In October 2019, a memo sent to Air Canada staff got out in the media, making headlines around the world: it urged staff not to include the “ladies and gentlemen” formula in onboard or airport greetings. The actual change would be implemented later but anyone from gate agents to flight attendants had to be ready when it happened, the memo noted.
“We want to ensure an inclusive space for everyone, including those who identify with gender X,” the memo read. “The change will be reflected in the transmission of the Onboard Announcement Manual as part of our commitment to respect gender identity, diversity and inclusion. We will tell you when this transmission will be available and when to implement this change.”
Instead of the old-fashioned formula, staff were to use terms like “everyone,” which would erase traditional gender definitions and be more inclusive of those who identify themselves as gender X, non-binary or those who would rather not identify themselves to others at all. It was a necessary step towards inclusiveness and equality, and one long overdue, according to transgender activists.
Canada’s Porter Airlines and WestJet are also working towards including non-binary gender in booking forms, also as a means to offer fliers the chance to identify as they want. Air New Zealand, the Lufthansa Group and British Airways are also considering the change, but are yet to announce anything official.
Overall, there is a current of change sweeping over the aviation industry, aimed at offering those who identify as non-binary the chance to be recognized as just that.
State agencies have also embraced the change. In Canada, Denmark, Australia, Pakistan, India, Germany, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand and Ireland, you can get a passport with the gender X on it. Other governments, such as that in the U.K., are also considering the possibility of including a third gender option on travel documents, but they are yet to get there. For the time being, in the U.K., you can identify as non-binary (Mx) on certain government documents or with certain businesses, but not on passports or IDs.
As you can imagine, each of one of these announcements were welcomed with a combination of outrage and relief, prompting mixed reactions of a very passionate nature. At the end of the day, though, if you think about it, it really shouldn’t be anyone else’s business who you want to be and, in an ideal world, you would be free and able to legally be just that person.
In the greater scheme of things, it may look like changing the formula “ladies and gentlemen” to “everyone” is the least pressing issue airline companies have to deal with right now. As in, they could be focusing on other, more important matters, like the issue of delayed refunds, delays in scheduling or poor communication with passengers in case of an unexpected event.
Then again, people are dying because of the lack of inclusion and proper recognition: according to Human Rights Campaign, in 2018, there were at least 26 deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming people in the U.S. alone. By mid-2019, 21 more people, also transgender or non-gender conforming, had died from targeted acts of violence. Maybe saying “hello, everyone” instead of “ladies and gentlemen” is a silly thing but if it can save a life, should we really be complaining about it?