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Every time you book a ticket, the airline website asks you for your title. As an example, here are the options provided on Lufthansa's website:

enter image description here

But why do airlines ask for the title in addition to the name? It's not like anyone ever asks you to prove that you're a doctor or a professor. So why not drop the Title field and just ask for the name and gender?

(inspired by this somewhat related question)

  • 11
    Note that the titles Dr and Prof have a rather special status in German culture, and at least the use of Dr is even regulated by law. So some of this may be specific to the fact that Lufthansa is a German airline. – Nate Eldredge Nov 10 at 10:23
  • 48
    As someone with a PhD, I would never use my Dr title when booking an airline ticket anyway. The thought of being asked to resuscitate a passenger mid-flight and then having to say "not that kind of doctor" is too much to bear. – TEK Nov 10 at 13:47
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    Mr Dr? – Justin Lardinois Nov 10 at 20:27
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    @shoover I don't know, but I guess that it's probably due to being translated from German. And if German's anything like French then "fraulein" has been dropped from general usage in the same way "madamoiselle" has been dropped from French, in the same way that "Ms." has replaced "Miss" in English. Here in Spain, "señorita" is still alive and well, but I imagine it'll get dropped over the next 10 years... – Aaron F Nov 11 at 10:19
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    @gen-zreadytoperish It is. No English speaking person would use anything other than one of "Mrs", "Ms", or "Professor" - however a German would absolutely expect to use "Frau Doktorin Professorin". (The head of my dental practise is Herr Doktor Doktor Dorow".) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 11 at 10:27
50

Airlines communicate with their passengers. Sometimes, in letters (emails these days) and sometimes verbally. In the past (and much of the software that runs airlines is old, or copied from older versions) proper address included a title. You could no more start an email "Dear Kate Gregory" than you could start it "Hey Kate" (as Netflix does when emailing me.) I know for a fact that airlines I use address me formally in emails, and if I happen to speak to a human, they also do. Like while boarding, "have a nice flight Ms Gregory" as they give me the boarding pass back after scanning.

The fact that many passengers don't want to be called Mr Whoever or Miss Whatsit doesn't cause the disappearance of those who do want to be addressed that way. The software exists, and sort of handles titles -- though clearly you can see design decisions from people who never imagined names ending in mr or dr, so the motivation to change it is very small.

  • 12
    It also could go back even further, to the days when married women might use their husband's first and last name with a "Mrs." title. In that case, the title would be essential to distinguish the wife ("Mrs. John Smith") from the husband ("Mr. John Smith"). – Nate Eldredge Nov 10 at 10:27
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    Friend of mine worked at a bank and their back end had loads more titles than the front end. He gave himself the title of "Wing Commander" – John3136 Nov 10 at 22:29
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    There are many who specifically don't want to be addressed this way, so there should at least be an explicit no title - do not ever address me with a title option. – R.. Nov 11 at 0:13
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    I hate when firms like Netflix use that chummy "Hey Kate" introduction. It's like... you don't know me; you don't get to talk to me that! – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 11 at 13:27
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    @Jan when my mother (a professor with a PhD) accompanied my father (also a professor with a PhD) to Germany for some academic event, they called her something like Doctor Professor Frau Doctor Professor -- definitely bewildering. – Kate Gregory Nov 11 at 20:18
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In Germany, Doctor becomes legally an addendum of the name. Kind of medieval and never updated. The title is written in official identity documents, etc. This does not apply to Professor, but if you make a special case for Doctors, why not go the whole nine yards?

  • 3
    You're right that people can choose to have their Dr. registered in their official documents, and it's true that the title is particularly protected (it's a punishable crime to use Dr. illegitimately, for example). However, choosing to do so does not make Doktor a part of their name (see, for example, this German article). This means for eample that a PhD holder has no right to demand that it's being used to address them in official communication. Addressing someone as Herr Doktor Schmidt is always voluntary. – Schmuddi Nov 12 at 13:50
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Same reason so many web forms reject valid e-mail addresses. Because people who make web forms copy older ones. So the hasn’t-been-needed-for-years “required field” endures. “We’ve always done it that way.”

  • 5
    Dropping the title field does bring with it additional issues. Let's just take Amazon, for example, as they have dropped the title field, but now users who insist on titles just put them in the "first name" field (e.g. Dr Fred instead of just Fred). This generates amusing "Dear Dr" or "Good morning, Rev" in e-mails. Obviously, the implication here is that people may put their title in the first name field when booking a ticket. It's solving one issue for one subset of society and introducing another for another, IMHO. – TEK Nov 10 at 13:54
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    If the field is “important” to support another asinine form letter, it’s not important. – WGroleau Nov 10 at 16:00
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    "Hysterical raisins." – muru Nov 10 at 17:34
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    This answer is not in the slightest true. Happens regardless of web forms. – Emobe Nov 11 at 9:24
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    When two are more things are true, that does not make one of them false. – WGroleau Nov 11 at 13:06
8

If you think Lufthansa is bad (they only use two titles plus address—or three titles if you include Mr/Mrs as a title), then wait till you see British Airway’s list:

Selection of titles at British Airways

On the other hand, Finnair does precisely what you suggest:

Finnair’s passenger information fields

Given this glaring difference between three European airlines (and flag carriers) that should otherwise be very similar, I strongly suspect the underlying reason is one of culture, heritage and history.

In Germany, the title Dr. has a special legal status, can be added to your ID documents, your credit card and you can insist on being called Dr. Meyer. Prof. does not have this special legal status but still carries a general prestige with it; interviewees, for example on television, will often be titled Prof. in the name badge things that pop up at the bottom of the screen if appropriate (exceptions exist).

In the UK, aside from the old distinction Mrs/Miss still being kept (as well as the more neutral Ms being available) and the you’re-not-quite-a-Mr-yet,-boy title master, a lot of those titles that can be selected relate to the old aristocracy or still existing royal institutions (The Rt Hon). While indeed most of the time most of those titles would not be used, proper politeness in formal situations requires being aware of them.

In Finland, society is perceived as much more egalitarian. Thus, all those distinctions are irrelevant and it boils down to Mr/Mrs (although the selection fields are male/female).

To further elaborate, allow me to present the booking form of Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company where online tickets are tied to a specific person whose name must be entered. I couldn’t expand both menus simultaneously, the left one simply contains the options Herr and Frau or Mr and Mrs. In a sense, it is identical to Lufthansa’s except it separates the gender and title into 2 × 4 fields rather than one list of 8. (I didn’t think of using the English booking system, sorry.)

Booking at bahn.de

  • 2
    Worth a note that finnish does not have gendered pronouns or titles at all, so the ones working the back-end ticket at database programming probably never even considered the issue. – Stian Yttervik Nov 11 at 13:09
  • I also notice that Finnair failed to consider cultures for whom the given name is not "first". – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 11 at 13:28
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica Ah yes, the old assumptions about names, all of which are wrong. – Jan Nov 11 at 13:39
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    @StianYttervik Finnish does have gendered titles, "herra" and "rouva" for "mr" and "mrs" but they've mostly fallen out of use. They're used in the military and for for the president, for example. – JollyJoker Nov 12 at 9:19
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    @StianYttervik MP’s (especially in parliamentary language) are called the honourable member for <constituency> or my honourable friend. Members of the Privy Council are styled The Right Honourable which is actually a title rather than just a courtesy (and comes with postnominals) and in parliament are referred to as the Right Honourable member for <constituency>/Right Honourable friend. Also, here is a (long) list of current Privy Counsellors. – Jan Nov 12 at 12:49
7

When travelling with business/first class with e.g. British Airways you may be greeted with your title. I for one have been greeted with "Lord" when flying with Club World.

  • 3
    Also, there is an entire list of titles you can select when signing up for the Executive Club. I remember Rt Hon being one of them. – Jan Nov 11 at 12:18
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    Next time I fly BA, I'll have try "Right Honorable". – dbkk Nov 11 at 13:55
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    That's a big deal in Britain. For instance if you are awarded a George Cross, your last name has GC appended. I would imagine there are conseqences for claiming lordship when one is not actually a lord. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 11 at 14:49
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    @Harper I happen to own a square foot of land next to some Scottish castle 😉 – Mikael Dúi Bolinder Nov 11 at 19:11
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    Oh Lord! imagine being downgraded to Prof. class... – ZeroTheHero Nov 12 at 1:10
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First of all, not all airlines do this. I know plenty of forms that only offer mr/mrs or male/female options - but always at least that.

Some offer additional options for that field. If they do, it presumably for a simple reason: They know that at least some of their passengers like to be addressed in that way.

In many cultures and/or demographics addressing people with their title is considered important and people will take offense if it’s not done. And those who do not care can simply select mr or mrs - the inconvenience to them is minimal.

How to address your customers is not a question of right or wrong, but of knowing who they are. Instagram will never address users as “dear mrs user”, but if your bank starts important letters with “hey Kate” that would be just as wrong.

  • 1
    "Dear %s" where %s is exactly the string you entered is the only correct way to address someone with a letter. – R.. Nov 11 at 0:15
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    @R That depends on your language – Hagen von Eitzen Nov 12 at 17:16
  • @R.. that wouldn't work in languages with spelling changes for the vocative case, like names that can be lenited in Gaelic. – gormadoc Nov 12 at 21:59
  • @R.. Unless you mean "exactly the string you entered when asked 'What should we write in "Dear _____"?'", that's not true. – David Richerby Nov 12 at 22:20
0

Title is a part of name

The reason for this is that traditionally (at least in some societies) the honorific title is an unalienable part of the full name when adressing someone. It's impolite to omit the title, and it's extremely impolite to use the wrong title - so if you want to address someone in a polite formal manner, you need to know their full name including the title.

You can't simply assume a title based on gender. Calling Sir John Doe as Mr John Doe is totally wrong; if your relationship allows that, then you might call them informally as John or Johnny or whatever, but if you address them using a title, then it must be Sir and not Mr, and of course for women there's the marital status implied by the title with you can't know without asking. The other option is to simply avoid using titles at all - but that means using language that's informal and (at least traditionally, at least in some cultures) considered not polite enough for companies addressing their customers with proper respect.

  • 1
    Your point used to be right. Now the world is changing. Why include marital status with only 50% of the people? We do not even have a way to indicate that mr/sir John is married. I do not consider any title part of my name, but I can not select 'no title wanted'. – Willeke Nov 13 at 17:21
  • @Willeke Sure, the usage of titles is changing, but the fact that traditionally titles used to be pretty much a requirement in formal communication (even if it's not any more) and the fact that traditionally it used to be pretty much a requirement to only use formal communication in business (even if it's not any more) is the proper answer to the title question of why this airline practice was implemented. – Peteris Nov 13 at 18:06

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