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On December 23, I flew Frontier for the first time. On that flight I encountered, also for the first time, a peculiar practice: I was asked for a tip when purchasing a can of ginger ale. Our story made the rounds and was reprised by many news outlets, worldwide. Tipping flight attendants, it turns out, is a very hot topic.

Since my story was published on New Year’s Eve, my inbox has been filled with reactions from flight attendants. Here are some of the most notable responses:

A Frontier flight attendant who refused tips: One of the first responses I received was from someone who said they were a former Frontier flight attendant. Back before Frontier shifted to being a low-cost carrier, said the longtime flight attendant, its policies were quite different: “For years it was drilled into us to refuse all tips, even the curbside check-in were not allowed to take tips,” she wrote. But now,

The tipping policy is just another way to let the flight attendants make more money without it coming from the airline. I personally thought it was disgusting.

The policy “put a huge rift between the flight attendants”: tenured flight attendants made a decent salary, even after pay cuts when the airline transitioned to a low-cost model, but newer flight attendants “were hired at some ridiculously low rate and they needed every cent.”

She was adamant about not wanting to accept tips. However, all tips collected prior to Jan. 1, 2019, were pooled among the flight attendants working the flight. She says this led to “an awful atmosphere on the aircraft” between flight attendants who needed the tips and those who wanted to refuse tips. Her solution:

I used to pretend that I took tips but I would swipe to the next page and refuse the tip.

Frontier told us that it changed its tipping policy on Jan. 1 so that “flight attendants will earn tips on their individual sales.” While still not a fan of the tipping policy, this former flight attendant said that this policy shift will let flight attendants refuse tips without being “glared at” by fellow crew, as she was when caught refusing a tip.

Association of Flight Attendants: Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, wrote to say that the AFA objected when Frontier first rolled out on-board tipping three years ago. However, airline management moved forward with a tipping option for passengers “in hopes it would dissuade flight attendants from standing together for a fair contract — and in an effort to shift additional costs to passengers.”

Still, “flight attendants recently voted 99% to authorize a strike and back up AFA contract demands,” Nelson said. The AFA insists that “Frontier Airlines needs to step up and pay aviation’s first responders a wage that recognizes their critical safety role on board.”

What’s the AFA’s take on the recent changes?

While AFA has objected in total to the concept, our union also ensures this management initiative is implemented fairly and fully. Recently, management failed to properly distribute the tips passengers intended to give to the crew. The new tipping distribution process will create better transparency to ensure Flight Attendant[s] are receiving the tips passengers intended to give.

A retired career flight attendant: Among the flight attendants from other airlines who reached out, a email from someone who described herself as a 46-year veteran of the skies stood out. She said that she “always politely declined on the rare occasion that a tip was offered” as “this is what separated me from a waitress.”

Now retired, she’s glad that she never had to “rely on the public to pay my salary” directly through tips. When she flies now, she says that she “won’t be tipping my flight attendants, but I usually bring a box of chocolates or special cookies for the crew.”

Featured image by the author.

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