Should You Tip Flight Attendants?

Flight attendants often aren’t well paid, though they do benefit from travel and in some cases scheduling flexibility.

Tipping is often against airline rules, but that doesn’t mean your crew won’t accept tips especially if you offer it again a second time once they decline.

Some travel providers give elite members coupons to give out to employees that go above and beyond with superior service. That’s the way they’ve wanted their employees recognized.

Here are the certificates American sends to Executive Platinum members (they’ve sent fewer certificates to Platinums and Golds as well):

In the case of American, each coupon is a raffle entry. They used to be called “Round of Applause” certificates, often referred to by frequent flyers as “AAplause” certificates. My understanding is that each month American would draw winners of prizes of AAdvantage frequent flyer miles. They’ve moved to the US Airways system and now do quarterly drawings for cash.

Another thing you can do is write to an airline to compliment a specific employee.

I’ve also known frequent flyers who bring boxes of chocolates for crew, and who carry gift cards with them to give out instead of cash. I’ve given out Starbucks gift cards to lounge agents, for instance. Having a few of those in my laptop bag is always handy, it’s less awkward than cash and always appreciated.

Outside of Las Vegas, and places where it’s clearly customary, I start to get a little uncomfortable with tipping. Often you’re paying an employee for having done something that may have run contrary to their employer’s interests. I’ve seen employees give out compensation liberally, but add a tipping dimension and one wonders if the incentives for the employee become very bad.

Do you do anything to thank the employees of airlines and hotels that you encounter along the way, and who do small kindnesses for you?

Being a flight attendant can be a tough job. It’s hardly the toughest, dirtiest, most disgusting job (though sometimes it seems that way) and it’s one voluntarily undertaken in exchange for a wage and travel benefits. Indeed, it’s a job that doesn’t come with expectations of a tip (in contrast to a waiter in a restaurant).

But goodness knows working in a metal tube at 35,000 feet now that flying has become super-democratic and passengers experience all manner of behaviors, requests, and abuses.

Would you tip with cash, and even insist the flight attendant take it? What kind of above and beyond, not just ‘being there for your safety’ would be needed before you’d consider tipping?

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. I ask for their name and number (employee number – not their phone number). I almost always get a survey shortly after the trip. That is when I mention the good work of the employee. I never know if that helps them but they are always appreciative when I indicate that I will give them recognition.

  2. As someone who has no problem tipping in normal situations, I don’t think FA’s should be tipped. It would have to be pretty extraordinary for it to even cross my mind. Providing good or great service isn’t grounds for tipping in my opinion.

    If I was going to tip, I do like the idea of a Starbucks GC. It’s easy to have a few on you and there’s one in every airport.

  3. you mean like if they treat me like a human? No, I don’t tip them. Frankly, I don’t tip outside of the service industry–and even then the tip line for counter service irks me.

    FAs earn a respectable hourly wage (I used to live with two United FAs) and have great benefits. They may be more likely to give me a free drink, but then is it really free?

    But I do not pester them before the doors close. They are paid only for time when the door is closed.

  4. Absolutely not. It turn the plane into an environment like obnoxious private golf clubs, where they allow tipping the starter – turning it into a wallet swordfight as to who get on the course and when.

  5. If the FA’s are going to toe the “our primary purpose is the safety of the pax” line instead of being service providers then, NO, no tipping. I weep that our country has become the incubator for “extra compensation in exchange for doing the bare minimum” as the standard.

  6. I say an airline should suggest their customers tip their flight attendants 15 to 20% of their ticket price and then reduce their salaries to minimum wage. This way they can outsource their labor costs.

    Crazy? Hey, it works for restaurants. And if people were dumb enough to tip this much, the flight attendants would love it!

  7. If you make them go out of their way, you should tip, but not for regular service. If you do tip (or bring candy) there’s a decent chance you’ll get more than your money’s worth though!

  8. @steve you made me laugh, nice. Come to think of it they should “tip” us if we are “hot”

    Oh and no I don’t tip FA’s I appreciate them unless they are mean and rude. I also don’t usually tip fast food workers, cops, nurses, claims adjusters, liquor store clerks, TSA agents, pilots, gift shop workers (except the nice lady at MCI in the United gate area that warns us about the overpriced items), air traffic controllers, dental assistants…….

  9. Tipping culture in America is so out of control. It’s everywhere. Unemployment is at its lowest point in 50 years. If you are reduced to begging from your customers for a dollar or two just to be able to afford to survive, you work for a really crappy company. Leave. Get a new job with a company that won’t degrade and de-humanize you like that and actually cares about your well-being. Sheeesh.

  10. No. Tipping is another way to indirectly subsidize air carriers. Don’t like fees? This is the same thing, only different.

  11. “Here’s 6 Simple Universal Rules for When to Tip, When Not to Tip, and How Much”
    is a broken link.

