That's a First: I Was Asked for a Tip From a Flight Attendant
While many domestic US airlines are raising drink prices, there's an airline flying in the US that'll actually give you a discount for ordering more alcohol. But, you're going to be asked for a tip at checkout.
That airline: Frontier.
This "revelation" surely isn't new to many of the 17 million passengers the airline welcomed onboard so far this year, but it was new to me during my first experience on the airline earlier this week.
Feeling parched and kicking myself for not refilling my water bottle before the flight, I ordered a can of ginger ale when the flight attendants passed through selling snacks and drinks. After swiping my card, I was surprised to be handed the flight attendant's tablet. There on the screen, I was prompted:
I'd gotten a heads up by TPG reader Paul Frazier right before my flight that on-board tipping was a thing, 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.
Did the flight attendants expect a tip for handing me a can of soda and a cup? Do other passengers leave a tip? Do these flight attendants count on passengers to tip? And should I set up an electronic tip jar at the bottom of each of my posts?
After just two flights on Frontier, I still have plenty of questions about this practice. So, I reached out to Frontier and recevied a quick response.
First, I wanted to make sure that the tips actually go to the crew working the flight and this isn't a way for the airline to make a little extra money from its passengers. Sure enough, Frontier confirmed: "Frontier does not keep any portion of earned tips."
However, how your specific tip is divvied up is changing soon. A Frontier spokesperson said:
Currently tips are shared amongst all members of the flight attendant crew on a given flight. Effective January 1, 2019, flight attendants will earn tips on their individual sales.
My final question is a bit harder to answer, but I was curious if this tipping was meant to take the place of what Frontier would otherwise pay flight attendants. Hopefully, Frontier flight attendants aren't making anywhere near minimum wage, so it isn't like restaurants, where servers make less than minimum wage and tips make up the difference.
So, I asked Frontier if gratuities were meant as extra earnings for FAs or "considered a consequential part of their earnings." Frontier's response: "Both. Many flight attendants see the inflight tip program as a way to supplement their income."
I'm still undecided on whether or not I like this tipping aspect. It feels a bit unprofessional for flight attendants to be seeking tips. However, especially with the changes coming in 2019, ideally this tipping process would actually lead to better service. Once flight attendants are getting to personally keep all of the tips themselves, they'll be even more incentivized to get the cart going — and hopefully check back through the cabin during the flight for new orders.