1 in 4 Frequent Flyers Have Tipped a Flight Attendant. Should You?

Young beautiful flight attendant smiling in the cabin
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Airfare comparison site AirfareWatchdog conducted an interesting survey recently, asking 900 frequent flyers if they had ever tipped a flight attendant. In all, 27% said they had done so at least once, either to thank a flight attendant for a job well done or to reward one for going above and beyond the call of duty.

The numbers should be taken with a couple of grains of salt. One grain: The survey only asked travelers if they'd ever tipped, not if they do so on a regular basis. Another grain: These are frequent flyers, who we imagine might be more inclined to take care of flight attendants they see on a regular basis.

Still: 27 percent is a pretty striking figure. Is it really a common practice?

"It's not common, but it's more common than you would think," says AirfareWatchdog's George Hobica.

Hobica emphasizes, though, that you shouldn't feel obligated to leave a tip. In fact, in some circumstances, a tip might be both unwelcome and a problem for the intended recipient: He notes that many airlines have policies that forbid their flight attendants from accepting gratuities.

Corey Caldwell, spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants, went a step further.

"Flight attendants do not accept tips," she said in an email exchange. "As first responders and safety professionals, a flight attendant's first priority is to maintain the safety and security of the passengers in the cabin."

In other words: They're trained safety professionals, not bartenders. That's a view echoed by Leah Ingram, author of "The Everything Etiquette Book."

"I think too many people associate flight attendants with waitresses, which is where this notion of tipping comes from," she says. "But I'd never put them in same category -- that is not his or her primary function. They're there to keep us safe and informed."

AirfareWatchdog's Hobica disagrees with the notion that a flight attendant would be offended by a cash tip. In fact, he says the extra cash could be welcome: Wages for the profession are tighter than you might think.

Still, if you want to reward a flight attendant for a job well done, but don't feel comfortable giving cash, there are alternatives. Caldwell and Ingram both recommend a letter to the airline praising the attendant for a job well done. And Hobica says that cookies and sweets are always welcome, as he found on a recent flight where he gave the flight crew a box of shortbread cookies.

"Sometimes they don't have time to eat," he says. "I think I bought [the cookies] at Trader Joe's for $3.99, but I got so many thank yous."

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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Suzan Lind

Wow, we in this country need a bit of a history lesson and various posts illustrate this. Let me begin by saying I am an employee at a "Legacy airline" and have been for 29 years. A bit of history first. Typical persons working in the service industry are paid LESS than minimum wage and this is perfectly legal. Gratuities were given as "thanks" for service as well as incentive to help those new to our country achieve parity "class warfare" and as a means of perpetuating the American Dream that if one works hard anything is possible. Yes, it is true that as legacy carries we can be fired for accepting but particularly for soliciting tips. I do not accept tips because it is beneath me. Or at least that is what my management wishes u to believe. I am first and foremost a safety professional and Flight Attendants are classified as first responders we have different duties then our pilots but we r still first responders. Secondly, it is my pleasure to be of service since I am there anyway and air travel has grown safer. Once upon a time I earned a comfortable middles class wage thanks in part to government and taxpayer subsidies but deregulation changed all that (be careful what u wish for). Now, although I am paid more than minimum wage, (in some cases barely). I have watched my pay and benefits erode nearly 50% while the cost of living has steadily increased and many if not most just scrape by. However, our management insist we at least perpetuate the myth that our job is glamorous. Most of ou FFs know it is not, some care others don't. They also know that few can live on minimum wage and don't our first responders deserve better? God forbid u need one. Still for me it is a matter of personal pride I have a college degree as do most of us and I chose this carrer path. People offer me tips sometimes because they want to but most often because they think that it's customary and expected. It is not. Etiquette dictate that I politly refuse and explain that it is my pleasure to be of service. (Which btw is different than being a servant the latter is a noun the former requires action) However, etiquette also dictates that if they insist I accept graciously so as not to cause offense or create controversy. Gifts r different they assume social parity and r always welcome. Nowadays, gifts frequently come in the form of cash so if a customer replies "this is a gift not a gratuity" after I have declined politly I smile, thank profusely and move on. I have read many references to the "girls on foreign airlines" being where we supposedly were in the US 20 or more years agp. Most of those carriers are government subsidized and operate in tax free environments. To us it may seem that they r paid next to nothing but nothing could be further from the truth. They r paid exceptionally well for what they do given the living standards of their home countries. Pay us more forget the tips, and stop comparing apples to oranges.

