Should you give flight attendants gifts?


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Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

It’s not a widespread practice, but some travelers swear by bringing gifts for flight attendants. They’re usually small tokens of appreciation, but what do the recipients think of the gesture? Is it a well-intentioned thank you or a low-budget bribe? Should we all pack gifts for our next trip? We asked flight attendants to weigh in.

It always surprises me to see travelers bring flight attendants gifts. Some tell me it’s a way to show their appreciation for the flight crew, particularly after what they’ve been through during the pandemic. For others, it’s a “subtle” attempt at getting an upgrade, or at least some special treatment on board.

Ashlee Loree, a flight attendant for Delta, sees most gifts as a kind gesture that brightens her day and gives her hope.

“We are all doing our best and trying our hardest everyday, and we are so grateful when that doesn’t go unnoticed,” she said.

Missy Roemer, a flight attendant for private planes, doesn’t expect gifts or tips, and prides herself on giving every passenger the VIP treatment. It’s “part of why I chose this career,” she said.

Still, Roemer says it’s a pleasant surprise when a gift comes along. She thinks it’s a wonderful way to acknowledge efforts seen and unseen. Flight attendants’ priority is your safety. It’s a job that requires long hours before, during and after a flight, including intensive annual trainings.

“There are times when it’s tough to be away from our families and homes,” Roemer said. “Feeling appreciated can really help boost our morale, especially at the end of a long day.”

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A flight attendant for Air Canada, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his employment, said he and his colleagues “highly welcome” the gesture if it’s coming from a place of generosity and not with a transactional expectation. It’s particularly nice during hectic travel periods such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

“Sometimes we’re on the road for a couple days straight, doing a dozen flights over that period with cascading delays. It’s the thought that really counts,” he said.

Once you’ve handed over your gift, the Canadian flight attendant says it’s common they’ll brief the other cabin crew of the gesture. They’ll try to make your trip nicer, within reason.

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“I would say this would likely not get you a business-class seat from economy,” he said. “But [a gift] could be a thing that tips the scale between sharing an aisle with someone else versus having the last empty row to yourself.”

On occasion, if a customer who brought a gift or note was trying to buy something on board, the flight attendant says he’s pretended his point-of-sale machine is broken or swiped a customer’s credit card the wrong way to avoid charging them.

Loree doesn’t feel obligated to treat a passenger differently if they bring gifts, “but I do make a point to let them know I’m thankful for them and how much they are appreciated for their genuine efforts,” she said.

There are times when gifts go wrong. If your intentions are off, “that is definitely not welcomed,” Loree said.

For example, “if it’s your business card because you’re hitting on the crew, maybe not,” the Canadian flight attendant said.

Roemer says her rule of thumb is to decline a gift if it doesn’t feel right.

“It’s never worth the risk,” she said.

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So what should you give a flight attendant?

Roemer says cash and gift cards make for great gifts (although some airlines do not allow flight attendants to accept cash, and tipping is not considered a standard travel etiquette protocol). She’s received both as well as makeup, perfume and gift bags of food or candy. She would feel uncomfortable with any gifts worth over $100.

“Gifts that are extravagant in cost or that would influence any further business transactions would definitely be off limits,” she said.

If you’re going to go with an edible gift, the Canadian flight attendant suggests sticking with something prepackaged and sealed as opposed to something homemade. He’s been given Trader Joe’s chocolate on an Oregon flight, packets of seaweed, Starbucks and Tim Hortons gift cards, the book “Tao Te Ching,” home-smoked salmon and some Garrett popcorn from Chicago.

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One regular customer who flew three times a week always traveled with a stockpile of Tunnock’s Snowballs, a marshmallow treat coated in chocolate and coconut shavings.

“Every time he’d sit down, he’d hand the service director packets of them to distribute to the whole crew,” the flight attendant said. “He’d even have some for the crew swap for when he landed, too.”

One of the flight attendant’s most memorable gifts came from a family traveling home from a dream vacation in Iceland. The mom had a relative who worked in the aviation industry and “understood how the job can at times be underappreciated,” he said. They gifted him a goody bag full of Icelandic treats and a card that summarized their trip.

Loree’s favorite gift memory was a time when a young passenger spent the whole flight writing each flight attendant a card. “It meant the world,” she said.

Whatever you give, make sure it’s small. Flight attendants travel light and don’t need a giant stuffed animal to add to their luggage load.

And as far as timing goes, Loree says she’s been given gifts during all phases of a flight but thinks it’s best to do before takeoff or after they’ve completed their service tasks. Most of Roemer’s gifts have come after the plane has landed.

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