Should You Tip Your Flight Attendant?

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In an industry that constantly seems to be aiming for our last nickel and dime, it seems weird to ask whether flight attendants should be tipped.

Especially to me, since I’ve never heard of such a thing. But Airfarewatchdog recently asked whether people do, SmarterTravel says, and 30 percent of the more than 500 respondents said yes. I guess it is a thing.

But flight attendants aren’t like waitstaff, starting at a $2.13 minimum wage and relying on tips to make at least the federal minimum wage. The median annual salary for a flight attendant was $37,740 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the median annual pay for waiters and waitresses was $18,330 that year.

For that matter, even though they bring us drinks and snacks and deal with our complaints, their primary job isn’t customer service. It’s to keep us safe. Their job is required by law, and every flight attendant is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, the BLS says.

The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents nearly 60,000 employees at 19 airlines, says its members don’t accept tips, according to NBC News. On the other hand, a discussion about tipping attendants over at BudgetTravel.com was sparked by an anonymous attendant who gave this confession:

Tipping is not encouraged by the airlines, but greatly appreciated by the staff. The key is insisting that we take the money; we’re not allowed to accept it on the first attempt. I make doubly sure to attend to the needs of anyone who has tipped me, sometimes throwing in a free round — and the drinks are always strong.

Some readers were offended by the idea, while others supported it. BudgetTravel’s own poll on the question found that 34 percent of more than 1,000 respondents believed attendants deserved tips for exceptional service. Another 11 percent said they “absolutely” deserve tips.

Have you ever heard of tipping flight attendants? Have you done it? Let us know what you think on Facebook.

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Comments & discussion

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  • BobintheHeights

    Isn’t air travel expensive enough with all the extra things they tack on? No I don’t tip them.

  • Nancy

    NO. NO. NO. This smacks of a way for richer folks to gain more attention by buying it away from others. On a plane, we are all in it together. Just let the crew do their jobs for all of us.

  • pennyhammack

    I worked 30 years for an airline. We were always told that flight attendants were not allowed to take tips. Yes, they work hard, maybe harder than your average wait person but they are well paid, especially if they stick around for a while. If you want to reward especially good service, get their name and send a nice letter to the airline. Believe me, it’s better and more appreciated than any tip.

  • pennyhammack

    Yes, it was a long time ago, I retired in 1997. Unfortunately your problem seems to be applicable to all of the airlines now. It hurts me to see articles about how airlines are charging for previously free amenities like bottled water and checked luggage and now I’ve even heard of an airline charging extra for carry-on luggage. What are they thinking? Very few people can go on a trip with only the clothes on their back. Hopefully when the economy turns around the airlines can go back to being a decent way to travel. Meanwhile I hope your union starts to work harder and if tipping is the only way you can feed your family, that you find a better job soon.