Attitudes toward gender are slowly shifting, with celebrities such as Sam Smith and Indya Moore (Pose) raising awareness around being non-binary. However, there remain many areas where people are forced to choose to label themselves as a gender they don’t identify with.
One of these is when traveling—in particular, when booking airline tickets, and passengers are required to choose a gender. There are signs this is beginning to change.
In 2018, both the International Air Transport Association and Airlines for America (A4A) approved amendments to booking procedures to allow additional booking options for non-binary passengers.
A small number of airlines in both Europe and the US are now allowing customers to identify as something other than ‘male’ or ‘female’ when booking. The list is small but growing.
To take advantage of most of these, passengers will need to also have gender-neutral passports or travel documents.
Currently, these can be obtained in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, Ireland and Nepal (Germany and Austria have also approved intersex as a third, legally-recognizable gender). Around a dozen US states now offer a non-binary or ‘X’ marker on driving licences or state ID.
“Every traveler deserves to feel safe, welcome and supported, and the ability to travel without being trapped into narrow definitions of gender is an important part of that,” John Tanzella, IGLTA President/CEO told Gay Cities.
“We hope all airlines will recognize the need to embrace diversity and make this change.”
Below are airlines currently allowing non-binary booking options, and some others considering it.
This Canadia carrier can claim to have been the first to introduce booking options for non-binary people, having introduced them over a year ago.
Air Italy – Italy’s second-biggest carrier after Alitalia – became the first in Europe to offer a third gender option in summer this year. The option is currently only available for travelers with the corresponding gender-neutral identification and travel documentation. It also offers Mx alongside Mr, Miss, Mrs, etc, as a prefix option.
In March 2019, United Airlines in the US was the first airline to offer an ‘X’ option for those not wishing to mark themselves ‘male’ or ‘female’ on booking forms. It also added Mx to its drop-down menu of prefixes.
Announcing the change, Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer at United, said: “United is determined to lead the industry in LGBT inclusivity, and we are so proud to be the first US airline to offer these inclusive booking options for our customers.”
In December 2019, it was revealed American Airlines had introduced booking options for non-binary passengers. According to USA Today , customers booking over the phone can opt for ‘U’ (undisclosed) or ‘X’ when asked about their gender. It’s understood the options will soon be introduced to the AA bookings website.
“We recently completed a system update to offer non-binary gender selections,” American spokesman Ross Feinstein confirmed. “Taking care of our customers and team members is what we do, and we are glad to be able to better accommodate the gender preferences of our travelers and team members.”
And these airlines are considering changing their websites and booking procedures to be more non-binary inclusive…
The UK’s official carrier has indicated that is looking at introducing a third gender option for bookings. A spokesperson told GayCities: “We know how important it is for all of our customers to feel comfortable and welcome no matter how they self-identify. We will look to change our booking platform to reflect this and we’re currently assessing the technical development requirements needed across a range of our systems.”
Lufthansa Group owns Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian Airlines.
“We are constantly working on ways to improve our website and booking options for our customers,” a spokesperson told GayCities. “Unfortunately at this time our website is technically restricted to the current options, however we are taking the implementation of additional gender options into consideration.”
“Please know that while we don’t have a timeframe to share, Southwest is currently investigating solutions, and the technical requirements needed, to provide our Customers with non-binary gender marker options during the booking process,” says a spokesperson.
“We currently do not offer the option for customers to make a booking as a gender other than male or female. However, Virgin Atlantic is committed to its support within the LGBT+ community and is looking into its booking processes and gender options for travel in the future,” says a spokesperson.
With over 1,100 commercial airline companies in the world, there is clearly a long way to go. GayCities contacted some of the other biggest airlines in the world about their policies (including Ryanair and Air France-KLM), and has yet to have had any response.
One frequent traveler hopes that now the gates have been opened, many more change their policies. Neon Starlight, who is in the process of setting up their own travel blog for trans and non-binary people, says they’re glad there’s a handful that have added the option, “but it should be 100%!”
Starlight is based in Portland, Oregon.
“I am nonbinary and transgender, but when I got my gender changed, M was the only option. I still would probably not get my ID changed to X until it’s more universal. Having my ID read X, but my passport read M would make me feel anxious about traveling abroad.
“I traveled with someone that had X and was basically told they need to just choose ‘whatever is the closest’ for their airline ticket. We were both uncomfortable with that, but since I have TSA pre-check (honestly a must-have for anyone that is transgender or nonbinary and traveling often!), we didn’t have much opportunity for issues.”
“I hope worldwide both governments and airlines continue to grow when it comes to recognizing people who aren’t male or female. Safety is such a huge concern when traveling, and it would take a load off to have some level of protection from misunderstanding and harassment if X was a standard option everywhere alongside M and F.”