Nonbinary airline passengers looking to book flights as their authentic selves remain limited to just two domestic and two international carriers, three years after the major airlines promised greater gender options, according to an investigation by The Daily Beast.
United and American have been offering nonbinary fliers an option other than “M” or “F”, as is legal in 21 states and Washington, D.C., since 2019.
But Delta Airlines, which promised the same thing that year, has yet to implement the change in its booking system, even with the help of telephone support agents.
A woman in Arizona found that out last week when she tried to buy a ticket for her nonbinary adult child as a gift, but couldn’t, because Delta Airlines’ website required her to select either “male” or “female” as their gender. This is the same problem faced by anyone whose ID now lists their gender as “X” or something else.
Dawn Henry called customer service in hopes of an explanation. She noted that Delta had announced it would be offering new gender options for nonbinary customers as far back as February 2019, as The Daily Beast reported. After placing the Tucson mom on hold for 30 minutes, the Delta representative came back on the line and told her their policy wouldn’t allow it. Frustrated, Henry hung up and let her Twitter followers know what happened.
Despite Delta’s 2019 announcement that it would join American and United in offering nonbinary customers a gender option other than "male" or "female," the airline now tells the Daily Beast they're still not ready to accommodate gender nonconforming passengers.
A Delta spokesperson revealed that they are finally preparing to roll out this option sometime "in the fourth quarter of 2022,” a spokesperson said. Another spokesperson followed-up with The Daily Beast to revise that statement to “in 2022.”
“Delta Air Lines is a proud, long-time supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and we understand that being seen and acknowledged is part of having an equitable travel experience. While we quickly shifted focus due to COVID in early 2020 to helping customers navigate the rapidly changing environment and government regulations, we are back on track to be able to offer a non-binary gender option in our booking systems in 2022.”
Delta also noted it’s changed how it greets passengers, from “ladies and gentlemen” to “gender neutral” language such as “everyone.”
“I am committed to fixing this, not just for my child, but for everyone who holds legal ID with an X gender marker,” Henry told the Daily Beast, and revealed that at this point, given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, she’s postponed buying that ticket for her child.
But she remains unsatisfied with Delta’s response. “I am glad they are finally promising to follow through on a commitment they made four years ago, but a promise is not enough,” Henry added, noting that Delta still has not responded to her directly. “I will not stop pursuing this until every U.S. Airline with a discriminatory reservation system has made the long-overdue changes.”
The Daily Beast reached out to more than a dozen airlines around the world, and found only three that accommodate passengers who use legal identification showing their gender to be something other than “male” or “female,” and one budget airline that doesn’t even bother with such requirements.
Fortunately for Henry and her 21-year-old child, she does have two other options. United Airlines became the first airline to accommodate nonbinary customers in March 2019, followed by American Airlines, at least one of which flies the route she’s been trying to book.
The same cannot be said for seven other domestic airlines, and nine international airlines. None of these offers an option for nonbinary customers to book a flight: JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, Southwest, Hawaiian, Frontier, Spirit, Breeze, British Airways, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, Aeroflot, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Japan Airlines.
Some airlines provided The Daily Beast with statements of explanation and promises that they are working to offer customers more gender options; others ignored our requests as of press time.
Emirates, the Dubai-based airline that is a subsidiary of The Emirates Group, which is in turn owned by the government of Dubai's Investment Corporation of Dubai, is the lone international airline offering an “undisclosed” booking option for nonbinary passengers.
Ryanair, one of Europe’s budget airlines, requires a valid passport but doesn’t require passengers declare their gender to book a ticket, at all.
It is discriminatory for the airlines to not offer an option to nonbinary customers, the ACLU’s Josh Block told NBCNews.com: “There’s a major problem with Delta and possibly some other airlines not adapting their computer system to correspond to the reality that people have official government documents that recognize their nonbinary gender identity,” Block said. “If an airline is having a policy that prevents people who are nonbinary from flying, that would pretty clearly violate that sex prohibition.”