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I am asking on behalf of my friend.

My friend doesn't have a gender (in other words they are gender-neutral) and on their new passport their gender is represented as X (indeterminate/unspecified). Previously booking a flight wasn't an issue because their previous passports stated they were a woman.

The problem is every time you book a flight you need to choose from 2 genders. Now they will be travelling from Sweden to Russia but the question applies to their future flights too, anywhere in the world.

What gender should a person who is not cisgender choose when booking a flight? Does it depend on a flight operator or flight destination?

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    On an unrelated note, I'd like to point out that Russia doesn't really like 'nontraditional' people and you might face bigger issues at Russian immigration rather than the airline itself. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Sep 28 '16 at 13:01
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    I'd suggest in such situations your friend opt for their biological gender as determined by their XY/XX chromosomes, as documented at birth. – Trotski94 Sep 28 '16 at 13:33
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    @JamesTrotter It's not always so simple, nor do I think that is necessarily going to lead to the smoothest journey. – CMaster Sep 28 '16 at 13:53
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    @chx I understand such problems exist, but statistically its very unlikely to apply here, as such I feel the advice still stands. – Trotski94 Sep 28 '16 at 14:27
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    @CMaster I agree with your latest comment. The airline is not going to perform a karyotype on the traveler so chromosomal sex is moot. Gender at birth is determined by appearance of genitalia, not by chromosomes, but genitalia is also moot as travelers are not asked to drop their pants (usually!). All that matters here is smooth travels. So the OP's friend should put the binary gender that best matches how they are read/perceived by others. – TangoFoxtrot Sep 28 '16 at 14:39
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The number of people without a gender is extremely small and therefore even the most progressive countries still issue passports with a gender field. Airlines have even less incentive to accommodate 'unusual' people and therefore put traditional gender options into the booking details.

What your friend should do is pick whatever gender they like and simply fly as usual. If neither gender is preferable, they should pick the value that resembles their external features the most, e.g. female for long hair and soft features or male for short hair and a beard.

If confronted about the mismatch, simply point out that their website doesn't provide an X gender option and therefore your booking is in fact valid. Most gate agents only check passports to verify the name and visa, so it's unlikely the mismatch would come up anyway. Nothing in the airlines' Terms and Conditions forbids gender-less people from flying, so you should be fine.

If you'd like to promote the availability of the X option, I'd still write a polite email to the airline explaining your conundrum. If enough people point it out, they might get around to modifying their booking systems.

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    "If neither gender is preferable, they should pick the value that resembles their external features the most, e.g. female for long hair and soft features or male for short hair and a beard." Good advice. – Lightness Races with Monica Sep 29 '16 at 10:52
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    also try to look like your picture on your passport. – njzk2 Sep 29 '16 at 14:51
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    I think it's important to note that, in the U.S., security does body scans which will show the nature of the traveler's genitalia. A while ago, there was a trans woman traveling who was stopped from boarding because the screening showed male genitalia. The airline eventually apologized to her, possibly because she tweeted the entire event and received a lot of online support. But that didn't change the fact that she missed her flight. – Erin L Sep 30 '16 at 15:13
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    @ErinL - assuming that incident occurred more than 3 years ago, since then all of the scanners in the US have been changed to a kind that only shows an anonymized body outline with images of anomalous areas detected by computer software; the operators would never even notice anything unusual today. Of course, in other countries the scanners may or may not be that advanced... – Periata Breatta Oct 1 '16 at 16:07
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    @PeriataBreatta - I think that incident was in the last year or so. Even with the new scanners, operators have to input a gender into the machine, which affects what it expects. Genitalia show up as an "anomaly" if they don't match the gender inputted into the machine, which tends to lead to a patdown in that particular area. – Cel Skeggs Oct 1 '16 at 17:34
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There is not going to be a single solution here that will be applicable to all airlines everywhere in the world.

Generally, the thing to do is to contact the airline, explain the situation, and ask them what to do. I recommend that your friend gets the airline's response in writing. Then, after following their instructions, your friend can then bring that written response with them while traveling. That way, your friend will have something solid to refer to should anyone question them.

An extra tip for contacting airlines: In those cases when the airline is based in a conservative or politically religious country and might not be familiar with such topics, there is no need for your friend to mention that they are gender-neutral. Your friend may simply say (factually) that in their passport, their gender is represented as X (indeterminate/unspecified). This may maximize the chances of getting a helpful response. If the airline happens to ask why that is the case, your friend can then elaborate.

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    +1 for getting the airline's response in writing. – David K Sep 28 '16 at 12:40
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    That's a good point. In some countries intersex people can also have an X on their passport (and birth cert), or the airline may even think it's an error, so there are other reasons for the X. This traveler has no need to explain themself – TangoFoxtrot Sep 28 '16 at 14:29
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If future travel involves visiting the USA the CBP offers this:

Q: My passport shows an 'X' sex marker. How do I complete the gender portion of ESTA?

A: ESTA does not currently have a gender X to choose from on the application. It is suggested that the traveler choose whichever choice they feel most comfortable with. ESTA will not be denied solely on the gender chosen on the application.

That seems like reasonable advice for visiting any country where an X option is not explicitly provided.

