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Tip Your Flight Attendant? Huh? Frontier Airlines Is Asking You to Do Just That.

Flight attendants save lives and therefore deserve respect, not gratuities.
Tip Your Flight Attendant? Huh? Frontier Airlines Is Asking You to Do Just That.
Image credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Associate Editor
4 min read

Since the "primary responsibility" of a flight attendant is to ensure passenger safety, should you hand your attendant two bucks next time he or she pulls down your oxygen mask during turbulence? Offer a $20 gratuity after your plane has just crash-landed and the attendant pulls the release on the emergency slide?

Related: United Airlines' Bonus Lottery Was Doomed to Fail. Don't Make the Same Mistake With Your Team.

These are the implied scenarios of U.S.-based Frontier Airline's new "ask" to passsengers ordering drinks and snacks on its budget flights. JT Genter, a writer for The Points Guy blog, recently described how he did a double take after swiping his credit card for a $2.99 can of ginger ale on a tablet the attendant. On the screen Genter read a prompt asking him to reward the attendant with a 45-, 60- or 75-cent gratuity.

Huh? "I'd gotten a heads up [from a reader] before my flight that on-board tipping was a thing," Genter wrote, "but seeing it in person was still surreal. I’ve flown more than 350 flights on 51 different airlines in the past three years, but I’d never experienced an airline ask for a tip."

Kari Paul of MarketWatch wrote this week that despite Genter's implication that tipping is brand new, it's not, exactly: "[Frontier] introduced tipping through its in-flight payment system three years ago, but previously required flight attendants to pool tips," Paul wrote, clarifying just what is new. "Customers who order a drink or a snack aboard a Frontier flight will now be prompted by a message reading 'gratuities are appreciated!'"

Which is exactly what Genter experienced. But should this have happened to him or to any of the 17 million passengers Frontier served in 2018? Should it happen to other travelers for business and pleasure on other airlines that might follow Frontier's example? (Though United and American airlines, to their credit,already forbid staff from accepting tips.)

In fact, the union that represents 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, including Frontier, opposes any tipping policy, Paul wrote. The union argues that, instead, attendants should be paid ... gulp ... higher wages. A flight attendant's median annual salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in fact, is only around $50,500.

The cynical view, of course, is that an airline like Frontier is merely trying to escape paying its workers a living wage, adding to the many little charges -- read "baggage fees" -- that travelers have been forced to pay in recent years.

All of this puts me in mind of the time when I was a preteen and checked a book out of the school library with a title along the lines of Your Career as an Airline Stewardess (Yes, I'm old enough to remember when attendants were 100 percent female and were actually fined or furloughed if they gained weight).

My father wasn't happy with my literary -- or possible career -- choice, thundering at me that, "Stewardesses are just glorified waitresses!" 

But that's not true, Dad. Flight attendants, both female and male, are the people you're going to look to should anything go scary wrong on your flight. And we're not talking misplaced drink orders here.

They're the ones who have trained for months before earning their "wings," to help you make it off the plane alive after an accident. The ones who physically push you down those slides, help you pump up your life vest, provide CPR or defibrillation assistance if needed (god forbid), deliver babies, handle on-board emergency decompression scenarios, inform the pilots of onboard equipment failures and maybe even diplomatically separate you from the drunk guy in the adjoining seat trying to put his hands on you.

Related: Frontier Airlines Is Learning the Hard Way That Value Is King

In short, these are professionals, and their employers should recognize this. Tips should not be implemented as a means for undermining contract negotations. Nor should they become a sign that attendants are indeed glorified waitresses (or waitresses) as my father believed.

Instead, attendants should be seen for what they are: potential lifesavers. And their wages -- not gratuities -- should reflect that.

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