If you are transgender, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming, you may face unique challenges when it comes to flying, including booking your flight, verifying your identity, going through airport security, and especially when flying internationally.
Let’s take a look at these challenges and how to navigate them to ensure a smooth, stress-free travel experience.
Table of Contents
- 1 Researching Your Destination
- 2 Booking Your Flight
- 3 ID Requirements
- 4 Screening Procedures
- 5 Traveling With Liquids, Gels, and Medication
- 6 What to Do if You Experience Discrimination or Harassment
- 7 Resources and Support Available to Transgender and Non-Binary Travelers
Researching Your Destination
When thinking about where to travel to, it’s important to keep in mind the laws and social acceptance of transgender and non-binary people at the destination.
Some countries may have laws or cultural practices that restrict gender expression or do not recognize non-binary or transgender individuals, which could definitely affect your experience and enjoyment of the destination.
Even if this isn’t an issue, it could be a good idea to research LGBTQIA+ friendly spaces, such as bars, restaurants, and hotels, in your destination, so you are aware of the most safe and welcoming spaces.
IGLTA is an excellent resource to provide insight into what LGBTQIA+ travelers might expect when travelling to a particular destination.
Booking Your Flight
When you book your flight, you will likely be asked to provide your title (or gender). You will always see options like Mr or Ms., but some airlines now offer more inclusive titles, such as Mx. or Misc. You may also be able to leave the field blank and select no title.
While the TSA doesn’t consider your identity, airlines and aviation bodies in other countries might, so it’s important that the gender marker on your ticket matches the gender marker on your ID.
Hopefully, changes will be coming in the future, but for now, it’s important that your gender matches your ID to ensure a smooth travel experience.
Additionally, it’s essential that you use your legal name as it appears on your government-issued ID, so your ID can be verified.
TSA ID Requirements
According to the TSA, they are “committed to ensuring all travelers are treated with respect and dignity,” so have tried to make the process of going through the security screening process as easy as possible.
Thankfully, the TSA has removed gender considerations when verifying your ID, so all that is required is for you to show and ensure that your government-issued identification and boarding pass match.
International ID Requirements
If you are transgender, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming, your experience may not go as smoothly in other countries, as not all countries may be as progressive as the U.S.
If you are flying internationally, there are a couple of things that we recommend:
- If possible, bring a government-issued ID that matches your gender identity to reduce the chance of delays or confusion at the airport.
- If you have not yet updated your ID to reflect your gender identity, bring a government-issued ID that matches your assigned sex at birth.
- In any case, we recommend checking with the airline in advance to see what documentation is required for a smooth travel experience.
In the U.S., the TSA may use Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), a walk-through metal detector (WTMD), and/or a pat-down as part of their screening procedures.
The AIT Screening Process
As it stands, the TSA’s AIT machines use gender-specific algorithms. So a TSA officer will press a button designating your gender as male or female based on their own assessment.
Thankfully, a gender-neutral algorithm is in the works, though there is no confirmed date when it will be implemented.
Walk-Through Metal Detector
The walk-through metal detector does not take into account your sex or gender, as it is simply designed to detect metallic objects.
A walk-through metal detector is used as the main form of screening as you go through airport security in many countries where Advanced Imaging Technology isn’t used.
If you either opt out of screening or you trigger an alarm, you may be subject to a pat-down by an officer. You are entitled to inform the officer of your gender identity and request that the pat-down be performed by an officer of that gender.
Traveling With Liquids, Gels, and Medication
If you are planning on traveling with liquids, gels, or aerosols, they should follow the 3-1-1 rule if packed in your carry-on.
This simply means that any liquids, gels, or aerosols should be packed in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml) and placed in a clear, single-quart sized bag when going through airport security.
The exception is if the item is considered to be medically necessary, such as gel-filled prosthetic items, or medication.
Needles, syringes or hormones, should have evidence that they have been prescribed for a smoother experience.
You should also declare these items to security officers at the checkpoint for inspection.
What to Do if You Experience Discrimination or Harassment
Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment are still realities for LGBTQIA+ people when flying.
It’s therefore important to know your rights and what steps you can take if you experience discrimination or harassment.
- Know your rights: You are protected under federal and state laws from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, and are therefore entitled to equal treatment.
- Document the incident: Document the incident as best as you can, including taking notes of what was said or done, getting the names and contact information of the people involved, and taking photos or videos if possible.
- Speak up: If you are comfortable doing so, we recommend speaking up and asserting your rights
- File a complaint: You have the right to file a complaint with the airline or the TSA if you experience discrimination or harassment.
- Seek legal support: If you believe that your rights were violated, you may wish to seek legal support
- Share your story: No airline or organization likes bad PR, so sharing your story can help raise awareness and bring attention to what you experienced if you aren’t getting anywhere through the formal avenues.
- Take care of yourself: Experiencing discrimination or harassment can be a traumatic and stressful experience, so it’s important that you prioritize self-care and seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals if needed.
Resources and Support Available to Transgender and Non-Binary Travelers
There are a number of useful resources and support available, including:
- The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA): IGLTA is a leading organization that promotes LGBTQ+ tourism and provides resources and support for LGBTQ+ travelers.
- The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE): NCTE is a national advocacy organization that works to advance the rights of transgender and non-binary people.
- Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF): TLDEF is a national organization that works to achieve equality for transgender and non-binary people through legal advocacy.
- The Human Rights Campaign’s Airport Equality Index: The Airport Equality Index rates airports on their policies and practices related to LGBTQ+ travelers, including transgender and non-binary travelers.
- The U.S. Department of State’s LGBTQI+ Travel Information: The U.S. Department of State provides information and resources for LGBTQI+ travelers, including transgender and non-binary travelers.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).