It turns out that the Indian Railways and Delhi Metro have been woke all along, perhaps without meaning to be. On platforms and in trains, patrons are addressed without gender-specific greetings. In Hindi, for example, the exhortations of the antiseptic voice on the loudspeaker begin with “yatri-gan kripya dhyan dein”; in English “passengers please note”. Not so, on most flights. Perhaps a relic from the time when air travel was something of a luxury and a relative rarity, most airlines still insist that their passengers are “ladies and gentlemen”. Some, in an effort to be either inclusive or patronising (it’s difficult to tell), will have the flight crew say “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls”. Japan Airlines (JAL), though, has decided to break with the series of assumptions these addresses carry, and emulate the Indian Railways.
JAL’s announcements will now be gender-neutral on the lines of “attention all passengers”. Given the increasing awareness about how gendered honorifics and pronouns exclude the LQBTQI community and normalise gender as a binary construct, the airline’s decision is welcome. In fact, since there is a growing demand in Japan for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, JAL’s stand can be seen as a political one.
There is also another dimension to “ladies and gentlemen”, one which also deserves to be relegated to the past. It promotes the illusion that consumers deserve an honorific merely because they can afford a service. Imagine the pain of the flight staff having to address a rude, boorish passenger as a gentleman. Or an independent woman being relegated to being a lady — a term with archaic connotations about which forms of manner and mannerisms are “lady-like”. Sitting on a plane, just like sitting on a bus, entitles one to being described accurately and without insult, nothing more. Passengers please note.
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