A mother from Arizona is calling out Delta Air Lines after she said she could not buy a plane ticket for her nonbinary child due to the airline’s lack of gender options during the booking process.
In a Twitter thread Thursday, Dawn Henry, 52, said she was trying to buy a surprise plane ticket for her adult child when she discovered Delta only provides male and female gender options. Henry’s 21-year-old child is nonbinary, meaning they identify as neither exclusively male nor female, and they have an “X” gender marker on their birth certificate and Washington state driver’s license.
This incident comes three years after Delta and other major U.S. airlines announced they would update their booking tools to be inclusive of nonbinary passengers. At least two of those other airlines — American and United — already provide a drop-down menu during the booking process that is inclusive of nonbinary travelers.
While Henry said she is still frustrated by the situation, she hopes speaking out will spark changes across the airline industry.
“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 NBC News in a Twitter message. “My hope is that pressure on the airlines (not just Delta, but the others that have not updated their systems) will get this done.”
After Henry reached out to Delta about its lack of gender options, a Delta supervisor pointed her to the company’s policy, which only recognizes male and female genders, Henry said.
“But as it stands, at least with @Delta, #nonbinary people are not allowed to fly,” Henry tweeted. “The supervisor said that’s not true. But when a policy makes it impossible to buy a ticket that will comport with TSA guidelines, the result is the same. And that’s discrimination.”
The Transportation Security Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that oversees travel security, advises travelers to “use the same name, gender and birth date as indicated on your government-issued ID” and states that a TSA officer “will ensure the identification and boarding pass are authentic and match” at the security checkpoint, according to the TSA website.
When asked about Delta’s lack of a nonbinary gender option and why one was not added shortly after the 2019 announcement, a company spokesperson said it is not an easy fix and requires the involvement of multiple departments. The representative did, however, say the addition would arrive sometime this year.
“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
Josh Block, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said Delta’s current policy is discriminatory, noting that several courts affirm the rights of the transgender community.
“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.”
Delta is not the only airline that has not added nonbinary gender options since the 2019 joint announcement by six major airlines. Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest also do not have options outside of male and female.
Following the incident, Henry said she is not seeking legal action.
“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 said, adding that the airline 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.”
More than a dozen states — including New York, California, New Jersey and Maine — legally recognize nonbinary individuals on identification documents. As more states provide the gender marker X, Block said it’s crucial for businesses to follow suit.
“This is not something that any business should just be sitting back and wiping their hands of,” Block said. “Businesses have an obligation to make sure that nonbinary people have equal service, and if that requires investing money to update your computer system, then that’s what a business needs to do.”