Air Transat: refusing to let trans women fly. Today.

AB Silvera was planning to travel from the UK to Canada early this afternoon to attend a wedding with her girlfriend. Instead, she’s spent six hours in the airport and is going back home.


Because she’s trans.

Here, in her words:

The situation is as follows: I am a dual citizen of the Italian Republic and the Republic of Argentina. Today, Air Transat has denied me boarding a flight bound to Toronto, Canada from Glasgow, Scotland.

I am a transgender woman. My Italian documentation was made before transition and uses the first name “Ariel”, shows an older photo, and a gender marker “M”. However, I have used it consistently to travel for the last 8 years, both within Europe, to the United States, and to South America, with no issue. This is the first time I have been denied boarding a flight.

I travel with supporting documentation because I have been questioned about my passport photo before. This documentation includes my Argentinean passport with the correct gender (and a recent photo), and a notarized sworn affidavit with a legalized translation. This affidavit is a binding document of the Argentine Republic declaring my change of name from Ariel to Ari Bianca, and declaring my change of gender.

When asked for documentation, I provided all three documents (two passports and affidavit) to an Air Transat representative. They spoke to a representative of the Canadian High Commission in the United Kingdom and told me that I can only travel on my Argentinean passport, but I wouldn’t be travelling today as I didn’t have a visa. I did not apply for a visa because it was not needed with my Italian passport.

The Air Transat representative called “Emma”, refused to give me her last name but phoned the High commission representative for me. The High Commission representative kindly explained this was a decision made by the airline at their discretion. In other words Air Transat made the decision to deny my flight, today, despite my carrying two legal documents, simply because I don’t look the same way as I did 8 years ago, before I began taking hormones.

I have not managed to obtain a new Italian passport yet due to the complex nature of gender recognition procedures through Italian bureaucracy. However, this decision is probably illegal under anti-discrimination UK law; it refuses to accept my valid Italian documentation, maybe breaking Canada-Italy travel treaties; and it fails to recognise my Argentinean sworn affidavit and its connection to my Italian passport as valid.

All because of a simple photo. A photo which, when provided with supporting documents, has never caused any airlines (Ryanair, American Airlines, British Airways, EasyJet, to name a few) from ever preventing me from boarding a flight.

I have contacted Air Transat on Twitter. After a four hour wait, they responded with a different story. In their new version of events the issue wasn’t my passport photo, but rather that since I’m Argentinean, I need a visa for Canada anyway, ignoring my valid Italian passport which entitles me to visa-free travel.

I believe Air Transat have changed their sorry to cover up the discrimination issue.

Let’s be clear about what happened here:

  • AB is an Italian citizen. As such, she is entitled to travel to Canada without a visa.
  • AB holds a valid Italian passport.
  • She also has an Argentinian passport. This one has a different gender marker to her Italian documents because bureaucracy is a massive, complicated pain.
  • She has documents confirming that she is who she says she is. Three of them.
  • She doesn’t look like she did eight years ago.
  • Despite her being AN ITALIAN CITIZEN WITH A VALID PASSPORT WHO IS ENTITLED TO TRAVEL TO CANADA WITHOUT A VISA, Air Transat refused her permission to board.
  • Air Transat refused her permission to board because she doesn’t look the way she did eight years ago and has a different gender marker. Despite her having all the necessary documentation showing that she is trans and confirming her identity.

This is a clear case of transphobic discrimination against AB.

It gets worse.

Here is what, in my view, Air Transat should have done, once the company discovered what its agents had done:

  • Apologised. Profusely.
  • Made immediate arrangements to ensure AB’s comfort and well-being. Airports have paid lounges. Nice ones. Gotten her access to there, straight away.
  • Apologised again for good measure.
  • Made immediate arrangements with her to get her and her partner on the next flight or set of flights to her destination. She has an event to get to.
  • Compensated her for the considerable distress they caused her.
  • Update company policies and get all customer-facing staff trained in basic courtesy towards their trans passengers as soon as possible.
  • Issue another apology, public this time, indicating everything they’ve done to prevent this from happening again.

