Non-Binary Passengers Ask: What Does Gender Have To Do With It?

In the United States, gender is a mandatory field for flight bookings. The requirement was established by the Transport Security Administration in 2009 as part of its Secure Flight program, an initiative that grew out of the 9/11 Commission. This allowed the agency to use additional passenger information, including gender, in later stages of screening to distinguish passengers from individuals on federal watch lists such as the no-fly list.

That year, the Transport Security Administration announced changes to its policy to be more gender biased. It updated its Standard Operating Procedures in February to no longer use gender to validate identification at checkpoints, and also included the “X” (undisclosed) and “U” (undisclosed) gender markers in applications for PreCheck, its pre-screening program introduced. Robert C. Langston, a TSA spokesman, said that the agency is “committed to ensuring that all travelers are treated with respect and dignity” and that they are addressing the concerns of transgender, non-binary and gender-nonconforming travelers regarding security control procedures.

When writer Isle McElroy flew to New York from Bangor, Maine, in March, a TSA agent asked “pink or blue,” referring to the buttons the officer presses when passengers pass through the body scan, which currently uses gender-specific standards for its security checks. Mx. McElroy chose blue for men because it seemed most comfortable at the moment. “It’s always extremely anxious for me because I have to adopt a wrong version of myself,” Mx. said McElroy. The TSA hopes to begin updating its scanners to be gender non-biased later this year.

While many international airlines do not require gender data to be collected on bookings, some airlines still require selection of honorific titles such as Mr. or Ms. on their own websites and do not offer a gender-neutral alternative such as Mx. (pronounced “mix”) or an empty option. An exception is Air Canada, which released a new reservation system in 2020 that included non-binary honors. Air New Zealand has an Mx. Title available but still only offers male or female in its optional gender field. According to a spokeswoman, the airline wants to add an “undisclosed” option.

British Airways announced in 2019 that it was introducing non-binary options, but has not yet updated its system (it offers titles for Viscounts and Viscountess – according to British society chronicler Debrett, there are currently 115 Viscounts). KLM expects non-binary options to be available in 2023, and Air France will make them available “soon,” according to Arturo Diaz, a spokesman for both airlines.

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