    I think tipping cabin crew is a broken link in your thinking. If you want to bribe one with candy, gift cards, flowers, etc., that’s ok. Whatever works for you. I smile.

  12. You know full well that the tipping culture in the US in unique to your country. It is not customary to be obliged to tip in the same way across Europe, and not at all in Asia. Please do not encourage this aberration.

  13. @SillyAnswer – the “we’re here primarily for your safety” argument certainly resonates more with nurses than with FAs. Anything above that might actually be worthy of a tip.

  14. Stop trying to expand tipping. If people are underpaid then that is an issue for them to take up with their employer. The worst is when people bring tipping nonsense to countries where tipping is not normal.

  15. Every time we go on an intl. flight, we find the biggest box of Godiva’s that we can, and give it to an FA when we board. Been doing that for years. Then I read that GSTP recommends gifting also, which I found to be lots of fun. The look of sheer bewilderment on the face of an FA when you hand them something is priceless. An Emirates FA dropped her jaw and was speechless for a while when I did that. You can really make quite a few people’s everyday job much brighter that way, and buying someone a smile is never a bad thing.

  16. I was reading a restaurant review the other day on Yelp and several reviewers described the same scenario in one restaurant. The service was generally poor, and there was one waitress who was particularly bad. And when they tipped her accordingly (along the lines of 10%, generous for her terrible service) she would run after them and try to shame them, yelling that they didn’t even give her 15%. This is what is wrong with tipping culture in this country and in general. It comes to be expected. Then 15% for normal service and 20 percent for pretty gopod service and better make it 22 or 25% if it’s really good. Where does it stop. The implication is that people don’t perform their jobs well because they care about them but only because they want to try to elicit more money from customers. To suggest expanding this to planes (or hospitals as you suggested in the comments) is TERRIBLE IDEA.

  17. The answer to any question beginning “should you tip…” should be NO. Employers have the responsibility of paying employees a fair wage, NOT customers. Please STOP spreading this ridiculous practice!

  18. Should you tip flight attendants? Absolutely not. Tipping FA’s would likely cause airline management to cut FA pay further and then expect passengers to pay the difference. Can we say “onboard service fee”?

  19. You are f*ing kidding me? You want them to be slave labor like all the other exempt workers (exempt only because they were already tipped, not the other way around) in the U.S.? There’s is a lot going wrong in the U.S., now this.

  20. Please please please please don’t start a tipping culture for flight attendants.Tipping is already out of control. Where next? Tip the Costco cashier for doing their job? Tip the Macy’s shop assistant? Tip the bank teller? Stop now!

  21. I do not tip cash. I may have a paperbook book which I finished that I will offer the FA with a word of thanks. At the airport, when conditions are crazy, I may bring the frazzled ticket or gate agent a small box of chocolates letting them know “you need this more than me.” It is the small gestures that are often appreciated.

  22. I certainly don’t tip. However I do bring a little something for the crew on International flights. A box of local chocolates or cavy is always appreciated. I also make note of crew names. Letters are written when deserved and tweet outs too.
    Hotel staff, in the lounges I return too, get a treat also. The simple smile of thanks and the knowledge that somebody improved their day is enough.

  23. No. Absolutely not. America already has this crazy tipping culture where customers pay the workers salaries. I live in Germany and when I tip 5-10% or even just a few Euros, the servers are really surprised. Germans don’t tip in general and many of the servers actually walk away before you can reach for your wallet to tip.

  24. I have followed advice given by Gary a few years back. I carry Starbucks gift cards ($5.00) when I travel. When I have had a situation where I feel I want to commend airline employee for going above and beyond, I simply hand them a gift card and say “thank you for job well done”. It has always been appreciated.

  25. No way. When we start to tip everyone it has gone to far. Tip jar at dunk in donuts, nd Donald ,delis hotels, barbers, taxis. It is too much. I do not get tips nor do I get a box of chocolates….. Also know as a bribe. FA say they are under paid but they agreed to be paid based on when the door closes per their union contact , I did not agree to it

  26. Please don’t tip us. You don’t tip other professionals, and you don’t need to tip us. Just a friendly smile back at me is what I’d like.

  27. It depends on the FA having dated several FA’s across various airlines I know that some of them make very little money. If you are on a regional flight they more than likely are struggling to make ends meet since they only get paid when they are actually flying and starting out they don’t have a route or line. Personally, I try and treat all of them with respect no matter what and will give them a tip if I have cash or a gift card. I know what it’s like to not make a lot of money or to just be shown gratitude so now that I’m in a position to do that I try my best to do that. I do the same thing for the Lounge workers at the Admirals Clubs.

  28. I have pens made with lights at the end of the tip that say Thank You , I give these to the flight crew on most of my flights. They very much like it, I have even received personalized thank you cards.

    Lastly, I hav suggested this before there is a Steve martin movie called my blue heaven. Save has a seen where he tips the flight attendants.

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