That was not what happened. Instead? They left her waiting in the airport for hours on end. During this time they claimed multiple times on social media that they had been communicating with her. This text was sent to multiple people:

According to AB’s partner Eilis- who was with her at the time- that “messaging”? A single DM and then silence:

This wasn’t “messaging”. This was a single message which gave no information and then leaving them to sit in the airport for hours on end with no indication about what was going on. After seven hours of this, AB and Eilis went home. Luckily for them, AB’s home was close enough that this was possible. However, this could just as easily have happened if they were taking a flight that didn’t leave from her home city.

What happened next? Lies.

Here is what Air Transat claim: that this wasn’t about AB’s transness. No- it was about her Argentinianness:

Picture of several tweets from Air Transat, all containing the text "Mrs Silveira could not board her flight because she did not possess all required paperwork to travel(visa). JC"

This is, by the way, a lie.

Either that, or Air Transat- an airline who run regular transatlantic flights- are unaware of how visas, citizenship and passports work. In their world, if someone has dual citizenship then they’re only entitled to rights if both of the countries they’re citizens of grant them. I’m not sure why they think people bother getting dual citizenship at all in that case- since if you need two countries to grant you a right, you’d lose out straight away wherever you go.

Fortunately for the world, that’s not how it works. If you’re a citizen of two countries then you get the rights, privileges and responsibilities that come with both. If you have two passports, you get to decide which to fly with.

Because this is what Air Transat are trying to do: in order to get out of admitting that they made a massive, transphobic screw-up, they’re denying AB’s Italian citizenship. They’re pretending that it doesn’t exist, and that she wasn’t there with a valid Italian passport.

They’re also, by the way, misspelling both her name and her title. Impressive, when you consider that AB Silvera has been tagged in a few dozen tweets filling up their inbox, and that as she’s travelling with her girlfriend (who she’s not married to) it’s reasonable to expect that she’s a Ms, not a Mrs. I’m not mentioning that for petty reasons, by the way. I think that it’s a very visible sign of the abject lack of seriousness and respect that they’re giving to this situation. And the abject lack of dignity that they’ve shown towards AB.

Air Transat are trying to make it seem like this isn’t about transphobia. Like this isn’t about transphobia:

So let’s be clear about this:

  • Air Transat took issue with AB’s transness. They refused to let her fly because she is trans and because her documentation made that clear.
  • They told her that she should pretend to be a man in order to get on the plane in future, explicitly denying her gender.
  • They are now trying to make people believe that this is because she didn’t have a visa that she doesn’t have to have.

And now? Let’s add some extra insults to an already-hemorrhaging injury, shall we? Because at the end of that, after leaving AB and Eilis to sit in an airport for seven hours with no information on what they were doing? Here’s what Air Transat are going to do:

AB and Eilis should have flown out on Saturday afternoon. They have a wedding to attend on the other side of that flight. Air Transat care so little about this that they’re not even bothering to phone them until Monday. Assuming they do that.

Here’s where I’m going to ask you to do something: don’t let them get away with this. Please. Please tell people about this. Tweet @AirTransat and let them know that they can’t do this and sweep it under the carpet- and please keep it firm but civil. If you have a bigger platform or know someone who does? Tell them about this. Use them. Air Transat want to make this go away. Don’t let them.

Note: I have published an update on this topic which clarifies some issues which were unclear and also has some current information on the situation. Please read it before commenting hereThank you.

Air Transat: refusing to let trans women fly. Today.

34 thoughts on “Air Transat: refusing to let trans women fly. Today.

  1. 4

    I’m continuing to call attention to this on social media. Traveling as a trans person is so scary, and getting documentation correct is SO hard. I know it. I really hope this company decides to make this right. The whole airline industry needs to get much better on this issue.

  2. 5

    From my understanding you have to look like your passport photo. This includes requiring you to get a new one if your appearance changes drastically due to such things as gaining or losing a significant amount of weight. Which passport did she look like? That’s the one she has to use and she should have been aware of that before travel.

    1. SD

      Actually, she specifically mentions that she hasn’t gotten a new Italian passport yet due to the complexity of the gender change procedures, but she had her (Argentinian) passport that had a recent photo of her, and documentation to prove that the two passports were associated. That should have been legally accepted, and previously has been by other airlines.

      1. I have updated my passport photo but have yet to update the gender. You can’t travel under multiple passports and then get to pick and choose which visa regulations you feel like following. If she had planned to use both passports as documentation she should have also been prepared to show a visa, not assume that she can circumvent the regulations because it’s easier not to get them.

