Reporting Abuse with the FlyRights App

Since 9/11, TSA agents have singled out travelers from the Sikh community, but the new FlyRights app makes racial profiling at the airport more visible.

| November/December 2012

Airport security is nobody’s favorite part of flying, but some have it much worse than others. Since 9/11, TSA agents have targeted the Sikh community more than almost any other group, a problem that has only worsened in the last few years. In 2007, for instance, the TSA began explicitly singling out “baggy clothing” and “non form-fitting headwear” for additional screenings. Strategies like these tend to especially target Sikh travelers, who typically wear turbans or headscarves. While the TSA denies charges of profiling, some studies by the Sikh Coalition report that the number of Sikh travelers who are forced to undergo secondary screening is as high as 100 percent.

But oddly, most of this goes unreported. Compared to the documented number of unnecessary screenings, Homeland Security receives only a handful of official complaints, says Colorlines (April 30, 2012). That is, until the Sikh Coalition developed FlyRights, a smartphone app that allows users to report “official, actionable complaints” directly to the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security. Just two days after its launch earlier this year, users had downloaded the FlyRights app more than 5,000 times, according to the Sikh Coalition, and demand continues to grow.

Part of FlyRights’ popularity stems from its wide appeal. Although originally developed to address problems faced by Sikh travelers, anyone can use the FlyRights app to report profiling or abuse, says the LA Times(April 30, 2012). FlyRights’ first complaint reportedly came after TSA agents stopped a mother from boarding with breast milk. Having consulted with the NAACP, LA Raza, and other community and civil rights groups in developing the new app, the Sikh Coalition hopes FlyRights will make discrimination faced by anyone at the airport more visible.