Should flight attendants be tipped? No, except…
I recently wrote about etiquette when it comes to tipping at airport lounges. Unsurprisingly, people had very different takes. Today I wanted to write about a topic that I think most of us will agree on, but I wanted to look at it a little more broadly.
No, you shouldn’t tip flight attendants.
While flight attendants spend most of the flight providing services to customers, unlike other people in service industries, they should not be tipped. Tipping flight attendants is not expected, and in fact some airlines have policies against tipping flight attendants. However, I wanted to see it from different angles.
What flight attendant unions say about tipping
Flight attendant unions oppose the idea of flight attendants being tipped. As the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) stated in a statement a few years ago:
“Tipping is not part of a flight attendant’s compensation for serving as a first responder in aviation. Flight attendants are certified for our safety, health and safety work. Security is not variable and therefore the base pay for security work cannot be variable. »
I’ve always found this perspective a bit odd:
- Unions exaggerate how flight attendants are aviation’s “first responders” – yes, flight attendants absolutely have important safety duties and should be respected for it, but the reality is that they spend the vast majority of their time in customer service, rather than dealing with emergency situations, and the two are not mutually exclusive
- It’s interesting how the unions don’t object to flight attendants being paid for credit card applications (via in-flight sales pitches), even though it arguably has a similar impact as to allow tips.
Are flight attendants allowed to accept tips?
Even though flight attendants are not expected to be tipped, a surprising number of passengers still try to tip flight attendants. That’s not to say it happens on all flights, but rather that most flight attendants have been offered a tip from a passenger at some point in their careers.
Most major airlines have policies prohibiting flight attendants from accepting tips. Other airlines (like Southwest) discourage tipping, but state that if a passenger insists, a flight attendant is allowed to accept a tip.
How to show gratitude to flight attendants
There are several ways to show gratitude to a flight attendant without tipping:
- You can just thank them for the great service and tell them how much you appreciate it
- You can write a nice note to the airline congratulating an employee, and you do it via Twitter or email
- Airline elite members often receive “job well done” certificates, which they can present to employees who go above and beyond.
If you want to make a more tangible gesture to a flight attendant, a non-cash gift would generally be better received and less controversial than a cash gift. It could be a Starbucks gift card or a box of chocolates (assuming it’s sealed).
The only airline that asks for tips from flight attendants
It should be noted that there is an exception to the “no tip” rule. Frontier Airlines actively encourages passengers to tip, unlike virtually every other airline in the world. The ultra-low-cost carrier charges for food and beverages, and when you pay by credit card, you’ll be handed the card processing machine and given the option to tip, as a percentage of the purchase amount.
As a Frontier Airlines spokesperson describes the company’s policy:
“We appreciate the excellent work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do the same. Tipping is entirely at the discretion of the customer, and many do.
Admittedly, this confuses many passengers:
- On the one hand, if you are in the United States, you are asked to tip and you are provided with a service, many may feel cheap without tipping.
- On the other hand, even the Frontier Airlines flight attendants union opposes tipping, saying the airline does it instead of paying flight attendants better.
Is it rational not to tip flight attendants?
I’m in no way trying to start a campaign to start tipping flight attendants, but I think it’s an interesting topic to discuss in the context of tipping culture in the United States.
At least in domestic first class, you could have someone looking after you for five hours, serving you a meal, constantly refilling your drinks, etc. Perhaps other than a hospital, this is about the only setting where you get this kind of service and they are not expected to tip.
Yet too often people complain about the level of service provided by flight attendants (I’m not saying that’s true, I’m just saying that’s what you often hear). What standards can we really have when flight attendants are judged primarily on seniority and receive no real additional compensation for providing premium service versus labor saving?
Service in restaurants in the United States is generally much more attentive than in Europe, and that’s probably at least partly because servers are paid mostly by tips. Now, I’m not saying that’s what should happen with flight attendants, but surely the service culture would be different if there was an element of variable compensation that reflects the level of service provided?
Again, I’m not suggesting that we should see policy changes here, but rather pointing out that a lot of people are unhappy with the level of service provided by flight attendants, and that’s also one of the rare service industry jobs in the United States where there is no tipping. I imagine it’s no coincidence.
At the end of the line
No, you should not tip flight attendants except on Frontier, where you have the option to tip. In general, airline unions and airline management oppose the practice of tipping, which seems to be one of the few things they can agree on. 😉 There are other ways to show your gratitude, like writing a note complimenting a flight attendant that goes above and beyond.
How about tipping flight attendants?