        She had two easy options, get a new photo or get a visa. She chose to do neither. She basically said “this document looks nothing like me so I brought this document which states I must have a visa except I didn’t feel like getting a visa”. Unfortunately border crossing doesn’t work that way.

        In the future I recommend she get her photo updated asap. The other airlines were generous. The gender does not have to match the photo. You must look like the person in the picture.

        1. Speaking as someone who works in immigration, your understanding is wrong and your double-down on it is completely wrong.

          A) No, you do not have to replace your passport when your appearance changes. Passport photo facial recognition is based on features which don’t change with your weight, hair style or gender presentation (i.e. it’s about bone structure, eye distance/ratio etc.). Anyone trained to read a passport would have had no trouble in this case.

          B) Yes, you can travel on multiple passports and pick and choose which one to use based on which visa restrictions do or don’t apply to a holder of that passport. Dual nationality is quite common and this is one of the reasons why naturalised citizens opt to retain previous nationalities. If you’re an Italian citizen you have the travel privileges accorded to Italian citizens as long as you have an Italian passport to prove it.

          1. I’m an immigration lawyer, and Elita is completely right, and Jacinta is completely wrong. Your passport doesn’t cease to be valid just because you no longer look like your picture. If it did, then babies would have to be reissued passports every year. Instead, a passport issued at birth remains valid for as long as the issuing country decides it remains valid: up to five years and possibly more in some cases. I’ve known AB since pre-transition, and while she certainly looks different now, rest assured your average four-and-a-half-year-old looks far more different to how they looked at birth. That doesn’t mean they can’t still travel on a valid passport they were issued at birth.

            If your new look makes your photo unrecognisable – and AB’s partner has said that it doesn’t – then you can certainly expect a bit of hassle about it, but if you can provide sufficient other documentation to prove that person in the photo is you, then you should be permitted to travel on it. And AB had plenty of other documentation. From the sounds of it the airline wasn’t actually questioning whether she was the holder of the Italian passport; it was just imposing its own rule about the validity of that passport post-transition. And this rule violates anti-discrimination laws that it is subject to.

            Finally, having dual passports does not mean you are subject to any visa requirements on either of them. The utility of her Argentine passport in this situation was to provide a photograph that looks like the person with her new name, to easily connect her new name with her official change-of-name documentation, to then connect that back to the name on the Italian passport. It was to make it absolutely 100% evident that she was the Italian passport holder. It did not mean that, despite being demonstrably an Italian citizen, she needed a visa as an Argentinian.

            Needless to say, Barbara Hudson is also entirely wrong about everything.

  3. 6

    The rules for entry into Canada were changed April 16th. Anyone traveling on either a Spanish or Argentinian passport requires an entry visa.

    This had nothing to do with transphobia – just search and you’ll find the new rules.

    Also anyone travelling with two passports also now needs an entry visa.

    This applies to those entering Canada or in transit through Canada to another country.

      1. I pointed out elsewhere in this discussion that the rules were changed in April. Doesn’t matter if you have a passport – Italians and Argentinians now need more than a passport to enter Canada, Of course, this being the Internet, you could have found that out in seconds by searching, rather than assuming that I’m stupid and don’t know what I’m talking about.

        You could have just gone to the Customs and Immigration Canada website, selected Italy, and seen the requirements:

        The result:

        You need an eTA to visit or transit through Canada by air.

        If you travel by land or sea, you do not need an eTA. However, you must always travel with acceptable travel documents and identification.

        How to apply for an eTA

        Applying for an eTA is a simple online process that takes just a few minutes. To apply, you must have a valid passport or acceptable travel document, a credit card, and an email address.

        A passport alone doesn’t cut it. Neither does an invalid passport (one that does not look like you currently, one that is expired, etc.) The moral of the story is simple – either use a travel agent who knows what the current requirements are, or do some research instead of just assuming.

        So the claim in the article that “They are now trying to make people believe that this is because she didn’t have a visa that she doesn’t have to have.”is garbage. Air Transat has to apply the rules, and one of those is that Italians and Argentinians both need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization in advance. Rules for people with dual passports are even more complicated.

        She didn’t have the proper documents, and was rightfully denied the right to enter the aircraft. If Air Transit had allowed her to get on, they would have been facing fines as well as possibly having their license reviewed.

