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Air Travel Tips

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Updated: December 12, 2004

Nothing in this document 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

Additionally, travel security rules are updated very frequently, so check for updated
information on NCTE’s website ( 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):

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

• 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without relying on an outdated driver’s license or passport—if you have a paper rather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.
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“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

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

• 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 self-
service 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

• If possible, do not pay for your ticket in cash and do not buy only a one-way ticket.
Either of these things will increase your liklihood of facing additional security scrutiny.

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• 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.

• Prohibited Items
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 at

• Luggage Inspection
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.”
For more information:

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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.

• A new policy implemented in September 2004 instructs security officials to subject those
passengers wearing bulky clothing to more extensive screening procedures, such as
pat-downs. To avoid this situation, avoid wearing clothes that may be considered bulky.
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

• 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 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

Air travel has changed dramatically in the last few years. And while there is certainly a need to
continue the debate about balancing security with civil liberties, as of now, there are new
security processes that impact transgender travelers disproportionately. Here are some issues
trans people should think about when flying.

• 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 pat-
downs 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.

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• 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

In today’s climate, there seems to be no way to get around invasive and disruptive security
screenings. That does not mean, however, that security personnel have the right to violate your
liberties or you by acting disrespectfully or going beyond their required procedures.

• 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 Contact Center by phone at
1.866.289.9673 or e-mail ( 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 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.

Additional Resources on Next Two Pages

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What Else You May Need to Know

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.

• TSA Rules: General Screening Considerations for Religious or Cultural


• TSA Rules: Disabilities, Assistive Devices, Mobility Aids, service animals

and Medical Conditions, (including recent surgeries):

• Accessible Air Travel: A guide for People with Disabilities

United Spinal Association

• Access to Air Travel: Federal Laws Covering Air Travel Access for People with
Hearing Loss

• Disability Rights Resources for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
American Foundation for the Blind

• Air travel Tips for Senior Citizens

• Airport Security and Your Rights as an Airline Passenger

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)

• Racial Profiling: ACLU Racial Equality Project

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What Else You May Need: Additional Resources

• For Information on National ID Cards, CAPPS II, and the Registered Traveler Program:
American Civil Liberties Union

• For Information on other forms of travel (train, bus, ship, etc):

• For Information on Passports and other federal identification documents go to

• For General Information on Travel:

Transportation Safety Administration


Our Mission

The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization
devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through
education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people.

By empowering transgender people and our allies to educate and influence policymakers
and others, NCTE facilitates a strong and clear voice for transgender equality in our
nation’s capital and around the country.

Founded in 2003, NCTE is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization headquartered in

Washington, DC.

1325 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 600 202.639.6332(V)

Washington, DC 20005 202.393.2241(F)