework before setting off
Many countries have some restrictions or a ban on carrying kirpans on flights and public places, therefore, it's key to do your research before flying to those countries.
Dealing with airport security can be frustrating at times and it's important to stay patient. Just follow the laws of the airport and don't forget your rights.
Government Policies for Flying with a Kirpan
Law in the United States
From 2016, the TSA has clearly prohibited in carrying "religious knives and swords" longer than 2.5 inches on oneself or in their carry-on baggage and requires that they are packed in checked baggage.
Law in the United Kingdom
Having a kirpan without a good reason in a public place would be unlawful under section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. However, there is a defence for an individual to prove that he carries it for "religious reasons".
Law in Scotland
Section 49 of the Criminal Law (Scotland) Act 1995 makes it illegal to go into a public place with a blade or pointed article. A defence exists under section 49(5)(b) of the act for pointed or bladed articles carried for religious reasons.
Law in Sweden
Swedish law has banned weapons in public places that also includes knives. However, carrying folding pocket knives is permitted.
Law in India
Sikhs are allowed to carry the kirpan onboard domestic flights in India. The full length of the Kirpan shouldn't exceed 23 cm (9 inches) long and the length of the blade shouldn't exceed 15 cm (6 inches) long.
Law in Canada
Kirpans are allowed in almost all public places in Canada, but there have been some court cases regarding carrying kirpans on school premises. From November 2017, Transport Canada has updated its Prohibited Items list to allow Sikhs to carry kirpans smaller than 6 cm on all domestic and international flights except to the USA however.
Law in Denmark
On October 2006, the Eastern High Court of Denmark upheld the law of a Sikh carrying a kirpan was illegal, making it become the first country in the world to pass such a ruling. Danish law permits carrying of knives which can be longer than six centimetres in public places including work-related and recreation. The High Court didn't find religion to be a good reason for holding a knife.
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Can I carry a Kirpan on an airline?
Most countries and airlines do however it depends on the country and airline you're travelling with. See our list above for more information on the countries that restrict carrying kirpans.
Can I fly with a turban or dastar?
In October of both 2007 and 2010, the TSA started checking headwear and religious headgear such as turbans and may ask for the removal of turban by security officers as well as:
- Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machine scan or full-body pat-down.
- Hand wand and pat down of the turban
A Sikh traveller has the right to ask for a private screening area for a search requiring the removal of their turban. Sikh travellers who've cleared all screening procedures are permitted to board their flights.
Am I allowed to board a plane whilst wearing a headcover?
Of course, after you've gone through the airport security, you have the right to board the plane whilst wearing a turban or a chunni (headcover sikh women wear). Flights attendants don't have the same authority as airport security staff do to ask you for your identity or remove your turban.