Here and there, airlines will make changes to how they do things. It’s usually to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of their customers (read: stuffing more seats into a plane, raising fees, etc.). But every once in a while they’ll do something for the good of the people, instead of, you know, themselves.
In June 2021, the State Department said U.S. citizens would soon be able to select their gender on passport applications without having to submit supporting medical documentation. 4 months later, in October of 2021, the department issued its first American passport with an option of “X” for gender.
In March 2022, the TSA said it was going to introduce gender-neutral screening at its checkpoints. This would result in changes in imaging technology (here’s what TSA agents see on airport body scanners nowadays), reducing the number of pat-down screenings, removing gender identification from checkpoint screenings and updating TSA PreCheck to include an “X” gender marker on its application, as well.
Those are all great advances and I’m certainly not knocking any of them. However, a couple of airlines had actually been way ahead of the government.
- United became the first U.S. airline to offer non-binary gender booking options over 2 years ago. Since March 2019, when making reservations on United, passengers have had the option to identify themselves as a gender-neutral “X” (Unspecified) or “U” (Undisclosed) when booking, and in their MileagePlus customer profiles.
- American Airlines followed United’s lead a few months later. In December 2019, they also began the process of adding options of “U” or “X” on their flight reservations.
However, Reuters reports that all airlines represented by Airlines for America have agreed to update computer systems by the end of 2024 to allow travelers to purchase tickets with an “X” gender marker.
Airlines for America represents:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
According to Reuters, the change was agreed upon after Airlines for America recently engaged with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden.
“Nobody should have to misgender themselves in order to book a flight,” Wyden wrote to the airline group. “And, by forcing travelers to book their ticket with inaccurate gender information, airlines also end up providing inaccurate information to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).”
The deadline of “the end of 2024” is still over 2 years away. However the airline’s commitment to offer gender-neutral options on a passengers’ ticket – ones that will then match those on their passport and TSA PreCheck – will be a step towards decreasing potential confusion and confrontation while traveling. More importantly though, gender affirmation in something as simple as an airline ticket is another step towards respect and equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
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