        Not everything is “transphobia, transphobia.” I’ve heard too many people claiming this because they didn’t get a job that they applied for, or an apartment, or whatever. They don’t take into consideration that there are other applicants who may be more qualified, because it’s easier on their ego to scream transphobia.

        Then you have the crazies like Ellen Jayne Heideck. Thought that surgery would solve all her problems, and when it didn’t, traveled across the country to set fire to the clinic – with patients in it. The picture in the linked article was from her facebook profile – come on, you need to at least put a little effort into it. There is no way anyone looking at this person would say anything except “that’s a man.” If you don’t at all pass before surgery, you won’t after, epecially when you don’t even try. LIfe is unfair, but that’s reality. But of course, it’s easier to blame the clinic than to look in the mirror and at least make a teenie tiny effort not to look like a burned-out biker doing time in jail.

        I don’t generally run into problems, but that’s because I don’t think it’s always about me. 99% of the population in Canada (where Air Transit operates from) either don’t give a damn or are supportive, as long as you don’t act like a special snowflake. Actually, my experience is that it’s far more than 99%. That doesn’t mean I expect to be able to break the same rules that apply to everyone else. Of course. if you’re always looking for problems, they’ll find you.

          1. Barbara, you’re spelling “I’m sorry that I made an incorrect assumption” wrong.

            Ari had an eTA. I know this. I know Ari very well.

            At this stage you have a choice: you can accept that I’m telling that truth when I tell you that Ari had an eTA (because I’ve spoken to her about it). Or you can assume I’m flat-out lying.

            If it’s the latter, by the way, then you should go bother some other blogger. K?

        1. “Then you have the crazies like…”

          did you seriously just go there. “trans = mentally ill = potential danger = gatekeep them and lock them up and make them jump through hoops bc they don’t know what’s better for them”.

          that’s not a question, because you did just go there, and I saw you. I saw you go there with someone I met, someone who was local to me, referencing an event that has been utterly fucking DEVASTATING to the Vancouver and Canadian trans communities. and I saw you using it as a fucking weapon against us.

          “Not everything is “transphobia, transphobia.””

          lol, of course not, not to a transphobe like you who thinks we’re all potential terrorists.

          1. Are you seriously defending someone who executed their premeditated plan to go from Kelowna, BC to Montreal, Quebec, set fire to the clinic doing $700,00 of damage, and then flee back to Kelowna?

            There were workers and patients in the building that night. How would we all look if someone had been killed in that fire?

            Are you saying that people like that should get a free pass for criminal acts because “trans?” That someone charged with arson with a disregard for human life, breaking and entering and arson by negligence isn’t dangerous?

            You wrote “potential danger.” There’s no “potential danger” involved – anyone doing such a thing is most assuredly dangerous. If found guilty, she should be thrown in jail or in the Pinel Institute for the Criminally Insane if she’s found not criminally responsible, until we’re satisfied that she’s no longer a danger to the public.

            The devastation where I’m sitting, a 20 minute drive from the clinic, was suffered by the patients who had their procedures postponed, People were devastated by the consequences of the perp’s actions – they were interviewed on local TV explaining how the arson has affected them personally.

            Either we be honest enough to admit that there are bad apples among us, dangerous people who are whack jobs or otherwise we should be denouncing, like the trans-man who was arrested at the memorial for Orlando victims for assaulting the Quebec premier, or we will all be tarred by the same brush.

            And the public would be right, because we would be defending the indefensible. Most of us don’t go around burning down clinics, assaulting public figures, or otherwise acting like there’s something wrong with us; if we remain silent, people have the right to think that we think it’s okay, that we’re all like that.

            It’s not all about us. We are not “special” – we deserve to be treated the same as everyone else, nothing more, nothing less. And when someone puts people’s lives in danger, that they are trans or not is irrelevant. They are dangerous and should be handled as such. We would be demanding no less if it was a crime by a non-trans.

            Does this sound unsympathetic? Facts sometimes are like that. Life is not fair – and we should know that, because we already have enough problems, and we can’t afford to ignore the reality that, just like any other group, we have some bad apples, and we should make it clear we do not approve, that we are not like that, this is the exception.

            After all, how can you claim that an arsonist who has endangered people doesn’t need some sort of gatekeeper? That’s just crazy.

