Know Before You Go: Tips for Transgender and Nonbinary Travelers - United Hub

Know before you go: Tips for transgender and nonbinary travelers

By The Hub team

By Alex Verman

This story was originally published on AFAR | May 30, 2019

For people whose gender identity doesn't match the one assigned to them on their birth certificate, dealing with air travel can present a host of obstacles. Here's what U.S. travelers need to know about flying outside of the binary.

If you're a transgender or nonbinary traveler, making your way through the airport can feel like a journey in itself. Different airlines and airports enforce varying policies when it comes to harassment and discrimination, but all air travel requires in some way that travelers "declare" a gender as part of their identification. For transgender people and nonbinary folk (those whose internal sense of self isn't exclusively male or female), this means effectively outing yourself to every TSA official you encounter.

To offset the anxieties that come with navigating the airport as a transgender or nonbinary person, it can be helpful to know what to expect before traveling in order to prepare your documents and review your answers to security questions. These tips will give you the information you need to make smart decisions and figure out what works for you while preparing for air travel.

Navigating gender markers on travel documents

Passports

According to the U.S. State Department website, changing the name or gender marker on a U.S. passport requires submitting a DS-11 application form complete with a recent form of government-issued identification and a passport-appropriate photo (both of which must resemble your current appearance), proof of legal name change (for those changing their names) and a medical certification indicating that you have received — or are in the process of receiving — clinical treatment for your transition. Templates for this medical certification, which must be signed by a licensed physician, can be downloaded from the government agency's website. It's important to note that a description of the specific "treatment" is not required in the medical certification and need not be limited only to gender confirmation surgery — the State Department intentionally leaves it open for interpretation.

Still, some trans women have reported encountering unexpected roadblocks in getting their names and gender markers changed on their passports in the United States. In these cases, it took the intervention of a sympathetic politician to sort out a simple bureaucratic error. It's unclear how widespread this problem is, but just in case, nonbinary and trans people hoping to use their correct names and gender identities on their travel documents should start updating their passports well in advance of their intended travel date.

Whether or not you're able to change your name and gender marker, the main thing is that your passport photo somewhat matches your actual physical appearance. If your appearance has changed significantly since starting your transition, you may want to renew your passport with an updated photo and carry an additional piece of I.D. that matches the information on your passport. (Across the United States, rules regarding name and gender changes on drivers' licenses vary. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a helpful search tool that spotlights policies specific to each state.)

While the United States doesn't currently offer gender neutral passports, many other countries do provide some variation for travelers who don't identify with the "male" or "female" binary gender options. For instance, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Malta, New Zealand and Pakistan also have an "X" category, while India, Ireland and Nepal provide various third gender options. My Canadian passport has an "X" (undetermined), along with an "M" (male). Sure, it's a bit of an unsatisfying compromise, but there's still something reassuring about having a government document that acknowledges my nonbinary identity.

Flight tickets

Earlier this year, Airlines for America (A4A) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that starting June 1, 2019, both major trade organizations would allow airlines to offer two new gender options for travelers booking flights: "U" (undisclosed) or "X" (unspecified), in contrast to the previous binary system consisting of "M" (male) and "F" (female) titles only. Following the update, all five major airlines in the United States — United, Alaska, American, Delta, and Southwest — announced that they plan to shift toward more inclusive gender options for travelers.

This spring, United Airlines became the first U.S. airline to provide gender neutral options in its booking process. (This change came with newly implemented training sessions for United employees — offered by the Human Rights Campaign and The Trevor Project, an organization devoted to mental health advocacy for LGBTQ youth — which cover topics such as gender discrimination and use of preferred pronouns.)

Although the rest of the aforementioned airlines maintain plans to add the new gender options, most currently have no timetable for the update. All the same, the real test will be in how transgender and nonbinary people are treated in real life while traveling.

Getting through airport security

TSA pat-downs and scans

Security scans and pat-downs are infamous among transgender travelers. At U.S. airports, TSA requires passengers to go through a full-body Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanner that operates on a binary gender system — it's programmed to read certain bodies in certain ways and to see any "irregularities" as signs of danger. As you can imagine, this poses problems for some trans people, for whom a bulge in the "wrong" place is often misperceived as a security threat. (Before each passenger enters the machine, a TSA agent must press a blue "male" or pink "female" button so that the device's Automatic Target Recognition software can detect "anomalies" not consistent with the passenger's assigned gender.)

If an "anomaly" is detected, the AIT machine will ring an alarm, which means you'll have to receive additional screening before passing through airport security — often in the form of a pat-down. For some people, this can be an uncomfortable experience of public humiliation. According to the TSA website, travelers can initially request a pat-down instead of an AIT scan, which avoids the potential embarrassment of the alarm (even though the end result of a pat-down is the same). You can also request an inspecting TSA agent who matches your gender identity, and you can request to have the pat-down conducted in a private area with a companion of your choosing.

Packing medications, prosthetics, and implants

Most airlines and airports will allow you to travel with medications and supplies in your carry-on, although they should be packed in a separate bag within your luggage. For transgender travelers who inject their hormones, it's best to pack any medical syringes alongside their corresponding medications and to try to keep the pharmaceutical label intact. The TSA website also advises travelers to declare any syringes or dilators to inspectors before going through security and to travel with proof of the medical necessity of the item(s).

Transgender travelers wearing chest binders or prosthetic devices may need to undergo Explosive Trace Detection (ETD), or swabbing. (Implants should not pose any issue.) The National Center for Transgender Equality states that travelers are not required to "lift, remove, or raise an article of clothing to reveal a prosthetic item and should not be asked to remove it." According to their website, if a TSA officer asks you to reveal a prosthetic item, you can ask to speak to a supervisor. You can also ask to be screened in a private room. Still, this whole process can be time-consuming, so make sure to arrive early to account for delays.

