To make travel better, let’s lose the titles

Let’s scrap the titles.

That’s my takeaway after one of my sources raised the issue of adding “doctor” to her name when she flies.

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Let’s dispense with Rev., Dr. and Hon. on our tickets. These prefixes create unnecessary divisions in an industry that’s already unnecessarily stratified.

Here’s the paragraph that kicked off the debate:

For instance, although Klaeysen holds a PhD, she won’t book a flight with the “doctor” title, because it implies she’s a physician, which may afford her preferential treatment.

That raised the question among readers: Do our titles create an unofficial class of elites?

Before I continue,  let me issue my standard disclaimer: I think everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their age, gender, income or race.

I’m deeply troubled by the caste system that’s developed in travel, and particularly in air travel. It is morally wrong to treat passengers like cargo. So that’s the position I’m coming from, as an advocate.

Ryan Hardy, a student at the University of Colorado who is pursuing a PhD, wondered: How common is it for PhDs to use their title when booking flights?

“Does using the title ‘doctor’ actually grant preferential treatment by airlines, either by policy or custom?” he asked.

To which a medical doctor named Alan Berg responded: It depends.

Are they going to pull me from coach and give me a first class seat? Not going to happen.

That kind of response from an airline should be reserved exclusively for our military who are flying in uniform. Otherwise, we should all be treated as one more cow in the herd of cattle.

By the way, Berg never adds the “Dr.” title to his reservation, because he fears being singled out by the flight crew “to take care of some drunk who passes out, or some other non-emergency emergency while in flight,” he says.

Berg says he wouldn’t hesitate to help out in a real emergency, though.

Hardy says he could find no authoritative sources that suggest airlines have policies giving any special treatment to people with titles or medical training during flight.

“Nor could I find specific examples of better treatment, except rewards given after a physician has performed a service, such as golf clubs, letters, drinks or tickets,” he says.

If Hardy’s research is correct, and there are no official policies giving preferential treatment to people with titles, that doesn’t necessarily mean the flight crew doesn’t treat someone with deference when they see “Admiral” in front of someone’s name on a passenger manifest, for example.

Titles create divisions. They say, “I’m better,” or “I deserve more respect.” Is that really something we want in the air?

I don’t think so. Or as my old pal the Admiral would say, “Not in my Navy.”

So perhaps one way to make travel, and especially air travel, a little fairer for everyone would be to eliminate all the prefixes. Keep it simple — Mr. and Ms. — and leave the fancy degrees and professional achievements on the ground.

After all, you’re on vacation.

Should we eliminate titles on airline reservations?

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45 thoughts on “To make travel better, let’s lose the titles

  1. I didn’t even know people do this. I see know need for it. However, I suppose there is a useful application for identifying doctors. However, in an emergency, I don’t see anyone checking a manifest. I agree, people using professional titles on airlines need to stop.

    1. Identifying a “Medical Doctor” is not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, not all “Doctors” are in practice. Many just did research or work in public health. Among those in practice, many are specialists and might have little expertise in emergency issues not related to their speciality.

      However, allowing medical personnel (Physicians, Nurses, EMTs, Paramedics, etc.) to voluntarily identify themselves, and their qualification, seems like a workable idea. Perhaps in return for some small consideration, like an extra bag allowance.

      1. Allowing other people who are trained as first responders to identify themselves voluntarily would be nice too. Police officers, firefighters, etc.

      2. That reminds me of the next thing we have to do away with, people who use the title Dr when they didn’t go to medical school. 🙂

        1. Many people with doctorates put in just as much work as medical doctors. They just don’t have to pull a red-eye on-call residency.

      3. My dad, soon to retire from being a practicing physician, put his title on the ticket as a way to identify himself in case there was a problem, He did not want anything special, never asked and never received any benefits. He just did this from a sense of duty and professional responsility.

  2. Do airlines ever have in-flight doctors who are qualified to give emergency care beyond what flight crew members can do?

    It might make sense for medical personnel to identify themselves as such on their tickets, but it doesn’t for anyone else unless it’s to get some kind of preferential treatment, so I agree that it should stop.

  3. Back when people could ask the telephone company to break into a call for an emergency, my mother once had this happen when she was talking to a friend whose husband was the president of a religious congregation. The operator broke in and said that Dr. So-and-so was trying to get through. It was the clergyman of the congregation, possibly a holder of a Doctor of Divinity or some other non-medical doctorate, trying to reach the woman’s husband to discuss congregational matters that were probably not an emergency.

    Since that time, I have frowned upon such practices of making it appear that someone is a medical professional. A person close to me has a PhD in a scientific field. I don’t usually use Dr. for this person unless I am signing us up for a joint membership in a science-oriented museum.

