To make travel better, let’s lose the titles

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

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?

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“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.

He doesn’t want to take care of some drunk

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. (Related: Beware! “Last” class is taking flight.)

Titles create divisions. They say, “I’m better,” or “I deserve more respect.” Is that really something we want in the air? (Here’s what you need to know if you are planning to travel in the summer.)

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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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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