It Took A Pandemic, But American Airlines Warns Cabin Crew Not To Tip In Sydney

With the modest rise in Covid-19 cases in Australia, the country has cut in half the number of international arriving passengers allowed to enter and go into state quarantine, at least through August 31. As a result American Airlines only has an allocation of passengers on certain days. For other dates they’ll fly cargo only from Los Angeles to Sydney, and carry passengers on the return.

Now it’s taken the pandemic, but American Airlines is finally telling its employees they have to stop tipping when they’re in Australia. And that’s by order of the government there. In an LAX flight service memo on Monday, Los Angeles-based flight attendants were told they’d face 14 day quarantine if caught tipping:

The New South Wales (NSW) Health and the NSW government have informed us that we are no longer allowed to collect money for tipping upon arrival or on our departures as we have done in the past for our transportation drivers, hotel staff and others.

This restriction is due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in Australia and the potential for exposing and spreading the virus with the exchange of money. If anyone is caught providing a tip, they will be subject to a 14 day quarantine in SYD.

I know we all want to provide this tip, however we simply cannot. Please just provide them with a wrm smile and a thank you. I know you all understand and once we are able to start providing a tip again, I will let you know.

I’d make several points here,

  • Flight crew traveling for work should have their employer (American) covering the cost of tips during work travel, not come out of pocket. (N.B. it was not my intention to have a philosophical debate over per diems, interesting though that is.)

  • Australia does not have a tipping culture although with American visitors and influence it’s become more common in recent years.

  • Workers there, such as hotel employees and drivers, make a living wage and don’t rely on tips as part of their income the way service workers often do in the United States. The cost of a hotel housekeeper is factored into the wage paid by the hotel, and baked into the room rate, rather than assuming guests will come out of pocket separately to cover it.

  • If they really wanted to, could they pool funds with Venmo or similar apps?

Fomite transmission isn’t impossible and isn’t nonexistent, but it’s not a significant vector of spread for the virus which primarily moves via aerosols in poorly ventilated indoor spaces.

However with a limited amount of virus in the country, foreigners are viewed as a threat, and the introduction of virus from any source is of concern to a government that until now has successfully tamped down on any outbreak and which has also bungled its vaccine rollout such that there’s very little immunity in the country. Sydney remains under lockdown and an extension past Friday seems likely.

Americans need to stop tipping everyone, everywhere. And Americans need to stop assuming that service industries operate the same everywhere else as they do in the U.S. Here are 5 simple rules for tipping that will cover you everywhere in the world if you aren’t certain of local practices.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Written from a very American centric viewpoint (at the same time trying to critique another American tradition) and you don’t even know it. I used to be crew at Emirates (on most trips I was the only American) and this was in fact standard practice at each one of our layovers. Before loading onto the bus to the airport there was always an envelope to contribute (mostly to rid ourselves from random currency change) to tip the driver. This is no different, and in no was uniquely American.

  2. Gary, you said: “ Flight crew traveling for work should have their employer (American) covering the cost of tips during work travel, not come out of pocket.”

    AA does give flight crews money for tips. That is one one the criteria that they list as a reason for the per diem expenses they are provided.

    I am well aware that most crew members treat the per diem as though it is salary, but that is not AA’s fault.

  3. It is time to end tipping PERIOD. If COVID has to be the excuse, fine by me. I am NOT an ATM and I don’t have stacks of singles like I’m about to hit the strip club. Last week was the first time I handled paper money in over a year. I am truly hopeful that the economic repercussions of this pandemic will finally force a cultural shift and change how employers value and treat their workers.

  4. While in Singapore over the years I have asked different people in different businesses about gratuities or tips and receive a blank stare each time.

    Japan, Singapore and other countries have it right: tips/gratuities should not exist.

    Tipping is participating in tax evasion.

  5. I’m currently on vacation in Egypt. Nobody here turns ng down American cash for tips.

    Australia has gone completely off the rails.

  6. #VML says:
    July 14, 2021 at 10:59 am
    “It is time to end tipping PERIOD. If COVID has to be the excuse, fine by me. I am NOT an ATM and I don’t have stacks of singles like I’m about to hit the strip club.”

    Agreed! Tip jars for bartenders in US airport lounges where I already pay hundreds of dollars in membership fees just to enter (Centurion Lounges, United lounges, etc.) are insane.

    “Culture” can and does change over time. If Covid pushes us towards a no-tips, no-bribes, cashless society, I will be happy.

  7. Read World Health Organization: ‘We did NOT say that cash was transmitting coronavirus’ This story in various forms has been going around for decades. While coins and currency do pick up germs, consider who else touched the doorknob, bus strap or a thousand other public places where you may put your hand in the course of a day. A person listed in an article from First Coast News as an “infectious disease specialist”, Dr. Alexea Gaffney-Adams, probably put it very well:

    “It should not be a significant issue because while the coronavirus can linger on inanimate objects and surfaces that are frequently touched, it lingers the longest on non-porous surfaces,” she said. “Money is porous, so it would dry out.”

    Gaffney-Adams said the virus would only last a few hours, at the most, on cash and coins. Therefore, she said it shouldn’t be a significant concern if someone would need to withdraw cash out of an ATM because that cash can sit for days in the ATM, long enough for the virus to expire.

    Regarding getting cash back at a store, she said the greater concern there would be with human to human contact.

    “Above and beyond the money, you’ve also touched the items on the shelf, maybe you’ve touched the keypad, maybe you touched the handle of the shopping cart, the door to get in and out of the place,” Gaffney-Adams said. “To minimize the issue to just the contact of dollars exchanged is really minimizing the severity of the situation. We have to think about all the surfaces we touch.”

  8. One of many dumb things the Australia government does. Best solution, never go there. I went and was completely unimpressed, one of the most boring, lifeless countries on earth, save your money. Clearly they don’t want us, let them suffer that fate.

  9. Australia is “ridiculous”? We actually pay our workers a living wage unlike America.

  10. “completely unimpressed, one of the most boring, lifeless countries on earth,”

    A country, er, entire continent filled with an enormous variety of, well, literally everything. Boring and lifeless? Wow. There are probably lots of bad things to say about AU, but your description sounds like it’s of you.

  11. Anna AU pays a living wage to waitstaff? Then why is it when I was there the staff is all college age students? I do not recall seeing a middle age 40 yr old serving beers at the bar while the 2.5 kids are home at night with the baby mama. Waitstaff is NOT a family job, it is designed for those to learn from it and move on to a REAL job. Waitstaff in AU the USA and every other country is NOT designed to be a life long occupation. There is no family health insurance (AU may tax you at 42% to give it ) no pension plan, no holiday pay, no chance for advancement. you do not need an education to serve 2 eggs bacon and toast.

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