Transgender and TSA
Federal Policy Changes
As the Department of Homeland Security has greatly expanded, many programs have been established that were designed without taking transgender people into account. The proposals outlined below will ensure that transgender people are treated fairly without negatively impacting the vital mission of the Department.
- Transgender Travelers. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) should develop and implement a policy that calls for polite and appropriate treatment of transgender travelers and ensures that a person will not be denied their right to travel solely due to a real or perceived inconsistency between the person’s gender expression and the gender designation on their ID.
- DHS Training. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should implement trainings for all DHS personnel who interact with the public to counter discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Air Travel Tips for Transgender People
Nothing on this webpage is meant, or should be interpreted to mean, that transgender people or anyone else should attempt to circumvent security or deceive security personnel in any way. It is meant only to provide tips to transgender people who may otherwise be subjected to unfair or embarrassing selective scrutiny or treatment.
Additionally, travel security rules are updated very frequently, so check this site for updated information or the website of the Transportation Security Administration.
Transgender people have as much right to travel as anyone else and we have a right to express any gender we want, any way we want while traveling (with the exception of some head and face coverings). However, recent heightened airport security has meant increased scrutiny, harassment, and discrimination against trans people who fly. NCTE hopes this document will help make your air travel experience smoother. For information on other forms of travel (train, bus, ship, etc): go to the TSA Information for Travelers page.
Who You Are: Identification Issues
All passengers 18 years of age or older are required to provide proof of identity at check-in and at the security checkpoint.
The name you use for your airline reservation must match the name on your identification.
If your current name does not match your state driver’s license, passport or other government-issued ID, we recommend that you consider getting an updated ID if possible. However, under certain circumstances, you may be able to provide proper ID without relying on an outdated driver’s license or passport—if you have a paper rather than electronic ticket (e-ticket). The TSA rules on identification are as follows:
- “If you have a paper ticket for a domestic flight, passengers age 18 and over must present one form of photo identification issued by a local, state or federal government agency (e.g.: passport/drivers license/military ID), OR two forms of non-photo identification (credit card, school ID, Utility bill, etc), one of which must have been issued by a state or federal agency (e.g.: U.S. social security card). For an international flight, you will need to present a valid passport, visa, or any other required documentation. Passengers without proper ID may be denied boarding.
- “For e-tickets, you will need to show your photo identification and e-ticket receipt to receive your boarding pass.”
Remember, however, that the more atypical your ID situation, the more likely you are to face increased scrutiny, hassle and delay.
If you do not currently look like the picture on your picture ID, we recommend that you consider getting an updated ID with a new picture if possible. If you cannot or if you are still concerned about ID issues, consider carrying an explanatory note from a physician or therapist explaining why you may not look like the picture on your ID.
Inability to change the outdated gender marker on your official ID should not necessarily stop you from flying. Many trans people choose to fly regardless of this kind of ID issues and security people probably may not pay close attention to the gender marker. But be careful, a perceived discrepancy may cause you to be outed to or by airport personnel, and that can cause loss of privacy, discrimination and possibly even trigger hate violence.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is currently testing a program called the Registered Traveler Program, which is designed to speed up security and ID processes by having travelers who fly frequently one time submit extensive private information including finger prints and retinal scans. For information on the Registered Traveler Program and its dangers to civil liberties, go to http://www.epic.org/alert/EPIC_Alert_11.13.html.
Who You Must Deal With: Airline and Security Personnel
While you will need to show ID at the security area before you proceed to your gate and also if you check luggage, there are ways to minimize having to show ID to other airport personnel.
Online Check-In and Self-Service Kiosks: Most airlines offer online check-in on their websites: E-ticket travelers can simply print-out their boarding passes from a personal computer. And most major airlines now provide e-ticket self-service check-in kiosks near their ticketing counters: an airline membership card, a major credit card, or a flight or confirmation number can be used to check-in. Using the online check-in and selfservice kiosks allows a traveler to skip going to the ticket counter. For trans travelers, this means one less place where ID issues could arise. However, if you need to check luggage, you will still need to visit an airline ticketing counter or curbside check-in and provide identification to the personnel there.
Arrive early in case you are delayed during check-in or security because of ID or other issues.
Consider carrying all your luggage with you on the plane to avoid ID issues with baggage check-in personnel—unless you have too much luggage or are carrying something that you are not allowed (e.g. scissors) or would prefer not to carry-on that might be subjected to a search (e.g. syringes or particular items of clothing).
What You Pack and/or Carry
An important consideration in terms of avoiding hassles, delays and unfair scrutiny when you fly is what you pack, both in luggage to be checked and luggage to be carried on the plane.
There are certain prohibited items (none are trans-specific) that you cannot take on airplanes, whether in carry-on or checked luggage. The TSA has a list of all prohibited and permitted items on the website.
