Travel apps for smartphones have made travel infinitely easier and more efficient for many road warriors. Now there's one to help you fight back against the Transportation Security Administrationif you feel you've been unfairly singled out for additional screening at an airport checkpoint.
The free FlyRights app allows fliers who feel they have been profiled based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality or disability to send their grievance in real time to the TSA via an iPhone or Android device. The passenger simply answers a few questions, hits send and voila, the complaint is sent directly to the agency. It also generates an automatic Tweet and provides information on screening policies and security procedures.
FlyRights, which was released on April 30 by the Sikh Coalition, was originally conceived by a group of Sikh entrepreneurs. They got fed up with being searched constantly when going through airports. Sikh travelers are subjected to secondary screening 100 percent of the time at some airports, according to a FlyRights press release. This includes hand wand-scanning, explosive trace detection swabbing, and sometimes even removing turbans.
The FlyRights app was created in consultation with other advocacy organizations, which also believe some groups experience higher rates of secondary screenings.
Although it is possible to complain about alleged profiling via theDepartment of Homeland Security website, Hansdeep Singh of the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination says the ability to file a complaint immediately with the phone app is key. "Often times, when you're not making that initial complaint at the airport, you lose the motivation to file that complaint after time goes by," he said in an interview with NPR.
There's a market for such an app. Only a week after it was released, the app had been downloaded 10,000 times and it occupied the number one spot on the iTunes list of top travel apps. Singh said in its first week, the app was used to file 25 screening-related complaints with the TSA, which is more than the 32 complaints the agency reported during the entire year from March 2011 to March 2012.
Though this new app may increase the number of complaints against the TSA for alleged profiling, overall complaints are down, according to the TSA's latest figures.
The PR value of the FlyRights app is undeniable, especially the Twitter feature. But whether or not it has an impact on TSA procedures towards Sikhs and other minority groups remains to be seen.
The TSA says that it does not profile individuals based on race or religion, but maintains that bulky clothing or headwear (such as the turbans Sikh men wear) could potentially be used to hide explosives or other weapons.
The Sikh Coalition believes the app will help them get closer to the truth on that question.