Here’s Where Airlines Stand When It Comes to Tipping Flight Attendants

And what passengers need to know before reaching for their wallets.

Should you tip your flight attendant?
Photo: Getty Images

A recent flight taken by travel points and miles writer JT Genter has once again raised the issue of whether or not passengers should tip flight attendants, with one budget airline encouraging the action.

Genter, who wrote about his experience with the occurrence first-hand, was surprised when he was handed a flight attendant’s tablet on a Frontier Airlines flight and asked if he’d like to leave a tip after ordering a drink.

After reaching out to Frontier, Genter was told by a spokesperson that the airline does not keep any portion of the tips and that tips had been shared among flight attendants until Jan. 1, 2019, when they became eligible to start earning tips on individual sales.

Frontier introduced tipping three years ago.

“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; it’s entirely at the customer’s discretion, and many do it,” Frontier spokesman Jonathan Freed told the Chicago Tribune.

While the issue has been contested in the past, the recent incident has sparked the question once again, with airlines varying on where they stand when it comes to the matter.

Some airlines, like United, prohibit their employees from accepting tips, while others, like Southwest, do not allow flight attendants to initially take or expect tips but would allow them to accept a tip should a customer insist.

Meanwhile, the two other U.S. budget carriers, Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines, don’t include the option in payment systems. Allegiant has an official policy against tipping, according to Bloomberg.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines both offer rewards programs where passengers can recognize cabin crew.

Southwest A-List Preferred and Rapid Rewards A-List Members have the opportunity to do this with the airline’s Customer Kick Tail-A-Gram, which passengers receive by e-mail and can give to employees to use to enter into an account for drawings throughout the year.

Meanwhile, elite fliers can do the same with American Airlines’ Above and Beyond program, which allows passengers to hand out coupon codes towards gift cards or merchandise to cabin crew as a thank you.

Part of the debate surrounding tipping is the safety role flight attendants are primarily taking on as part of their job duties.

"Flight attendants used to have to be registered nurses because the aircraft cabins weren’t pressurized; it’s [really] a safety professional role, with a mask of customer service in there,” a representative from the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) told Travel + Leisure in a previous interview.

“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,” AFA president Sara Nelson said in a recent statement in response to Frontier's policy change.

Nelson continued to point out that tipping is not part of a flight attendant’s compensation for serving as “aviation’s first responders.”

If you’re looking for a way to thank your cabin crew for their service during your flight, sometimes kind gestures and genuine appreciation can be enough (especially during the busy holiday season).

“As with anyone in the service industry who works on the holidays, it’s always a special treat to be appreciated by a customer whether it’s with a gift card, a Customer Kick Tail-A-Gram, or a genuine smile,” a Southwest Airlines spokesperson told T+L.

You can also contact the customer service representatives of an airline and write a note including your flight details and the employee's name to recognize crew members that exhibited outstanding service.

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