Transgender or nonbinary travelers with questions about medical equipment and devices can call the TSA Cares hotline in advance of their trip at 1-855-787-2227.

The most important thing to keep in mind

Airports can be unsettling spaces for everyone but especially for trans and nonbinary people —and particularly for trans people of color. Airports are not simply binary spaces; they are also under heavy security. The important thing to remember is that there's nothing "wrong" with you or your body. There's no reason for people to be seeing you as a threat, and you have every right to demand respectful treatment. As with any negative customer experience, if you have any issues with airline or TSA personnel, you can report it.

Remember, navigating the airport is just one part of the trip. For better or worse, your time there doesn't have to define your travel experience. The rest of it is up to you.

Jessica Kimbrough named Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

By The Hub team, July 10, 2020

Jessica Kimbrough, currently Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, will take on the new role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Managing Director.

Jessica assumes this new and expanded position to focus on global inclusion and equity as part of our enhanced commitment to ensure best practices across the business to strengthen our culture.

In this role, Jessica will be responsible for helping United redefine our efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion – ensuring that our programs and approach are strategic, integrated and outcome-oriented, while we continue to build a culture that reflects our core values. She will report to Human Resources and Labor Relations EVP Kate Gebo.

"Jessica's appointment to this role is another critical step our executive team is taking to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion remains a top priority at United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "Given her drive, experience and commitment to champion collaboration and allyship among our employee business resource groups, she is uniquely qualified to take on this position and I look forward to working closely with her."

As Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, Jessica worked closely with senior management to create and maintain positive labor relations among our unionized workforce, providing counsel on labor litigation, negotiations, contract administration, organizing issues and managing attorneys who represent United in labor relations. Previously, she served as Labor and Employment Counsel in our legal department.

Jessica has a passion for creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and leaders, and was honored as one of Chicago Defender's "Women of Excellence" for excellence in her career and civic engagement in 2017. She currently serves as President of uIMPACT, our women's employee business resource group.

Jessica's new role is effective immediately.

United Cargo and logistics partners keep critical medical shipments moving

By The Hub team, July 02, 2020

By working together and strengthening partnerships during these unprecedented times, our global community has overcome challenges and created solutions to keep the global supply chain moving. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the shipping landscape, United and our industry partners have increasingly demonstrated our commitment to the mission of delivering critical medical supplies across the world.

United Cargo has partnered with DSV Air and Sea, a leading global logistics company, to transport important pharmaceutical materials to places all over the world. One of the items most critical during the current crisis is blood plasma.

Plasma is a fragile product that requires very careful handling. Frozen blood plasma must be kept at a very low, stable temperature of negative 20 degrees Celsius or less – no easy task considering it must be transported between trucks, warehouses and airplanes, all while moving through the climates of different countries. Fortunately, along with our well-developed operational procedures and oversight, temperature-controlled shipping containers from partners like va-Q-tec can help protect these sensitive blood plasma shipments from temperature changes.

A single TWINx shipping container from va-Q-tec can accommodate over 1,750 pounds of temperature-sensitive cargo. Every week, DSV delivers 20 TWINx containers, each one filled to capacity with human blood plasma, for loading onto a Boeing 787-9 for transport. The joint effort to move thousands of pounds of blood plasma demonstrates that despite the distance, challenges in moving temperature-sensitive cargo and COVID-19 obstacles, we continue to find creative solutions with the help of our strong partnerships.

United Cargo is proud to keep the commercial air bridges open between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Since March 19, we have operated over 3,200 cargo-only flights between six U.S. hubs and over 20 cities in Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, India, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Celebrating Juneteenth

By United Airlines, June 18, 2020

A message from UNITE, United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group

Fellow United team members –

Hello from the UNITE leadership team. While we communicate frequently with our 3,500 UNITE members, our platform doesn't typically extend to the entire United family, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share some of our thoughts with all of you.

Tomorrow is June 19. On this day in 1865, shortened long ago to "Juneteenth," Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved individuals were free. For many in the African-American community, particularly in the South, it is recognized as the official date slavery ended in the United States.

Still, despite the end of slavery, the Constitutional promise that "All men are created equal" would overlook the nation's Black citizens for decades to come. It wasn't until nearly a century later that the Civil Rights Act (1964) ended legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act (1965) protected voting rights for Black Americans. But while the nation has made progress, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have made it undeniably clear that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve racial parity and inclusion.

Two weeks ago, Scott and Brett hosted a virtual town hall and set an important example by taking a minute, as Brett said, "to lower my guard, take off my armor, and just talk to you. And talk to you straight from the heart."

Difficult conversations about race and equity are easy to avoid. But everyone needs to have these conversations – speaking honestly, listening patiently and understanding that others' experiences may be different from your own while still a valid reflection of some part of the American experience.

To support you as you consider these conversations, we wanted to share some resources from one of United's partners, The National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum will host an all-day Virtual Juneteenth Celebration to recognize Juneteenth through presentations, stories, photographs and recipes. The museum also has a portal that United employees can access called Talking About Race, which provides tools and guidance for everyone to navigate conversations about race.

Our mission at UNITE is to foster an inclusive working environment for all of our employees. While we are hopeful and even encouraged by the widespread and diverse show of support for African Americans around the country – and at United - we encourage everyone to spend some time on Juneteenth reflecting on racial disparities that remain in our society and dedicating ourselves to the work that still must be done to fight systemic racism. By honoring how far we've come and honestly acknowledging how far we still must go, we believe United – and the incredible people who are the heart and soul of this airline - can play an important role in building a more fair and just world.

Thank you,

UNITE (United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group)

Leadership Team

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