No More ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ on Japan Airlines - The New York Times

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Asia Pacific|No More ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ on Japan Airlines

The carrier pledged to use inclusive language in a country where gender roles are entrenched.

Credit...Kazuhiro Nogi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Sept. 29, 2020Updated 7:46 a.m. ET

Japan Airlines said it would retire the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” from in-flight announcements made in English, a symbolic step toward inclusivity in a country where activists have long fought to change entrenched gender traditions.

Announcements in Japanese would remain unchanged because gender-specific greetings are not used in the first place.

The announcement on Monday appeared to be the first for a Japanese carrier, as airlines, and subway systems, around the world have been phasing out gender-specific language in recent years. (In 2017, British officials said that they would roll out “Hello, everyone” on the London Underground.)

Mark Morimoto, a Japan Airlines spokesman, said on Tuesday that greetings and announcements in English at the airport and in the cabin would use gender-neutral language such as “all passengers” or “everyone” — or avoid gender-specific phrases altogether — from Thursday.

“We aspire to be a company where we can create a positive atmosphere and treat everyone, including our customers, with respect,” Mr. Morimoto said in an email.

The airline’s small, some might say token, step toward more gender-inclusive language is effectively targeted at non-Japanese passengers. Japan remains a conservative country, in which lawmakers have resisted recognizing same-sex marriage even as public support has soared.

A recent survey by the advertising giant Dentsu showed that almost 80 percent of people 60 and under now back gay marriage. But the same survey found that more than half of gay men and lesbians in Japan were concerned about coming out, amid pressures to conform to rigid societal norms.

Last year, 13 gay couples filed Japan’s first lawsuits seeking to force the government to recognize same-sex marriage, arguing that their constitutional right to equality had been violated. (Taiwan was the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, in May, 2019. The government of Thailand recognized same-sex unions in July but avoided the word “marriage” in the new law.)

Japanese have pushed back against traditional strictures surrounding gender in other ways. A small but growing group of “genderless danshi,” or genderless men, has blurred boundaries with an androgenous look.

The global aviation industry was seen as a strict enforcer of traditional gender roles through exacting requirements for female flight attendants. They had to wear makeup, high heels and skirts. In the early years, flight attendants also had weight requirements. Female pilots were rare.

Air travel was considered a glamorous affair in the 1960s, and using “ladies and gentlemen” to address passengers only added to its allure during the so-called golden age of travel.

In recent years, airlines including Virgin Atlantic have heeded calls from flight attendants to relax some of the rules on appearance, adding pants to women’s uniforms.

In the wake of a campaign , which targeted Japanese workplaces that required women to wear high heels, Japan Airlines said in March that it would allow female flight attendants to choose the kind of shoes they wear on flights. Flight attendants would also for the first time be permitted to choose whether to wear pants instead of skirts.

In 2017, the airline also changed its policies so that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees could receive family benefits previously given to heterosexual couples only. All Nippon Airways, a competitor, designated in 2018 a bathroom gender neutral at the airline’s lounge in Tokyo International Airport. It also began in 2016 to allow passengers to register same-sex partners as family members in mileage programs.

Japan Airlines said it was motivated by listening to its customers, but it is not the first major airline to bin the phrase “ladies and gentlemen.” Air Canada and Easy Jet, among others, already stopped using it in announcements.

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