"Miss." That's what a Qantas employee called passenger Siobhan O'Dwyer. Frankly, I'm appalled and think they should have called her Ms.

But, O'Dwyer thinks the airline employee should have called her "Doctor." She tweeted:

Not everyone was on her side. She also jumped to a whole lot of conclusions, especially the part where she determined that the employee decided the "Dr" was a typo. She has no clue why the employee made that decision. My guess is that the employee calls all females Miss and all males Mr.

Should this be something that women get upset about? Many people took O'Dwyer's side:

But, most people seemed to think O'Dwyer was a bit over the top:

Now, you'll note that I haven't referred to her by her earned honorific. That's not because I'm mean or sexist. It's because Inc.'s style guide is to only use Dr. to refer to medical doctors. O'Dwyer's degree doesn't make the cut. 

The Chicago Manual of Style doesn't use Dr. in academic publications for non-medical doctors either but does allow that non-academic publications can make their own decisions. Very kind of them. 

The New York Times  gives their style as follows:

Dr. should be used in all references for physicians, dentists and veterinarians whose practice is their primary current occupation, or who work in a closely related field, like medical writing, research or pharmaceutical manufacturing: Dr. Alex E. Baranek; Dr. Baranek; the doctor. (Those who practice only incidentally, or not at all, should be called Mr., Ms., Miss or Mrs.)

Anyone else with an earned doctorate, like a Ph.D. degree, may request the title, but only if it is germane to the holder's primary current occupation (academic, for example, or laboratory research). Reporters should confirm the degree holder's preference. For a Ph.D., the title should appear only in second and later references.

My father has a Ph.D. in political science, but he hasn't worked in that field since the 1980s. So, even though he earned that degree, our pals at the New York Times wouldn't refer to him as Dr. Gender has nothing to do with it.

Now, if Qantas gives passengers the option of choosing "Dr" as their title, they should probably use it. Frankly, I think the whole academic distinction outside of a professional setting is ridiculous. (I have a master's degree, and yet no one gives me the option of using that title everywhere I go. Probably for good reason, as it sounds inappropriate, but still.) But, just because someone doesn't use the title doesn't mean there is something sexist going on. 

My policy is to assume the best of people, and frankly, that tends to work out. I don't have to spend a lot of time being angry because someone made a mistake. I just go on with my life.

And, as for doctors on a plane, it would be important for airline staff to know if there are medical personnel on board, so let's add  RN, NP, CNM titles as well, but limit the Dr. to medical doctors. (MD and DO, I'm not picky.) Otherwise, your title doesn't matter on a flight--unless you're actually one of the pilots.

Published on: Sep 3, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.