If you’re gender nonconforming, you may have some questions about how to book a flight and travel stress-free. Here’s a guide to the process along with a helpful roundup of tips for gender nonconforming air travel.

Know which airlines are inclusive for gender nonconforming folks

Not all airlines offer inclusive gender identifiers, but the heavy hitters do – United, American and Delta. When booking a flight with these three airlines, you can select M (male), F (female), U (undisclosed) or X (unspecified). Your gender must match what appears on your government-issued i.d. More on this later. 

Other airlines will soon follow suit. Airlines for America (a lobby that represents American, Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest and United on Capitol Hill) has said that computer systems for their group of airlines should be updated by 2024 to allow passengers to select “X” for their gender when booking a flight. 

And don’t forget about the online travel agencies. For example, CheapAir.com (that’s us) allow you to select Male, Female, or Unspecified/Other.

The Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) recommends that travelers contact their air carrier’s customer service if the gender marker on their government-issued ID is not offered in the air carrier’s reservation system.

Consider TSA PreCheck if you’re a frequent flier

One of the most fraught parts of air travel is the security screening. When you’re nonbinary, transgender or gender nonconforming, that stress can be multiplied exponentially. One way to mitigate some of this stress is to sign up for TSA PreCheck™️

Pre-Check, affords you expedited screening – quicker and with less hassle. With Pre-Check you get to keep your shoes and belt on as well.

The program doesn’t promise body scans or pat-downs can be avoided, but participants usually walk through a metal sensor instead of a body scanner and experience pat-downs less often. 

Eligible passengers can register directly with TSA Pre-Check by completing an online application and paying an $85 fee. During the approval process, you may need to disclose any prior names/your dead-name.

As of this publication date, the TSA PreCheck program application has been updated to include an additional gender marker option to better serve non-binary and gender non-conforming Americans. This action ensures the TSA PreCheck system accurately reflects the traveler’s gender. With this update, TSA allows TSA PreCheck applicants to select their gender based on self-attestation, regardless of the sex assigned at birth.

Know your rights as a gender nonconforming person

The TSA commits to affording all passengers respect and dignity. Their website states that “Screening is conducted without regard to a person’s race, color, sex, gender, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability.” This applies to gender nonconforming air travel as well.

Make sure your name on the boarding pass matches your name on your government-issued i.d.

This is critical. If your current ID has your dead-name on it, that’s the name you have to use when booking your flight. However, it doesn’t matter if your current gender presentation matches your gender marker from your ID, or the presentation in your photo. 

The TSA officer who reviews your identification needs to match the identification with the person in front of them. The one way they can do this with accuracy is to match a name to an i.d. exactly. If the name shown on the identification document does not exactly match the name on the boarding pass, you may need to go to your airline ticket counter for a new boarding pass.

A word about medical supplies and prescriptions

Please make sure you keep any medicines, hormones, and syringes in a separate plastic bag. Put that bag in an easy-to-reach spot in your carry-on. Some folks like to carry a discreet card (you can download from the TSA website), to alert the TSA officer to your circumstances. TSA personnel recognize the cards and will provide the appropriate screening actions dependent on the needs of the passenger. 

You can simply fill in the card to say something like “my carry-on bag contains medical equipment for my prescription hormone therapy. I can provide a doctor’s note and proof of prescription if necessary.”

You can either carry a hard copy of this card or have an image of it on your phone, just as you would with other travel documents. In this way, you can assist the TSA in understanding gender nonconforming air travel concerns.

Physical screening procedures

The TSA’s Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) has undergone numerous enhancements and refinements. However, it’s still a clunky and imperfect process for the gender nonconforming. AIT relies on the screening agent to choose a binary (male or female) “profile” before screening an individual. This can create issues for the nonbinary. 

If the AIT scanner selects you for an additional screening pat down, you have the following rights:

  • To request a pat down in private with a companion present
  • You cannot be asked to remove any gender-affirming prosthetics or garments. Ask to speak to a supervisor if this happens to you.
  •  If TSA personnel request the screening of your wig or hairpiece, ask to do the pat down yourself. 
  • In the event that a pat-down is required, it will only be conducted by an officer of the same gender as the traveler, based on the traveler’s gender presentation. This means that transgender women should be searched by female officers, and transgender men should be searched by male officers.

Read for a more comprehensive explanation of the TSA’s screening procedures. Should you experience any sort of discrimination at the airport, an excellent source for resources is the National Center for Transgender Equality, particularly their explainer on airport security. Within this explainer, they give specific directions on steps you can take if you do experience discrimination. 

Make sure your layovers are in safe countries

Planning an international trip? We’ll forgive you for not paying too close attention to your layovers. But keep in mind, there are a small number of countries where laws target gender nonconforming people. You should take extra care if you have a layover in the following countries:

Brunei, Gambia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, South Sudan, Tonga, and the United Arab Emirates.

Finally, enjoy your travels! The world is a vast and varied place for each of us to experience! For further information about when to book your flights, please check out our tool based on your specific destinations.

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