  4. 10

    So passport A required a visa which she didn’t have, and passport B was invalid because she was not recognisable in the picture. So she was in fact not travelling on passport B which does not require a visa, as it was not valid. Therefore she required a visa. This isn’t transphobia, this is someone not following the rules and trying to get around with a loophole and a 2nd passport.

    1. 10.1

      Uhh. Did you read the part of the post where Aoife tried to explain how dual citizenship is supposed to work? You don’t “travel on” one citizenship, magically relinquishing the other based on what passport you pull out at the airport. You are a citizen of both countries, at the same time, entitled to the same rights and privileges as any citizen of either country. That’s why it’s called “dual” citizenship, not “part-time” or “shifting” citizenship.

      1. And people holding either one of those passports required since April 16th to have an eTA (Electronic Travel Authorization) for an Italian Passport, or a Visa for an Argentinian Passport., which was NOT among the list of documents mentioned in the article.

        I even posted the link to the government’s Customs and Immigration Canada website (see earlier) where this is all explained.

        She couldn’t use the Argentinian passport without a corresponding visa. She couldn’t us the Italian passport without an eTA. The article’s contention that Italian citizens don’t need anything more than a passport is flat-out false.

        Crying transphobia when you’ve made a stupid mistake makes us all look stupid.

    2. 10.2

      I hate the “this isn’t transphobia” comments. These people are trying to convolute the situation any way they can in order to deny that transphobia exists. And it’s sickening. Enough with the mental gymnastics in an attempt to deny and erase transphobia.

  5. 11

    In this case it isn’t transphobia. Air Transit would have been fined and their procedures subject to review if they had allowed her to fly.

    Since April 16th, contrary to what the article says, you need an Electronic Travel Authorization in conjunction with an Italian passport, or a visa in conjunction with an Argentinian passport. She had other documents, but they are no longer accepted since April 16th. So how is this particular instance transphobia? Simple – it’s not.

    Nobody is denying or erasing transphobia. I’ve got 4 sisters who, along with their hubbies, still misgender me after all these years. They’re family, so I cut them a lot of slack. Are they transphobic? At least one is vehemently so. So what? I have to accept them as they are, just as I want to accept them as I am. If I’m not ready to do that, I’m a hypocrite – and there are plenty of transsexuals who are hypocrites, who want the world to accept who they are but can’t make peace with those who cannot reciprocate.

    And they lie to themselves, blaming transsexualism for society not accepting who they are because they’re always going around with a chip on their shoulder, hyper-alert for anything – anything – that might be a slight or a slur. They’d find transitioning a lot easier, and their new life a lot better, if they weren’t trigger-happy with taking everything the worst possible away and then responding aggressively by shouting “transphobia.”

    I was outed a decade ago, and I learned two important lessons. (1) the old saw of “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me” is very true. If you get all butt-hurt because of verbal attacks, all you’re doing is showing off your inner insecurity, and (2) when you do encounter a genuine case of discrimination, you don’t whine about it on the Internet – you take legal action. I’ve had to do that twice, and the results were much more positive than any amount of whining on the internet could ever be.

    WE have a duty to pay it forward. Part of that is standing up against valid discrimination, another part is always being ready to engage in constructive dialog no matter what has happened in the past, but just as important is not making us look like fools because we have the facts wrong and are trying to blame others under the umbrella term “transphobia.” That’s what has been done here, and just look how everyone is going for the bait instead of doing the slightest bit of research even though they’re right on the internet.

    1. 11.1

      For the third and final time, Barbara:

      AB. Had. An. ETA.

      If you continue to ignore the fact that I have informed you of this repeatedly, I will ban you from commenting further. This is your first, last and final warning.

  6. 14

    Aiofe, Appalling treatment. As you make clear, this wouldn’t have happened to a cis person. For example, many years ago I had beard. Even after shaving the beard off, I was still able to use my passport with a picture of me with a beard.

    I write for the Scottish LGBT news site We have just published a story on what happened to her. We held off publishing for a few hours waiting for a reply to our email asking Air Transat for a comment. We decided to go ahead with the article without a comment from Transat. I have provided you with a link to the news item we have published:

    Hopefully publicity will help Transat to address its transphobia.

    Best wishes,
    Kevin Crowe.

  7. 15

    How is someone supposed to “travel as a male”?

    The only thing I can think of that is gender specific is the security pat down but that is airport responsibility, not airline.

    This is pretty outrageous, why do we need to declare our sex on passports in the first place.

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