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In 2008 ,Arpinder Kaur, a 28-year-old resident of San Antonio, Texas, achieved the remarkable feat of becoming the first turbaned pilot to be hired by a commercial airline in the United Statesas as reported by the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI). Being a Sikh woman, she has broken barriers for both Sikh men and women who wear a dastaar or turban, allowing them to pursue their passion for aviation. Thanks to her pioneering achievement, Sikhs can now consider flying not just as an extracurricular activity, but as a regular profession.

Arpinder Kaur: The woman making Sikhs proud 

In March 2008, Arpinder Kaur, with the assistance of the Sikh Coalition, successfully resolved the issue of wearing her dastaar while on duty. As a result, American Airlines Corporation (AMR) officially hired her as a First Officer. Kaur filed a grievance to request an accommodation for her religious article of faith, citing American Airlines' policy allowing approved hats. An agreement was reached that aligned with both state and federal anti-discrimination laws. By June 2008, Kaur completed her pilot training program and began flying Embraer Jets for American Eagle, a regional airline under AMR, based at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
When asked why she chose to pursue her current path, Arpinder Kaur explained that there were two main reasons behind her decision. Firstly, she had a deep love for flying, which fueled her passion. Secondly, she wanted to set an example for her community, demonstrating that even while maintaining Sikh appearance one can achieve anything one desires. Kaur hoped that her actions would inspire younger generations, including her own siblings, to pursue their passions while remaining true to their Sikh faith.

Passion from Punjab to Texas

Kaur's love for flying began at the age of 15 when she had the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of an airplane while moving from Panjab. Despite obtaining a degree in Information Systems and facing her mother's concerns about the dangers associated with being a female pilot, Kaur decided to follow her passions. Additionally, she saw her career as a means of supporting her family. Kaur credited her husband, Pritpal Singh, for being a driving force in her journey towards becoming a pilot. 

Throughout her aviation career, she received mentorship from Kulbir Singh Sandhu, a captain at AMR, and underwent training with Jesse Sherwood in Kansas between 2003 and 2005. With the support of these individuals, as well as her own perseverance and determination, Kaur and American Airlines demonstrated that embracing accommodation rather than assimilation is the way to leverage  the strength of diversity in America.

Harinder Singh, the executive director of the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI) in San Antonio, Texas, expressed his excitement, stating, “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.”

To watch Arpinder Kaur's awe-inspiring journey, the documentary can be viewed on SikhNet.com via the following link: https://youtu.be/gYnpAcUowCI.

This documentary, produced by Raj Singh and featured on SikhNet.com, sheds light on Arpinder Kaur's remarkable story. It not only highlights her personal achievements but also challenges the prevailing career norms within the Sikh community. By breaking stereotypes and defying expectations, Arpinder Kaur serves as a beacon of inspiration for Sikh youth and beyond.

*Based on an article in The Langar Hall on 15th August 2008 

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