  4. It’s not just air travel. Restaurants, hotels, even real-estate offices. As long as people perceive their “title” is going to give them a leg up, they will use it.

    Also, even if you remove the title from the airline ticket, people can still do something like: “…this is Dr Who and I wanted too know if you might be able to upgrade me on my flight to…”

    1. Much more so in the air, I would expect, that at restaurants and hotels, because of the fear everyone has of encountering one of those horror-story airline problems when on a trip. If putting down a title will lessen the possibility that you will be the passenger who gets thrown off a flight for no particular reason and missing your cruise, why not?

  5. Eh. A non-issue. People are welcome to add titles to reservations (I’m particularly happy with the ability to declare myself a “Lord” on BA) but if they expect it to make much of a difference then they are going to be disappointed.

    Btw, a bit of discordance with the phrase “Or as my old pal the Admiral would say, “Not in my Navy” I thought a key part of the military was titles/ranks

      1. Ha! Let me know how that works for you, Mark. When my health care provider asked how I wished to be addressed, I said, “Please call me ‘Your Grace,'” and they do… but they still treat me like dirt. 🙂

  6. First off, not all of the people on the plane are on vacation. Some are on business, where titles can be important.

    Having said that, if an MD chooses to put Dr in the title, I don’t see the harm. That way, if a medical emergency occurs, the crew can be more discreet. It cannot hurt. There does not seem to be any proof that policies exist one way or another. If Sheldon Cooper wants to put Dr on his reservation, there really is no value. You would not want him to help render first aid.

    The concern of FAs treating one differently based on title is overblown. If an FA is going down that route, he/she can easily do that based on male/female, black/white, young/old, nicely/poorly dressed, and so on. A title, if at all, is just one more varaible people use to judge others. We all do it, it is human nature. But how we overcome that, is what counts.

    One final thought, the is certainly from an American perspective. Let’s not get started with titles of nobility, which might be a big thing elsewhere…

    1. Yes, titles do matter in business where such things mean something. However, on the plane to the business event? They mean nothing.

  7. there’s an option to add “CEO” to the title. it’s absurd. i see teenagers with it and i ask what they’re CEO of. of course nothing. or what’s worse is the grown men in business suits with CEO in the name who can’t do a single thing for themselves. they can’t touch the screen that says “Touch Screen To Begin”. They can’t understand the selection of “How many bags would you like to check?” When I tell them where the gates are, they look like lost puppies. it’s as if they have people to do everything for them at every point of the day.

    1. CEO is not a title, it’s an occupation. That doesn’t belong on the ticket. Dr, Rabbi, Rev, etc are titles that are part of the name and belong on the ticket.

  8. I do not believe titles give preferential treatment. Maybe there is an anecdotal story or two, but the few times there has been a medical emergency on a flight, it has always been announced via the PA system if there is any medical professionals on the flight.

    If you really want a good chuckle, look at the BA titles…
    “Capt / Prof / Dr / Dame / Lady / Lord / The Rt Hon / Rev / Rabbi / Sir / Baron / Baroness / Viscount / Viscountess”

    Does anyone really use those???

  9. Dude, who cares? Did you know that the title simply gets added after your first and middle name after a dot? Most boarding passes cannot even print that many characters.

  10. All the title does is make you seem like a pompous ass because you feel the need to use the title.

    I have more respect for someone with no job and no education who says excuse me when they bump into you at the store, then for someone who feels they must use a title. (And that is not a knock on the first person.)

    1. Amen, Jim. I used to have a colleague who insisted on using his PhD title in all his correspondence… even private emails to me! So I started using my AA (Associate of Arts) “title” in mine. He didn’t like that. 🙂

  11. My father-in-law has a Ph.D and is a retired professor. He uses “Dr.” on everything. When questioned, he’ll tell you he worked too hard for the title not to use it.

    However, he pays for his own first-class seats. At 6’4, he needs the legroom.

    1. I’m sorry but in my opinion your only a Dr. if you competed medical school and residency. Even then your being pompous if you need to use it outside of the medical setting.

  12. The use of titles and honorifics in scenarios where they’re irrelevant has always irritated me. Occasionally, back when I waited tables, a diner would correct me saying “it’s DOCTOR so-and-so”. My response? “Well you aren’t *MY* doctor.”

