Should you tip your flight attendant?


Should you tip your flight attendant? For such a commonly asked question, the answer is anything but simple.

Tippers argue that at a time when service and amenities are on the decline, a standout crew member deserves a dollar bill or two. But there are more effective ways of acknowledging great service, and down the line, you risk creating a another class of tip-dependent employees.

In the airline industry, this question is far from settled. Some airlines allow tipping, others don’t.

“Flight attendants should not be tipped,” says Jo Jo Harder, a former flight attendant. “I understand that guests feel compelled to tip,” for good service, she says, but in her career it was “not allowed.”

Except when it is. At Southwest Airlines, flight attendants initially refuse a tip, but if a passenger insists, they’re allowed to gratefully accept it, say current and former crew members.

“The largest tip I ever received was left for me in an empty peanut bag,” recalls Lauren Cashman, who used to work at Southwest. “The passenger came to the back galley and said he had won big in Vegas and wanted to share. The peanut bag contained $600. I split it with my crew, and we had a great dinner that night in Reno.”

Is there a better way of acknowledging and encouraging great service? Absolutely. For starters, a simple but heartfelt “thank you” will go a long way to conveying your feelings. In an era of the “me first” passenger, you’d be shocked at how infrequently crew members hear those two words.

Maryanne Parker, a San Diego-based etiquette expert, recalls a recent flight from Paris to Los Angeles. “The flight attendant was so personable, attentive and warm that he literally changed my state of mind and made everything so much better,” she remembers.

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But how to say thank you? She could articulate it — and she did — but she decided to click on the Air France Facebook page, write a thoughtful note of appreciation and mention him by name.

“I strongly believe this went further than a tip,” she adds. “He will probably get recognized and recommended for a better position or better pay.”


Flight attendants don’t need your gratuities, at least not yet. The average cabin attendant makes $44,860 a year, according to the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, restaurant servers, who depend on your tips for their survival, make about half of that.

I’ve written about tips and complained that everyone in the American travel industry seems to have a hand out. I’ve taken a lot of heat from folks in the service industry. But isn’t this different?

“Absolutely,” says Janice Booth, author of Only Pack What You Can Carry (National Geographic Books). “Unless she saves your life by performing the Heimlich, or he brings you back from death’s door via CPR, or one of them donates a kidney, don’t tip.”

Waving a buck at your crew member — however well intentioned — could set the entire profession on an unfortunate trajectory.

No doubt, some flight attendants deserve special recognition. But if flight attendant tipping sticks, then airlines could someday do what restaurant owners have: pay the minimum wage or less and force their employees to subsist on your goodwill.

This is a profession that goes way beyond pushing a beverage cart. With such a vital role in flight safety, flight attendants, and the traveling public, deserve better.

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Tipping alternatives

  • Gift cards. Whenever Washington lobbyist Anthony DeMaio flies home for the holidays, he packs a few Starbucks gift cards. “I know that the holiday pay bonus is fairly minimal and only the most senior flight attendants are able to take vacation time around Thanksgiving or Christmas,” he says. Gift cards, unlike cash tips, are never turned down.
  • A letter of commendation. Praising a flight attendant’s performance in writing can be more meaningful than any cash reward. Airlines can use the letters to determine promotions, bonuses and other perks. So the next time an airline employee does something nice for you, consider writing a letter to the company as thanks.
  • A present. A thoughtful gift can make all the difference, even a small one. In fact, passengers tell stories of offering candies, chocolate or snacks to hungry-looking attendants and getting great treatment in return.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • FQTVLR

    I usually bring a gift of chocolates or similar candy for flight attendants on a long-haul flight–especially if it is a holiday. I also make sure to write a letter to the airline if any flight attendant went above and beyond the call of duty. (Such as the flight attendant who brought me a hot water bottle to help me when I could not get warm on my last long haul flight.) Takes very little to tell them you appreciate what they are doing .

  • BubbaJoe123

    Nope. Would never even cross my mind. If the FA has gone above and beyond, I send feedback to the airline.

  • DChamp56

    The only downside to writing a nice letter to the company about the attendant, is they never know you did it, and how much their help meant to you.

  • Kerr

    If it is done via social media and they are mentioned by name, there’s a good chance they will see it. Most companies have social media teams who follow and track down such comments.

    Also, what company wouldn’t tell an employee they received a complimentary letter on their behalf?

  • Chris_In_NC

    Just curious… why do they need to know “you” did it? If you reference them by name, the flight number and the date, as well as what they did, they will know.

  • FQTVLR

    Not always true. I fly to London regularly on DL and often see the same flight attendants. They know my name after years flying the same itinerary. I always thank the flight attendants, give them my business card and tell them I will write to the airline about their exemplary service. And I see those attendants again and they always thank me and take a bit extra care of my back in peasant class.