January 10 2014 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

:-) Take a moment to read these response, it'll give you a good indication as to why flight attendants may not be as friendly anymore. I can identify this down to a VERY specific group. White males from the age of 25-45. There is NO group more arrogant, disrespectful, self-important and mean spirited than this group, and sadly, they are the WORST customers on a plane, or anywhere.

My apologies to the guys who are in this group who are nice guys, I certain don't mean you....but let's not pretend we don't know that's where the majority of these "I'm important and someone who serves me is worthless" attitude. There's a few in every group, but young white males make up the far majority of this type.

Oh, everyone..watch how they respond to this post. They're tough when they hide behind the screen but their skin is thinner than saran wrap!

January 10 2014 at 4:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Flight attenfdant???? If I was going to tip anyone it would be the pilots. Flight attendands, (stewardess's) don't keep me alive.

October 11 2013 at 8:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Airfare Watchdog is full of BS and merely seeking attention.

October 11 2013 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Cookies for women who are trying to stay in shape???

October 11 2013 at 10:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to John's comment

Um, john.....when was the last time you've been on a plane in the US me boy? Apparently not in the past, oh, 20 years or so..... On the 1000 or so flights I've been on in the US, MAYBE a dozen female flight attendants in total have been "watching their weight" do anything but balloon. Get a clue man! Now, European attendants? That's a whole different story. They are where the US was 20 years ago, young, beautiful women almost exclusively. I've had attendants in the US, many more than one, that LITERALLY cannot get down the aisle without turning sideways. The ONLY thing I can see them doing in an emergency is getting stuck and blocking the exit. Sad to say, but it's true. Their job is not one that I would want, hours suck for the most part but they do tend to get lots of time off if they plan their schedule correctly. But "staying in shape".....you make me laugh dude. What shape would that be, exactly.....a triangle? I've seen a few younger ladies, but not many. Lots of guys now.

October 11 2013 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

NO...maybe years ago when they served you, assisted you, but today when you 1/2 a soda??...NO

October 11 2013 at 10:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you tip a flight attendant with United/Continental, they can get fired. Bad, bad employer.

October 11 2013 at 10:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't believe they're allowed to accept tips ... at least that's what I've been told by several who I've encountered in business dealings.

October 11 2013 at 10:00 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
worried man

I never tipped a stewardess. However, I would have loved to asked them all on dates except some of the old bags. One one trip I asked for the tiny bag of pretzels and one of them threw it at me and hit me in the head with it. later she gave me a free drink and proceeded to tell me how hard it was to be a single mom. I forgave her.

October 11 2013 at 9:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to worried man's comment

Worried man? Right don\'t ask the old bags out on a date,ask the young ones who don\'t know what you\'re suppose to really do,if you can do anything at all. Old bags expects more than you\'ve got to give so stay with the young one cause you only got a little bit to give. You cheapO. Stewardess gets a salary and they don\'t need your pennies at all. You should pay your child support and tip the mom instead of trying to take some young lady out to spend what you don\'t have.
yYou can only give a little,thats all you\'ve got to give.

October 11 2013 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a former at least twice weekly flyer for 17 years, I have only tipped one time, and that was a counter girl not a flight attendant. The reason was pretty simple. My neighbor, his lovely wife, and their son had been killed in a small plane crash and I had been delayed a day on the job site. The flight I was supposed to be on had been cancelled earlier that a.m. and the only flights avail on any airline were too late to get me home for the funeral which was that day. I was worried, actually pretty well freaking out, I wouldn't get home in time. This lovely young lady found a way to get me on a flight, not knowing why I needed to get home so badly. She only knew I was very stressed out and wanted to get home badly. When she got me the seat I wrote her a note thanking her, and $40 for her and someone she loves to go to dinner. Wouldn't get them Red Lobster, but it was all the cash I had left and she had truly saved the day. Made it home just in time to shower, change, and get to the funeral. I had gone and sat down bouncing off the walls thinking I wasn't going to get home. She came and found me to tell me she had gotten me a seat. THAT was way above and beyond anything anyone had done in all the flying I had done. At the time, I was silver, gold, and or platinum on 3 airlines so I spent a wee bit of time on aircraft. She deserved every penny, and more. I look at their empty house every day as it sits out my front window across the lake. I don't know what she had to do to get me that seat, but I can tell you I will be forever grateful to her for finding a way to get me on that plane. These were small aircraft, 60 seats, so it wasn't like she had endless options. Every seat on every airline was sold out until late afternoon. What she did, I can't say enough good things about. I could talk plenty about some of the attendants I've seen over the years, but I'm going to end this on a good note. Wherever she is today, if I could find her I'd thank her again, and again.

October 11 2013 at 9:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply