Air Malta will no longer address you as ‘ladies and gentlemen’

It is guests, not ladies and gentlemen. But what about ‘sir’ and ‘madam’?

Welcome guests: that is how national airline Air Malta will adopt gender-neutral language to replace the customary “ladies and gentlemen” salutation.

Earlier today, Air Malta announced that executive chairperson David G. Curmi had despatched an internal communication for customer-facing staff to start adopting gender-neutral language such as ‘guests’ and more generic customer greetings.

Why gender-neutral pronouns matter

This shall apply when Air Malta staff addresses our customers, both in-flight and on the ground. “For an airline with a multicultural clientele, inclusion is a very important value, and we want to express this attitude shift in our language as well,” Curmi said.

Air Malta said it will also be making linguistic changes to all its company documentation including contracts and operational manuals.

Air Malta is not alone in adopting gender-neutral language. Lufthansa’s airlines – which include Lufthansa, Eurowings and Brussels Airlines – is referring travellers as “guests” and greeted with: “Good morning here on board”.

Airlines who made the change are Japanese airline JAL in 2020, and European budget carrier EasyJet and Canadian flagship airline Air Canada back in 2019.

But how will ground and in-flight staff address people in individual situations, where the use of gender-neutral language is always tricker.

What about “sir” and “madam”... does a gender-neutral expression for these gender-assuming titles exist? We asked Air Malta, and the answer is... they have not yet come to that bridge.

Customarily, people assume each other’s gender when addressing each other, but today space is made not just for two genders, but for many more, serving as a way for people who fall outside the binary of “man” and “woman” to describe themselves.

The use of “they” and “them” to address a person who do identify as he/him or she/her, has become a staple of email signatures: a new language of identity that lets people know that you are not going to assume their gender, avoiding getting someone’s gender wrong, as well as benefiting the LBGT+ community.

Mx. (pronounced ‘mix’) is considered as the gender-neutral equivalent of Mr. or Mrs., and was was first recorded in an April 1977 edition of the magazine The Single Parent.

United Airlines added Mx to its online dropdown menu of titles for those not wishing to indicate gender, and is working with advocacy groups to train staff on preferred pronouns, LGBT workplace competency and other inclusivity initiatives.

The gender-neutral honorific has grown in popularity over the past few years, as more people outwardly and openly identify as transgender, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary — and have rejected the idea that only two options, male and female, exist.

Merriam-Webster added Mx. to its unabridged dictionary in 2016 and to its website in 2017.