Monday, August 17, 2009

More Flight Anxiety For Transpeople As New TSA Rules Implemented

I worked for Continental Airlines for over a decade and spent a lot of time on my off days flying the friendly skies before 9-11. Thanks to some of my speaking engagements I have had the opportunity to experience post 9-11 air travel.

Whether it was before or after 9-11, it's an irritating challenge at times to travel as a transperson. I do have some stories I'll talk about in later posts about my own personal drama with flying while transgender.

What's driving this post is the news that TSA regulations will soon take effect that require all passengers to declare their full name, age, and gender to book travel.

This is related to the Transportation Security Administration effort to streamline their Secure Flight database and reduce the number of times a passenger is misidentified as a possible terrorist.

But since policies have unintended consequences, many of us in the transgender community are nervously apprehensive about how things will shake out once these procedures are implemented.

The first implementation phase of the initiative required that airlines collect the names of all passengers as shown verbatim on government-issued identification.

The next phase began August 15 on several air carriers. It requires passengers to declare their gender at the time of booking their flights.

By the end of March 2010 all companies will be required to obtain gender information from persons booking travel.

TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird told in a recent interview that transgender travelers who are purchasing tickets should declare "the gender that they were at the time that they booked their flight."

However, Baird said he was unsure whether those who don't identify with a specific gender or are in transition would be held to the same rules.

Kristina Wertz, the Transgender Law Center's legal director, said the new regulations will likely exacerbate airport hassles that some transgender people already face while traveling.

No kidding. One of the potential consequences of having your trans business disclosed is a situation in which the traveling transperson could be subjected to harassment, disrespect and discrimination by airline personnel, security, customs officials if they're travelling internationally and other passengers.

One major reason it happens as Kristina Wertz points out and I can tell you from my time as an airline employee is government issued ID's, passports and other documents that don't match the current gender presentation of the person possessing it.

"A lot of transgender people don't have documents that match up with how they currently identify. There are always troubles that arise when dealing with documents. People are sometimes forced to disclose their transgender status in a situation where they may not want to."

Wertz said she hopes that the TSA is open to receiving training on transgender issues to prevent uncomfortable situations at the airport.

In the interim, the transgender community will be anxiously watching how these new rules impact our flying experiences at our local airports.

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