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.

Celebrating immigration perspectives and diverse journeys

By The Hub team, September 25, 2020

From Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the U.S. celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, a chance to pay tribute to the history, culture and contributions that generations of Latinxs have paved to enrich U.S. history. It is also a reminder to celebrate our differences and spark difficult, yet important, conversations.

To kick off the month, UNITE, our multicultural business resource group for employees, did just that by hosting a panel discussion about the immigrant experience and what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S.

United Litigation and Managing Counsel Elizabeth Lopez, who is a pro bono immigration attorney, moderated the panel, and was joined by Ashley Huebner, Associate Director of Legal Services at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Magdalena Gonzalez, Program Manager, Leadership Development Programs at Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement. The three women shared their insights and personal stories, while addressing some misconceptions and highlighting the contributions of immigrants to our company and country.

Participants' headshots from United's Hispanic Heritage Month Panel From left to right, Elizabeth Lopez, Ashely Huebner and Magdalena Gonzalez

"I started to notice that there were things I was scared of doing, that I needed to be cautious," said Magdalena while sharing her personal experience as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient. "My friends, who a majority of them are citizens, did not need to worry about that. As I was able to see that, I realized that, 'oh, there's so many things that revolve around not just being a DACA recipient but revolve around being a person with an undocumented status here in the United States.'"

United maintains a close relationship with the NIJC. In May of 2019, United co-hosted an asylum clinic put on by the legal services organization, where several attorneys and legal professionals were trained on representing asylum-seeking applicants. At the end of the clinic, members of our legal department were assigned an asylum case through the NIJC.

Litigation Managing Counsel Elizabeth Lopez, Commercial Transactions Counsel Tiffany Jaspers, Global Compliance and Ethics Counsel Nancy Jacobson and Employment Litigation Senior Manager Dorothy Karpierz were partnered with attorneys from the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery to take on an immigration case of a mother of three from Honduras. Recently, after a years-long court battle, the legal team was victorious, changing the life of the woman and her family.

United is committed to connecting people and uniting the world. Whether you're an immigrant, a child of immigrants or simply want to learn more about the immigrant experience in the U.S., discussions like these, related to this hot-button issue, are important to have in order to understand the human lives behind it.

Make your voice heard

By Brett J. Hart, September 22, 2020

Your voice matters. Voting is one of the most influential civic activities we can engage in as Americans. At United, our mission is to connect people and unite the world — and one of the most important ways to do that is to engage in the democratic process. That's why we've long provided our employees with resources to help them get registered to vote.

This year, we're taking our support a step further as the official airline of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). Since the start of the pandemic, we've overhauled our cleaning measures through a program we call United CleanPlusSM , and the CPD has placed their trust in United to fly Commission production staff to each of the four debates, starting with the first one on September 29, hosted by Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University.

Today, on National Voter Registration Day, we also want to make sure our customers have access to information about how to participate in the 2020 Election. Over the past several months, you've heard a lot from us about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed air travel. We've learned that with some planning and extra effort, it's still possible — and safe. That's true of voting, too.

No matter which party you support or how you're planning to vote, we know our democracy will be stronger if you make your voice heard and make a plan to vote.

Best,

Brett J. Hart
President
United Airlines

United named to Year Up Opportunity Hall of Fame

By The Hub team, September 17, 2020

Since its launch 20 years ago, Year Up, one of our critical needs grant recipients, has helped more than 10,000 young adults gain access to corporate business and technical experience at large companies like United while offering the invaluable perspectives they bring with them.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit inducted United into its Opportunity Hall of Fame – a selection that occurs once every five years.

Year Up's mission is to help close the opportunity divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Since 2018, our partnership has allowed talented student learners the opportunity to gain corporate business experience and technical skill training at the airline while bringing their unique perspectives to our United family and culture. One of those students is Emily Lopez, who graduated from the Year Up program in January 2019 and was hired to be part of the United family as an analyst in Revenue Management.

"I moved from Venezuela to the United States in July 2016 and being a young immigrant with no resources can be difficult to pursue a career in a new country," said Emily.

After learning about Year Up and ultimately being accepted into the program, Emily landed an internship with United, an opportunity she is very grateful for.

Emily Lopez - Analyst, Pricing & Revenue Management

"Feedback from my mentors, coaches and managers was key during my internship phase and helped me convert my internship at United to a full-time position. I am grateful for the opportunity United has provided me and my Year Up Alumni colleagues to keep building a professional career within the company. I am so excited to continue building a professional career with the company and to see United being inducted to Year Up's Hall of Fame. Let's continue closing the opportunity divide!" said Emily.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has made this year's partnership a bit more difficult, we continue to do our part to support the Year Up student learners. Last month, we surprised 145 graduates of this year's Year Up Chicago program with roundtrip tickets to pursue career and networking opportunities within the United States.

"I've been personally honored and inspired to be an advocate for Year Up since I joined United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "This program gives young people from challenged backgrounds an opportunity to get their foot in the door as interns at United. This year's graduates are entering a challenging job landscape, but we have one thing that can help: a route network that provides easy access to major business markets across the United States."

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