What Flight Attendants Sell on eBay to Make Ends Meet

Twenty years ago Robert Putnam wrote a book called Bowling Alone where he surmised that the American public was disengaging from civic life, that through reduction of in-person social intercourse we’d no longer be tied together in a democracy.

It was just at that moment though that new forms of communities were arising online. We no longer went bowling with neighbors down the street, perhaps, whom we were bound together with through nothing but geography. Instead though we found new forms of communities online as the cost of finding people with similar interests fell, and the reach of communication technologies grew. The internet reduced search costs and allowed us to create far more niche communities of greater interest.

A large city can support a vibrant dining scene because there are so many people with eclectic tastes (and also often because there’s enough prosperity that more people have disposable income). You’re going to find fairly good renditions of many different cuisines, and at least examples of most, whereas in smaller cities experiences are far more… provincial.

The internet is the largest city of all, because nearly all of us are connected. Whether it’s communities of frequent flyers or fetishists it’s possible to find early anything and anyone online.

That also makes it possible to earn niche incomes the way that no one ever had before, and to do so out in the open (semi-anonymously).

One of those subcultures that apparently thrives online also supplements the incomes of cabin crew. Though the average flight attendant makes about $45,000 plus fairly generous benefits, that’s not a lot of money if you’re raising a family or living in a high cost area.

And some have taken to “selling their used tights and unwashed uniforms” on eBay where they can, ahem, command a premium.

This is apparently especially common for Norwegian flight attendants where wages are lower than at legacy European and American carriers.

A man who has worked for Norwegian Airlines since 2015 said his colleagues on “every flight” are taking part in the antics.

He said: “You do think, ‘oh goodness £500, it’s a lot.’

I’m not sure it’s the sort of community that Putnam had in mind, but it’s certainly engaging and ultimately I think the erosion of social capital thesis fails because it predicted disengaging from political involvement. And if you read the comments any time President Trump talks about the 737 MAX or an airport decides to ban Chick-fil-A, this blog’s readers are nothing if not politically engaged.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 honestly had no clue flight attendants actually had a side hustle of selling things on eBay to make instant meet. I never even knew eBay was a place to generate immediate sales – $ gUaP $ anymore. They’re always having some kind of reporting delay or some type of reporting problems. Many people have quietly became “eBay millionaires.”

    But that all depends on the person’s creativity, effort, and determination of transforming that “eBay side hustle” into a full-time online business working from home. I’m not saying that flight attendants or everyday people can achieve “side hustle millionaire” status buying and selling things on “eBay.”

    While people sell things on [eBay], they should also look at selling things online or in other selling platforms to diversify their online income potential and especially if they want to achieve [side hustle millionaire] status. 🙂

  2. There is at least one vendor on eBay who sells used first class pajamas and toiletry kits. İnitially I thought it was a frequent frequent flyer, but the sales always originate the same place, on the same airline, and there are just too many items for one person–İ mean, can the individual really travel 4 times a week on international first? And if there was such a person, how could they find the time to list the items on eBay? And would it worth their time?

    So I figured it was a flight crew member who went through the cabin after the flight and took all the leftover, unsealed goodies.

  3. In Thailand goods confiscated at security, notably liquids over 100ml, including cosmetics, perfumes etc, were turning up for sale on EBay ( not as an auction for charity, which might have been reasonable, but for private profit). Quite a little scam/earner, until someone blew the whistle.

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