Patrick Smith of Salon’s fabulous “Ask the Pilot” column is always writing about topics that help me deal with my irrational fear of flying. Today he delighted me by wandering into religious liberty territory with a mention of the first female Sikh pilot in U.S. commercial aviation.

Arpinder Kaur, of San Antonio, Texas, is a new first officer for American Eagle (the smaller, regional outfit owned by American Airlines). In accordance with her religious tradition, she wears a dastaar, a type of turban, in place of the traditional pilot’s hat. She told Smith that the airline didn’t give her any trouble about making the substitution.

Seven years can be an eternity or the blink of an eye, depending on your perspective. On Sept. 15, 2001, a Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death at his gas station near Phoenix in the country’s first post-9/11 revenge murder. The gunman saw Sodhi’s turban and thought he was a Muslim.

Today a Sikh woman in a turban flies hundreds of passengers a day on a commercial airline – a subsidiary of one of the same airlines that fell victim to attack – and she reports only inquisitive looks and curiosity about her tradition.

Am I naïve to think that this is at least one baby-step towards religious understanding in the U.S.?

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