Metro Weekly

Delta customer alleges airline discriminated against her nonbinary child by refusing to recognize their gender

Dawn Henry tweeted about her frustration over being unable to purchase tickets reflecting her child's correct gender.

Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines – Photo: Photo by Miguel Ángel Sanz on Unsplash

Delta Air Lines is pledging to update its booking system after it was accused of discrimination for forcing nonbinary passengers to identify themselves as either male or female.

The issue was raised by Dawn Henry, 52, of Arizona after she attempted to purchase a surprise plane ticket for her 21-year-old nonbinary child to come and visit the family.

However, Henry encountered difficulty reserving a ticket due to the airline’s refusal to accept anything other than a “male” or “female” gender marker.

Henry, who goes by the screen name “Aurora Dawn” on Twitter, tweeted her displeasure with Delta, noting that her child has an up-to-date Washington State driver’s license and an updated birth certificate, both of which bear the gender-neutral gender marker “X” instead of “M” or “F.”

“@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,” she wrote in a now-viral Twitter thread.

Some context: 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,” Henry continued.

“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.”

When Henry called the airline, as TSA recommends customers do when they encounter problems of this type, a sales representative told her they were “unable to change the gender designation to X.”

After she explained that her child is nonbinary and has matching documentation, she was placed on hold. Then, a Delta supervisor in Atlanta picked up the phone and told her that their electronic system only allows agents to designate customers as male or female, and refused to make any accommodations for her, despite TSA’s policy claiming that reservations should match a person’s government-issued photo ID.

The @Delta supervisor got short with me and said, sorry, that’s the policy. I said, are you telling me you aren’t allowing my #nonbinary #LGBTQ kid who has a perfectly legal state-issued ID to fly?” Henry wrote.

She said no, I’m not saying that, it’s just the policy at @Delta,” she continued. “I pointed out it has that effect if TSA requires matching documents and there’s no way to buy a ticket with a gender that matches the state-issued #nonbinary gender on the ID.”

After the supervisor refused to budge, Henry asserted that the policy was discriminatory before eventually becoming frustrated and hanging up the phone.

She expressed frustration that she has not been able to purchase a ticket for her child that reflects their correct gender identity for the same price as the Delta flight she tried to book.

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

The 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.

American Airlines and United Airlines have since added drop-down menus during the booking process to allow for a nonbinary gender marker option, but some other airlines, such as Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest, only offer binary gender marker options, reports NBC News.

While Henry is not pursuing legal action, she hopes that speaking candidly about her experience will pressure Delta and other airlines to amend their policies and allow nonbinary individuals to choose a gender-neutral marker.

Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia offer nonbinary and trans individuals a gender-neutral option on state IDs, and 15 states allow gender-neutral markers on birth certificates without requiring proof of surgery. Those documents can subsequently be used to confirm a person’s gender as well as their identity.

Additionally, the Biden administration is currently working on offering a gender-neutral option for passports, with the first nonbinary passport issued in October to Dana Zzyym, an intersex veteran who successfully sued the federal government to obtain a passport that accurately reflects their gender identity.

When asked about its lack of a nonbinary gender option in ticketing, a spokesperson for Delta told NBC News the airline is in the process of “updating” their booking systems to offer a gender-neutral gender marker option in the future.

“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 company 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.”

But Josh Block, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said the airline’s policy is discriminatory and that Delta — and other airlines — have an obligation to ensure all customers, regardless of gender identity, are able to access their services.

“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 in a statement.

“If an airline is having a policy that prevents people who are nonbinary from flying, that would pretty clearly violate that sex prohibition.”

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