American Airlines adding nonbinary gender options in ticket system

Passengers can now change to “U” or “X” designations by talking to a customer service agent on the phone. The carrier is also in the process of making the change to its website.

DALLAS — American Airlines is adding “U” and “X” options for gender when passengers buy tickets, joining a growing number of entities recognizing choices beyond simply male and female.

United Airlines was the first major carrier to make the adjustment, in 2019. Southwest Airlines is also looking at changes, but has not yet released a timeline.

American Airlines passengers can now change to “U” or “X” designations by talking to a customer service agent on the phone. The carrier is also in the process of making the change to its website. “U” stands for either “unspecified” or “undisclosed,” and “X” has become a standard marker for those who don’t identify as either male or female.

“We recently completed system updates in an ongoing effort to offer nonbinary gender selections,” American Airlines spokeswoman Stacy Day said in a statement. “Taking care of our customers and team members is what we do, and we are glad to be able to better accommodate the gender preferences of our travelers and team members.”

Still, the Fort Worth-based airline is urging passengers to stick with the gender on passengers’ government-issued driver’s licenses or ID cards, even if it doesn’t match their personal preferences. That’s because booking information needs to match details in federal databases for use in TSA security lines.

Airlines are required by TSA passenger data systems to report a gender when customers buy a ticket. As of now, those systems only give the male and female options.

Companies in many industries are increasingly trying to find ways to accommodate a more visible population that doesn’t identify as strictly male and female.

In the past few years, there has been a growing awareness for individuals who identify as a gender different from the sex assigned at birth; as both male and female; as neither gender; or as something in between.

American spokesman Ross Feinstein said the change was prompted partly by a growing number of states and foreign countries issuing driver’s licenses and other identification with “X” options for gender.

In the U.S., 19 states allow individuals to select “X” for gender on identification. U.S. passports only have the male and female options.

Gender identity can be particularly difficult for individuals at the airport, said Leslie McMurray, a transgender education and advocacy coordinator at the Resource Center, an LGBTQ advocacy organization in Dallas.

“Flying is always an adventure, and it starts with TSA,” said McMurray, a transgender female. “There is a boy button and girl button. If it doesn’t match, it starts problems.”

TSA scanning equipment is specified for males and females, giving better guidance to screeners for underwire on bras or contraband that might be stuffed in underwear or bras.

The TSA gives guidance to screeners for transgender individuals and options for pat-downs in lieu of machine screening. TSA spokesman Mark Howell said he’s not sure if the agency is making changes to its data systems to allow more gender options.

McMurray applauded American’s move, saying it could help make life easier for people who aren’t comfortable being labeled as male or female, even if the airport process isn’t perfect.