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Mobile app helps travelers report unfair airport screening

April 30, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • A new app from a civil rights group aims to help travelers report treatment they find unfair directly to the TSA.
A new app from a civil rights group aims to help travelers report treatment… (FlyRight )

Anti-discrimination action has found its way into a new app for iPhone and Android phones launched today.

The FlyRights app, created by the Sikh Coalition, offers air travelers a way to record the details of incidents of perceived discrimination during screening directly to the Transportation Security Administration.

Not just focused on racial profiling, the app includes a reporting page that walks users through the type of discrimination they feel they were subjected to including gender and ability -- that's in addition to racial, religious, and ethnic -- and includes a way to memorialize all of the relevant information right after it happens.

So, nursing mothers can report when they encounter challenges getting breast milk through the screening process, and passengers with disabilities can report when they feel they have been unfairly scrutinized or mistreated. 

The app appears to be not just reactive, but also proactive in providing travelers access to links to traveler rights and screening guidelines on the TSA's website. 

"Two years ago at a community event, a group of frequent flyer Sikh entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley said to our staff, 'there needs to be an app for that,' referring to airport profiling and our staff ran with the idea," Amardeep Singh wrote via email in response to a query from The Times.

The Sikh Coalition describes itself as a national civil rights-focused organization. The group says it consulted with civil rights groups in the various racial and ethnic communities in developing the app. It also said it reached out to the Department of Homeland Security, sharing screen shots from the app, and sought feedback.

The Associated Press reports that the app got use after it went live early this morning with two reports being filed shortly after midnight Eastern time. The first came from a woman who said she felt humiliated by a TSA screener who pulled her aside when she revealed she was carrying breast milk. The second was filed by a man who felt he received unfair treatment because of his religion.

"At a big picture level, we have receive hundreds of reports from Sikhs complaining of airport profiling over the past five years," Amardeep Singh wrote via email in response to a query from The Times. "The TSA reports, however, that they only get a few dozen complaints of airport profiling a year."

In response to The Times' query for reaction to the app, TSA didn't offer outright support for the app, but did encourage "any traveler with a concern about potential discrimination to contact TSA directly through our numerous channels of communication."

"TSA’s diverse workforce is committed to treating each traveler with dignity and respect throughout the screening process," wrote spokesman Nico Melendez. "TSA does not profile passengers on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. We continually engage with community organizations, including the Sikh Coalition, and individuals to help us understand unique passenger concerns and we support efforts to gather passenger feedback about the screening process."

TSA has a mobile website and an iPhone app, MyTSA, that provides users with airport wait times and guidelines.

Profiling isn't the only area of concern for the group, which has other issues in its sights.

"We are planning to add additional civil rights issues, border profiling, school bullying in future phone applications," Singh replied.

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