  • Bill___A

    Generally I give a “thank you” and sometimes a Starbucks gift card and a mention to the airlines’ social media feedback. I am not interested in seeing another “tip dependent” occupation, it is bad enough that we have what we have…

  • y_p_w

    I agree that some sort of gift might seem a little less heavy handed than cash. I’ve never thought about giving a flight attendant a small gift, but maybe I’ll do that in the future.

    About the only analogy I can think of was the time I called up an amateur beekeeper to remove a swarm. She really just wanted the bees to start another hive and refused any money. However, it was harder for her to turn down some movie passes.

  • greg watson

    I agree, even if I fly occasionally with the same crew………….complementing them for good / great service is about THEM,………….& not about me ( look how nice ‘I’ am )

  • Annie M

    We bring a box of candy for them. We’ve been treated like kings and queens. A $10 box of candy goes a long way. I am often appalled at the behavior I see of passengers and it’s nice to just let them know you appreciate them.

  • greg watson

    Tipping………..NO………………small gift card would be a nice thank you

  • Chris Johnson

    There have been times when I felt somewhat obligated to tip a flight attendant, but at the end of the day, flight attendants are not in the service business per se, they are there for your safety and just happen to serve drinks and/or meals when there is not an emergency situation. They are not there to wait on you (well, maybe in first class somebody is dedicated to that). Every airline I’ve ever been on does not allow tipping of flight attendants. However, it shocks me that the average flight attendant is making $ 44,680, I thought it was a lot less from what I’ve heard before. Not that they don’t deserve the money or even more in such a stressful tiring job, but I really thought that most flight attendants are in the $ 30,000 or so range and living in near poverty, or with their parents. Plus flight attendants are really only “on the clock” when the plane’s door is closed. When you are boarding or de-boarding, they aren’t getting paid a dime.

    In any case, if a flight attendant or any other airline employee has done me a big favor, I make a point to get their name and submit a glowing review on the airline’s website, most airlines make it easy for you to do that. I figure that’s about all I can do but hopefully it will work out well for their them.

  • MarkKelling

    No. No. No.

  • PsyGuy

    Who doesn’t appreciate a benji?

  • DChamp56

    Because maybe it’s just me, but I like to look them in the eye and tell them what a great job they did. I don’t completely trust the airline to give them feedback from customers.

  • joycexyz

    I’m with you. This whole tipping business is way of of hand.

  • joycexyz

    I’m not so sure about that. I’d like to think the supervisors would mention it to the employee. In addition, you can (and should) express your gratitude in person and let him or her know that you are writing to the company.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    All I do, when they standing in the front of the cabin door, upon saying goodby to the travelers……”I thank them for a safe flight”……Isn’t that their job to serve and be there for passengers, don’t they have a salary with benefits (like benefit to fly whenever they want wherever they want, and for that, other passengers need to be bumped off the plane?

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    What’s next tipping doctors?

  • joycexyz

    I am reminded of discussions on whether or not to tip or gift teachers. While the pay is far from great, it is not meant to be supplemented by tips, an unfortunate reality in the service industry. The best gift parents can give a teacher is to send their children to school prepared to do the work and be well-behaved and respectful. Perhaps airline passengers can “gift” the FA’s by good behavior in difficult circumstances.

  • The Original Joe S

    Tip the mohel for tipping YOU!

  • The Original Joe S

    That’s because, often times. the guy who can READ the letter to the HMFIC is absent, and the HMFIC never gets the impact……

  • The Original Joe S

    Why would you want to insult them with a burnt coffee card?

  • The Original Joe S

    In the middle of the night on a trans-Pacific hop, I was slurping down my litre of tomato juice near the galley when a FA let out a yell. She’d burned herself on a tea pot. I told her to stand by, and got some nice anti-biotic cream and steroid cream. Rubbed it on her hand, and told her that in 5 minutes she’d forget about the burn. Looked at me with skepticism.

    5 minutes later, I asked her how her hand was. She HAD forgotten. She was incredulous! Well, they were really nice to me the rest of the flight. With about 10 minutes left on the movie, the Captain came on the squalk box and blabbed about the weather at destination in 3 successive languages. Plane stopped. No movie. Told FA. She said: “Stay in the seat. When everybody’s off, I’ll turn it back on so you can see the end.” I did. She did. I did. AND, by the time I got off, EVERYBODY else had already gone thru security to the transfer level. The guy waved me thru; didn’t wanna bother walking over to look at my trash. Ha ha.

    Be nice. Sometimes it pays back immediately.

  • Maxwell Smart

    why is medicine so expensive in USA ? It’s hardly the best the world.
    Basic doctors visits are free in Australia & UK to residents & Australian & UK doctors are far better than any U.S. doctor.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    well, that’s good if your drs. are better. Be happy for them. And sorry I mentioned the tipping, becasue now you changed the subject, and we were talking about flight attendants.

  • jah6

    I am a retired nurse. It was considered unprofessional to accept money from patients. Only Asian patients, usually elderly, offered it. A gift card is a good alternative. I got a lot of Starbucks cards. We also got a lot of cakes and Sees candies.

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