Before I launch into my rant, let’s be clear on one face: my gender is Female. These days, I have a lot of gender options available to me and Female is grateful that I chose it. Or that it chose me. There’s a capital “F” on my birth certificate, my passport, my driver’s license, all of my medical files…. everywhere. I’ve given birth to and breast fed four children. Science has done some cool stuff but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t’ yet found a way for a genetic male to do that. (probably because what male would want to give birth? Four times?) On forms, when presented with choices “M” or “F” I always circle “F”. It’s always been “F”. More recently, I’ve noticed a third choice cropping up in the gender section on forms; “rather not say”. Sometimes, rarely, when I just want to rail against the privacy deprivation that is the legacy of the internet age, I check the “rather not say” box. It’s liberating. I wish instead of “rather not say” it said “Nunya”. As in NUNYA BUSINESS.
So you can imagine my surprise when I recently tried to do online check in for a British Airways flight and when I chose “Mrs.” in the drop down menu for titles and “F” when asked to choose a gender, a big red box popped up on the screen that said “gender doesn’t match profile”. What?
I’ve had a BA frequent flier account for nine years and I don’t know who originally set it up (it wasn’t me), but I’m listed as M Pfeffer. Odd, seeing as there’s no letter M in any part of my name. Not my first, middle, last, nicknames, nothing. Now that I think about it, none of my kids has an M in their names. My husband has one at the end of his middle name, but that doesn’t seem like a relevant piece of information. Because I’m listed in the BA Executive Club as M Pfeffer, the system has decided that I’m a male. Fair enough, I can see the logic there.
I’ve spoken to the Accounts department at British Airways several times over the years in an effort to update my name and address (we’ve moved twice since arriving in London and they still have our first address in my account) and many agents have kindly said, “No problem Mrs. Pfeffer, we can get that sorted for you straight away, let me just log in to your account. Simple fix, just bear with me one mo—oh, wait, acutally the system won’t allow me to change your address or your name. Hmm, let me try again. There we go, ta ta ta ta ta (that sound people make on the phone while they are looking something up and feel compelled to fill the dead air space with a repetitive sound. Personally, I’m super comfortable with extended periods of silence.) Have you tried logging into your account online and making these change?”.
Yes, British Airways. Yes I have tried that. Now, if YOU, who work for the airline, cannot change it how in the hell do you expect ME to be able to make corrections?? I’ve tried online, agents I’ve spoken to on the phone have tried, I’ve spent probably close to ten hours on this over the course of 8 years and to no avail. And no one can figure out why.
So in the interest of checking in to my flight and not losing more hours of my life to this fruitless administrative task, I unchecked the “F” box on the online check in page and checked the “M” box. Whatever, I know I’m a woman and that’s all that matters, right? If BA wants me to say I’m a man so I can fly to JFK from LHR then fine, whatever. There are bigger fights to fight.
Checking “M” was not enough, I’m sorry to report. Another box popped up and this time it said: “You cannot check in online at this time. If you wish to declare a gender change you must provide official and relevant documentation.” Whaaaaaaaat???? And now I’m really pissed off so when I call British Airways Executive Club (again) the poor man (at least he SOUNDS like a man…. maybe he chooses “F” when filling out his online forms, I don’t judge. Unlike SOME AIRLINES) gets the brunt of my wrath. I. JUST. WANT. TO. CHECK. IN. BE. FORE. MY. FLIGHT.
I maintain my composure just enough to stop myself from shouting, “Why am I registered as a male? Is it because I have no breasts or ovaries? How would BA even know that? I see a lawsuit in your near future, my friend”. But I know it’s not his fault and I also know that many people who answer customer service phone calls are ill prepared for the jokes I like to make about my double mastectomy and oophorectomy.
He is soothingly apologetic and advises me to log out of my account and check in via my booking. This works and I am happy. I ask him how I might rectify the problem of my address and gender being incorrect in my Executive Club profile and he advises me to…… call the Executive Club Membership Department. He gives me that phone number and I pretend to write it down. I’m not calling that number again.
I’m writing this post from my JFK-bound British Airways flight, so you can all breathe easy knowing that I was able to board the aircraft. You can also rest assured that on my return trip, I’ll be arriving at JFK nice and early and sidling up to the first British Airways customer service desk I find. And NO ONE is going ANYWHERE till someone gets that big, stupid letter “M” out of my account profile and replaces it with an “F”.