All of your luggage (checked and carry-on) will be screened and possibly hand-searched as part of new security measures. Hand searches of carry on luggage may include emptying some or all of the articles in your bag in a public setting. Remember, for searches of checked luggage, you might not be present. Still, if you are carrying items that you do not wish to have gone over publicly, you can ask for a private screening or you can pack them in your checked luggage Packing valuable items like cameras, cash, laptop computers, or heirloom jewelry in your checked luggage is not recommended.
Medication and Syringes
Airlines advise passengers to pack all medications in their carry-on luggage just in case checked luggage is delayed or lost. If you have syringes in your carry-on luggage, either alone or along with injectable hormones, make sure to have either a prescription or a note from a physician. If you will not need the syringes the first day or so after you arrive (as luggage can be lost or delayed), or if you do not have and cannot get a written prescription, consider packing them carefully in your checked luggage. But remember, luggage can get lost.
If you do decide to carry syringes on the plane, the TSA suggests that you “have your medication and associated supplies separated from your other property and in a separate pouch/bag when you approach the screener at the walk-through metal detector. Request a visual inspection and hand your medication bag to the screener.”
What You Wear
You have a right to wear what you wish. However, wearing certain types of clothing, shoes, binding materials, prostheses or jewelry may cause you to receive additional, unwelcome and often unfair scrutiny. Remove outerwear before you get to the security checkpoint.
Airport metal detectors are extremely sensitive and may be set off by piercing jewelry, metal boned corsets, underwire bras, metal binding materials, and many shoes. Try to dress accordingly so that you can avoid additional screening procedures, scrutiny and delay. If you wear a binder or corset, consider finding one without metal clasps for traveling purposes. The security personnel may ask you to remove certain piercing jewelry.
Another threat to transgender privacy and air traveling rights is a new generation of X-ray machine being deployed in some major airports. One machine, called the Rapiscan Secure 1000, uses low level x-rays to show security personnel an image of your naked body. Security personnel are able to see what genitals you have as well as any binding or prostheses. In airports where these will be deployed, they are planned for use only on passengers requiring “enhanced scrutiny” because of a perceived “anomaly.” According to policy, security personnel will only view scans of “same sex” passengers, causing serious issues for many transgender people. There are news reports however about this rules being broken by TSA security personnel. We will be working with the TSA to develop procedures and sensitivities around searching transgender passengers, but as of now we are not confident that these searches will be handled sensitively. To see an actual image generated by the Rapiscan Secure 1000, go to the manufacturer’s website at http://www.electromax.com/rapiscan%20secure%201000.html. If faced with screening options such as these, NCTE recommends that trans people makes choices based on their own feelings of safety and comfort.
What You Should Expect: Security Measures
Thorough Searches: Thorough searches may come in the form of screenings with hand-held metal detectors or pat-downs, or in rare cases, even strip searches. TSA officials must act appropriately while screening airline passengers, especially during patdowns and strip searches. According to the TSA, any pat-down searches are to be done by screeners “of the same gender.” Obviously, this could lead to difficulties or challenges for many transgender people. NCTE recommends that you decide at the time what you believe to be the safest and most comfortable options for you.
Private Screenings: If you are selected for additional screening, you may request the screening to be conducted in private. Of course, any strip search or pat-down of a traditionally private area should be done in a private setting. If you have sensitive items in your carry-on luggage that you do not wish to be viewed publicly, a private screening may be your best option. A companion may accompany you for the private screening. If you are traveling alone, you should consider that fact when making your decision about a private screening—if you think your safety may be compromised by being alone with a TSA agent, a private screening may not be your best option.
What You Can Do: Reporting Mistreatment and Inappropriate Behavior
If you believe a security screening has been conducted inappropriately, you should immediately ask to talk with a screening supervisor. You may also obtain a feedback form at the security checkpoint, or contact the TSA; information is available at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/customer/discrimination.shtm or contact the TSA Office of Civil Rights toll-free at 1-877-EEO-4TSA (4872).. When challenging or reporting an inappropriate screening it is safest to remain calm and respectful regardless of how you are treated by security people. Expressing open hostility toward airport security personnel can easily escalate into additional scrutiny or even arrest.
Also, please report any misconduct or discrimination to NCTE by filling out the Discrimination Incident Report Form on our website at http://nctequality.org/Discrimination.asp. We will use this information to advocate for trans-friendly policies and training. Your name will not be used and you are not required to provide your name.
What Else You May Need
Many transgender people have difficulties traveling for reasons other than that they are trans. Access issues, language barriers, racial or ethnic profiling and other factors can have great impact. Below are some resources for transgender people who may be faced with such issues.
Accessible Air Travel: A guide for People with Disabilities, United Spinal Association
Disability Rights Resources for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, American Foundation for the Blind
Air travel Tips for Senior Citizens, Seniors-Site.com
Airport Security and Your Rights as an Airline Passenger, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)