News (USA)

Delta says non-binary customer can only fly as “male or female” despite valid ID & documents

Seattle–Tacoma International Airport. Ground handling of the Delta aircraft. August 2019.
A Delta aircraft at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport in August 2019.Photo: Shutterstock

Update: Delta Air Lines told LGBTQ Nation in a statement that they are “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.” They have stated that they “have begun the process of updating our booking systems” to offer a non-binary gender option, which they expect “to be available to customers during the fourth quarter of 2022.” Our story has been revised to reflect Delta’s statement.

The mother to a non-binary customer attempting to fly with Delta Air Lines alleges the airline is discriminating against them, after she was unable to buy a plane ticket for them unless they inaccurately marked their gender as “male” or “female” while purchasing the ticket, despite the person having a valid identification with an “X” marker and a birth certificate also with an “X” gender marker.

“@Delta is discriminating against #nonbinary individuals and not allowing them to fly despite legal ID issued by states that allow X on birth certificates and state-issued IDs,” the mother alleged in a now-viral thread of tweets posted on January 6.

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“TSA requires that the boarding pass reservation match your state issued ID. TSA accepts X as a gender marker on state IDs. The problem isn’t with TSA. The problem is airlines, like @Delta and @AlaskaAir,” the mother, Aurora Dawn, wrote. “I first discovered this problem when trying to make an online reservation to buy a ticket as a Christmas present for my #nonbinary adult child. The only gender options in @Delta and @AlaskaAir online reservation systems is male or female.”

Following TSA directions to call the airlines directly, she called Delta to make the reservation, but a representative told her that “she was unable to change the gender designation to X,” and that the ticket must have male or female gender designations. After explaining that her child is non-binary and their birth certificate has an “X” gender marker as does their identification, the representative put her on hold.

Then, “a @Delta supervisor in Atlanta came on the line and told me that their system only uses male/female and I can only use one of those. I explained again that my adult child is #nonbinary and #LGBTQ and their ID is X and TSA requires them to match,” she wrote.

“The @Delta supervisor got short with me and said, sorry, that’s the policy,” with the supervisor adding that she believes “that is not discriminatory, it’s just their policy.” Dawn responds, “Then the policy is discriminatory.” She hung up, unable to get the plane ticket from Delta, and unable to find another airline offering flights on the same route for a similar price that recognizes non-binary identification.

“And even if I could find an airline that would issue a ticket with the correct X gender, @Delta was the least expensive,” she pointed out. “Why should a #nonbinary #LGBTQ person have to pay MORE in order to be allowed to fly?… that’s discrimination.”

She cited a 2018 article published by INTO reporting that Delta pledged to “we are exploring options to be even more inclusive of non-binary customers with a non-binary gender option during the booking process.”

In 2019, Delta reported to NBC News, and confirmed to the Daily Beast, they were “planning to offer a non-binary gender option during the booking process…  to accommodate the needs of diverse customers throughout our business.”

Delta has previously received criticism for how other LGBTQ customers have been treated in recent years.

In October, the airline announced that flight attendants would begin to make gender-neutral introductions during on-board announcements, like “hello everyone” as opposed to “ladies and gentlemen.” The airline said at the time, “Promoting inclusion throughout the travel journey is core to creating a safe, comfortable and respectful space for all of our customers and employees.”

More and more states and locales across the United States have begun offering gender markers that aren’t male or female in recent years. According to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), 21 states and the District of Columbia allow for “X” markers on driver’s licenses and IDs, covering about 45 percent of the American LGBTQ population —and all states and U.S. territories have some form of process allowing people to change their gender markers, although all are not easy.

15 states allow “X” markers on birth certificates, but 14 states and Guam require proof of gender-affirming surgery before they allow people to change their gender marker, while three states do not allow changes under any circumstances.

While domestic flights in the United States do not require passports, the State Department under President Joe Biden (D) has begun to make it possible for Americans to get gender-neutral “X” markers on their passports and other federal identification. This is in accordance with a 2019 ruling issued by a federal judge directing the State Dept. to give Dana Zzyym, an intersex person, a passport accurately reflecting their identity. Zzyym received the first passport with an “X” marker under gender identification was issued in October 2021.

From 1977 until that point, the Department of State only issued passports with an “M” or “F” gender marker. Prior to 1977, U.S. passports didn’t have gender markers on them at all.

Lawmakers, including out Colorado Rep. Brianna Titone (D), and other LGBTQ community members and advocates such as Charlotte Clymer tweeted about Delta’s alleged actions.

Delta did not respond to Dawn’s tweets on Twitter, but told LGBTQ Nation in a statement, “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.

“As such, we have begun the process of updating our booking systems to be more inclusive by offering a non-binary gender option. We expect this option to be available to customers during the fourth quarter of 2022.”

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