Should You Be Tipping Flight Attendants?

When you think about it, tipping is kind of weird ... isn't it? While the intention is to show your support for service industry workers, the unspoken part of that gesture is to assume the employer is underpaying their workers, which is unfortunately true in many cases. Today, it's a deeply ingrained social norm (for Americans in particular) and, if you are to violate it, is seen as stingy and even downright tacky.

So, why don't we tip flight attendants? They bring us drinks and meals and are there to keep us safe at take-off, landing, and in the event of severe turbulence and emergencies. And it's no secret that they, too, suffer from low pay, especially at the beginning of their tenure as flight attendants. Because of this, they are often considered workers within the customer service industry. So, they more than deserve their fair share of the tipping pool, right? Well, not quite, and here's why.

To tip or not to tip your flight attendant

While it is true that customer service is one aspect of a flight attendant's duties, their primary role is to keep everyone aboard safe. Flight attendants are certified safety, health, and security experts. They are trained to handle various high-stress situations and follow safety protocols to a T to maintain order on board and get the plane to its destination. As stated by the Association of Flight Attendants (A.F.A.), a flight attendant's performance of their safety tasks is not variable and additional compensation might encourage deviations from these very important duties.

For example, if someone gives a generous tip to their flight attendant, should the passenger be moved to the exit row, a safer part of the plane? No. Therefore, tipping is discouraged. So while you may see a cash tip as a nice gesture, it might be prohibited by the airline entirely and flight attendants may not appreciate it either as they — rightly — see themselves as safety professionals and not customer service workers.

When and what's appropriate to offer a flight attendant

While cash tips are discouraged or even prohibited on some airlines, some types of gratuities and situations would be considered perfectly appropriate and appreciated. During the holiday seasons, when flight attendants are working to get you home to your family, they may inevitably miss out on quality time with theirs. During these times of year, flight attendants might appreciate a little extra thanks from passengers, especially since it can be a lonely time of year to work. But it doesn't have to be cash — gift cards, small snacks, and thank-you notes are wonderful gestures of thanks for your flight crew. Consider handing these over at the end of your flight as you're leaving.

If you're coming from a more exotic location, giving your flight attendant a little souvenir from your destination may also be a nice gesture. This is a good alternative to cash as it's not tied to monetary value as much as it's just a thoughtful gift and a cute keepsake.