One of the most contentious topics for travel to the US is the tipping culture, but should gratuities begin flowing before you’ve even left the plane?
Hollywood actress Kaley Cuoco recently weighed in on the topic telling travellers they should “tip their flight attendant”, New Zealand Herald reports.
Nominated for an Emmy for her starring role in TV drama The Flight Attendant, she said the glamorous profession was held in high regard but not paid highly enough.
“Yes, you should tip your flight attendant,” the actor told TMZ, as she got ready to depart Los Angeles Airport. “They deserve tips.”
Roughly 20 per cent of US travellers agreed with the actress, according to a poll.
But before you start reaching for your wallet and worrying, ‘How much is too little, or too much?’ – the idea isn’t a new one.
And many US airlines have policies against tipping your flight attendant.
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United Airlines prohibits their employees from accepting tips, as do Southwest and American Airlines. Still, there are some regional airlines that expect you to leave a gratuity when the dining trolley rolls through the aisle.
Some American professions will be furious if you forget to tip, others mortally wounded if you do. (Try to fold a crisp $5 bill into the hand of a dentist or doctor, see what happens.)
There is some strange tipping class-consciousness that North Americans are innately born with. It tells them who deserves an added 10 per cent and who does not. Yet, even for them, flight attendants are a conundrum.
According to the union Association of Flight Attendants they discourage tipping their representatives.
“Tipping is not part of a flight attendant’s compensation for serving as aviation’s first responders,” they said in a statement back in 2019.
“Flight attendants are certified for our safety, health and security work. Safety is not variable and therefore base compensation for a safety job cannot be variable.”
The confusion arises partially because cabin crew exist in the weird ‘grey zone’ of professions.
The same attendant who is delivering coffees throughout the cabin one minute could be required to perform CPR, fight fires and conduct emergency evacuation the next.
Between the lines of AFA’s response is that accepting tips cheapens the job played by cabin crew – i.e. “We aren’t just trolley dollies.”
Still other carriers like Frontier Airlines will allow customers to tip their crew. Prior to the pandemic they introduced a card system allowing passengers to add gratuity to in-flight purchases.
“We appreciate the great work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do as well, so [the payment tablet] gives passengers the option to tip,” a spokesperson for Frontier told Bloomberg.
“It’s entirely at the customer’s discretion, and many do it.”
Back in 2019 American Airlines flight attendants were split on the issue. An online forum run by cabin crew ‘AASTEWS’ led a poll which found that 56 per cent were in favour of accepting tips. Many were torn by experiences of having to turn down generous passengers’ tips, or appearing rude when explaining the company’s tipping policy.
However a large proportion were still opposed to tipping on aircraft.
“I feel like encouraging passengers to tip us cheapens our position as professionals and makes it harder for passengers to take us seriously as an authority on the aeroplane,” wrote one.
“Rather get a pay increase than tipped,” was the view expressed by many.
It’s clearly a topic that has both travellers and cabin crew divided down the middle.
It could be that whether you try to tip your flight crew says more about how you view their role, than if they can or will accept your gratuity.
This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and was republished with permission