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    I found the following document interesting ICAO Information Paper. Check also Q31368 – David Sep 28 '16 at 18:43
  • Interesting reading @David . It doesn't look like ICAO is going to do anything any time soon – Berwyn Sep 28 '16 at 19:18
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    Instead of picking a gender you're most comfortable with, you may consider picking a gender the gate agent will most likely be comfortable with, since they are the only person you need to pick it for. – Jonathan Sep 30 '16 at 14:58
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    Certainly not reasonable advise for visiting any country without the X option. If I were transgender I would at least triple check it's safe before even considering traveling to certain countries. – user24594 Oct 1 '16 at 6:38
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You friend should be prepared use whatever gender they can demonstrate to the airline or destination country, even if it's not the gender they identify as. Realistically, this isn't a matter of their gender, it's a paperwork problem.

Meaning, if they have a valid ID, such as a Driver License or similar, with Female, then choose Female so the can comply with ID and reporting rules. This will be the case for a very long time and some countries will never offer an X option.

I can say for sure that the airlines do not care one bit about a passengers gender. The problem is they have to accurately report this data to various Government agencies.

So, it is not a matter of pick what you want. Will an Immigration or Customs officer care? Probably not, but that doesn't change the requirement to comply with the reporting standard. The point is, they will have a much easier time if the ID matches the data, regardless of the actual value.

For example, the USA's Customs and Border Protection agency requires either Male or Female on the ESTA Application and there is no way around that but matching ID is most important to them.

  • If not immigration or customs officer, it may be the security personnel who care - at least they may base their decision on who is going to perform a detailed manual check at you (though they presumably rather do so by your appearence instead of your MR or MRS on the ticket) – Hagen von Eitzen Sep 28 '16 at 16:16
  • Secondary screening is a totally different issue. Unfortunately, I would not be surprised if those rules were much less accommodating then Immigration. – Johns-305 Sep 28 '16 at 16:50
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    @HagenvonEitzen MR/MRS would be a poor guide anyway, because my title doesn't give away my gender. :) – Calchas Sep 28 '16 at 19:06
  • @HagenvonEitzen Exactly. Probably to avoid lawsuits where someone was frisked by someone of the other gender. – SGR Sep 29 '16 at 8:56
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The reason why most passports have a gender, height, eye color, etc. stated besides a photograph is to make it easier to identify whether the person presenting the passport to the border agent is the same as the owner of the passport.

This is likely to be true for other travel documents. So, the most practical and convenient way would be to state the one you most resemble from point of view of a casual onlooker. If you look what 99.99% of the people would call a female and you had "male" written on your ticket or other documents, a border control agent might think you have stolen the ticket or documents from someone else. Otherwise, if they see that you look like what they would expect from the gender printed on your ticket, they are more likely to let you through without becoming suspicious.

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    I am nonbinary and I have been subject to long debates from the TSA trying to figure out who to give the "our pornoscanner flagged your crotch" patdown, without anyone even bothering to ask me what my preference is. Some of us don't look like EITHER, or at least not consistently. – fluffy Sep 28 '16 at 18:48
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    Which passport has eye colour in it? It doesn't appear in the ICAO 9300 travel document specification. – Calchas Sep 28 '16 at 20:03
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    @Calchas : I had one in the late nineties. Probably a relic of much earlier times when photographs in documents were black and white, – vsz Sep 28 '16 at 22:11
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    @Calchas German passports still have eye colour in them. – Arsenal Sep 29 '16 at 13:24
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    @fluffy Probably because it's not about what you care about, it's what they legally have to comply with to avoid a lawsuit. – SGR Jun 1 '17 at 14:59
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Other answers already mention that the lack of gender X in the form practically means that you may choose either option and should not experience problems with this.

In addition to this I would like to add that it could be practical to choose the gender that is least likely to cause administrative issues.

Here are some cases one could think about in order of importance:

  1. Do I have any document stating gender? Old passport, visa, driving licence.
  2. Am I in the system? Perhaps you have flown before, then I would definitely stay consistent.
  3. Do people at first sight think I would look more male or female? Of course this is subjective, but if the person would be sporting a beard it would make sense to choose M to prevent confusion at first sight.

And of course the goal should typically be for the official to 'tick the box', not to 'change the system'. So unless needed, don't give them more to think about and just show that the pasport does not contain an M or F.

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    It's worth noting that if you want the system to be changed, you don't do it by having a fight with airport security. Go to your local government representative and petition him for change, not a working stiff doing 9-5 airport security. They could give less of a crap. – SGR Sep 29 '16 at 8:58
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When it comes to the flight itself, It won't matter much. Pick what you like, or pick what other ID you as on first sight. Airlines won't actually care.

HOWEVER

Governments, agencies, and security will care. Some countries will care a little (the USA has a binary field but won't deny based on a mismatch), other countries will care a lot (think about the countries where being trans-gender is a capital offense).

Russia is a pretty conservative country, and they generally prefer that everyone fits in their box. So if they give you two choices M or F they expect you to choose one. Now the good news is once the paperwork is over people, in general, aren't going to care there more then anywhere else, but what's important for this question is getting though security and "immigration".

So, just make sure all your paperwork matches. Make sure your flight matches your passport (it can't), your entry visa, or other travel documents, specially those generated by Russia. Essentially the goal here is to have the gender field all be the same, whether it matches your friend's gender or not.

To save your friend some trouble, if they have dominant gender features then they should choose that gender. Remember that the security guards and so on don't care; they only care about lining up discrepancies. Picking female with a full on beard is going to cause a "wait a minute" and picking male with a "full chest" is also going to cause a pause.

Again it's about making the papers match, not about the actual gender.

  • I don't think there is any country that considers being cis-gender a capital offense... – kukis May 17 at 20:06

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