  13. I hold a PhD but I only use the title in professional circles, not travel and even then, not very often.

    As to the question of preferential treatment, I remember reading Lufthansa has a “Doctor on Board” for pre-registered medical doctors who are logged in their database and can be approached by flight attendants in case of a medical emergency. They get a few perks in return for their participation. http://www.lufthansa.com/online/portal/lh/us/info_and_services/on_board?nodeid=1907351&l=en

  14. I worked for an airlines for many years, and now work as an agent. There is no policy regarding titles. However, if there is a problem, the airlines prefers keeping these matters from escalating, and knowing of a doctor for emergencies is far better than needing to make an announcement asking for one. And having a Rev. on board sometimes helps with other issues, and it is not bad to know of them in advance as well.

  15. Although I address them by their first name if they are friends, we’ve trained our children to address anyone with a doctorate doctorate (medical or not) using their title rather than Mr, Mrs or Miss. It’s a mark of respect. As for clergy, I wouldn’t call a Rabbi “Mr” or by his first name, nor a clergyman from another reason. I get a lot of joy from allowing people to see that I respect their titles.

  16. My father is about to retire from practicing as a medical doctor. Not once has he received any special treatment from an airline in the US or Europe. I do not think the people checking him in pay any attention to the title, just ticket, id, and collect and fees.. The only times he has ended up in first class was when he upgraded with miles. He uses the title on airline tickets just in case there is a need for help, as cardiology is his specialty. I was one a flight earlier this year and there was a call for a medical professional. Thankfully the passenger was not seriously ill. Many years ago I was on a flight that was diverted and landed in Ireland due to medical emergency, It sounded as if the passenger had a heart attack, ambulance met the plane on the tarmac and the passenger looked very bad as he left, his wife was in a panic.

  17. This issue is nothing new. Shakespeare made fun of people inappropriately using titles in one of his plays (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I, Scene I).

    While I have a high level of respect for anyone who has a PhD, MD, or other title and I will address those people with their titles when appropriate, I do dislike those who throw the title around and insist you call them by it when not in the environment where it applies. My MD actually insists I call her by her first name when we run into each other at the grocery or other locations outside her office. This does not change my level of respect for her in her achieving that position or the professional interaction we have when I go to her office.

    1. “when not in the environment where it applies.” Bingo! I never put it so succinctly, but that’s what bugged me about that former colleague of mine. “PhD” in a private email? Come on. I never even knew in what field he claimed such exalted status. By all means folks, enjoy the titles you’ve earned, but please… in the environment in which they apply. 🙂

  18. I don’t think it should matter what title you have, however, if you have gone to school and put in the time, sweat, money, and tears to get that degree, and the honor of the title, use it as you see fit and don’t let others prejudices get in your head. Live and let live.

  19. I’m reminded of a friend who had a PhD and never failed to use it when he could. At his son’s birth, he registered at the hospital as “Doctor”, perhaps hoping to get special consideration in some way (it had worked in the past). Later, he noticed that “doctor” did not appear on the information the hospital was using on his son’s birth certificate. He approached a nurse to complain, and her response was “If ‘doctor’ appeared on your birth certificate, we’ll put on this one.” Stopped him cold. To be fair, he used to tell this story on himself. 🙂

  20. I don’t like titles, but there are times when I’m filling out an online form, whether it be a political opinion or a purchase and I am required to put in a title. I don’t like to have to put in “Ms.” or anything else.

  21. “Let’s scrap the titles.”

    How about scrapping the ‘morally superior’ titles such a ‘I am a single mother’, ‘I work for a relief agency’; ‘I am retired and on a fix income’, etc. in the articles?

    Like you, I think everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their age, gender, income, race or ‘status of life’ (i.e. the morally superior titles). Regardless if the person is making $ 1 MM a year or if the person is barely scraping a out a living every month, both of them should be treated the same.

    1. Oh God, yes. How can anyone possibly believe those work? I help out on the forums from time to time, and my “I want to help” index clicks down at least two levels every time one of our customers plays a “but I” card. I can only imagine how the people in customer relations departments feel about it. :-p

      1. A few months ago, I was driving to the post office to drop off business packages. A teenager that only had her driving license for a month or so…didn’t stop at the stop sign and ran into my car…then she sped away. It took me two miles before I was able to catch up to her car to get her license plate number.

        The police was able to track her down. Her father told the police officer that his daughter has a learning disability and that is the reason why she didn’t stop after hitting my car. Her learning disability didn’t prevent her from getting her license but her learning disability is now preventing her from following the rules (i.e. stopping for an accident; stopping for a stop sign; etc) of driving!?!

        They wanted me to settle with them without going through their insurance company because their premiums will skyrocket. If the father said “my daughter made a mistake by panicking in the situation”, I would have done it. But when the father said my daughter has a learning disability (which he didn’t disclose) that made my decision.

    2. My favorite card in the Deck of Misery would have to be the “Fixed Income” card… few people are not on a Fixed Income, so it has no meaning whatsoever.

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