Tipping, Up In The Air

Next week I’ll be taking my first flight ever on Frontier Airlines.  It’s branded as a low-cost airline that differs from other carriers in that it charges you separate fees for things like your carry-on bag and basic in-flight drink and snack options.  Frontier presents its approach as allowing it to keep base fares low and giving travelers “options that allow you to customize your flight to match both your wants and your wallet.”

flight-crewNow I’ve learned that Frontier differs from other airlines in another, more interesting way:  it’s the only airline that encourages travelers to tip its flight attendants.  Beginning January 1, 2019, individual Frontier flight attendants can accept tips, and if a traveler purchases in-flight food or beverages, they get a prompt from the Frontier payment system notifying them that they have the option to leave a tip — just like you get in many restaurants.  In the article linked above, Frontier explains:  “We appreciate the great work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do as well, so [the payment system] gives passengers the option to tip.”

The union that represents Frontier flight attendants, the Association of Flight Attendants International, isn’t happy about Frontier’s tipping policy and says that the airline should be paying flight attendants more instead.  The union and Frontier have been trying to negotiate a new contract, and one union official has said that “[m]anagement 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.”

I’m not quite sure how I come out on the issue of tipping flight attendants.  Obviously, their job involves a lot more than donning a little apron and serving drinks and snacks, so there’s a bit of a disconnect between the tipping option — apparently presented only when food or drink is ordered — and the actual contours of the flight attendant’s job.  At the same time, many airlines are nickel-and-diming passengers with fees, so perhaps tip income for flight attendants is the wave of the future.  And I’m all for airlines adopting different models — like Frontier’s low-cost approach — as they compete for passengers, and letting the passengers themselves decide which approach they like best.

I’m thinking my flight on Frontier next week is going to be a bit of an adventure.

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To Tip, Or Not To Tip

Lately, it just seems like they are inventing new jobs that create impossible “tip, or don’t tip” scenarios.

IMG_6557Consider the guy who drives the shuttle bus from the long-term parking lot or the rental car office to the airport terminal.  He’s piloting a vehicle that you’re riding in, so he’s sort of like a cab driver.  He’s often lifting luggage and putting it on the inside racks, so he’s sort of like a doorman or bellhop.  Yet most people don’t give a thought to giving the shuttle bus driver a tip, whereas the cabbie, the doorman, and the bellhop all expect to get a gratuity.  Why?

The shuttle bus driver isn’t alone.  What about the folks who work at a cafeteria-like food line who have a jar with “tips” written on it by the cash register?  Are you really supposed to tip them?  I’m not saying their job is unimportant or unappreciated, but after all, they’re not coming to your table to take your order, drop off food, or clear off plates, they’re just spooning your grub into a styrofoam “to go” container.  Why, exactly, do they deserve a tip any more than the dishwasher or cook does?

What about the guys at the “genius” bar at the Apple store?  If they quickly fix your computer so you don’t need to buy a new one, is a tip in order?  What about the friendly kid behind the counter at Starbuck’s who remembers that you always get a grande with a double shot of espresso and caramel?  What about the woman who grooms your dog, or the service technician at the car dealership, or the guy who comes out to hook up your internet or fix the furnace?  When are you supposed to tip, and when not?  Is it all just convention and tradition, or is there something more to it?

The only tipping situation that makes perfectly good sense to me is the hair stylist.  She’s flitting around your head with sharp scissors or, in some instances, a razor, positioned just inches away from the jugular vein.  Of course you want to stay on her good side.  A few extra bucks to keep the stylist happy, and uninclined to plunge a sharp implement into the side of your neck, seems like a wise decision to me.  The rest is a mystery.

How To Treat The Surly Waitress?

Recently we were out for breakfast at one of those diner-type places with an extensive, descriptive menu and lots of choices.  We’d been there before, scrutinized the menu, consumed the food, and enjoyed the experience.

This time, though, we had a waitress whom I’ll call Madge — because she looked like a Madge.  You know the type:  probably in her 50s, raspy cigarette voice, dyed hair, has worked at the place for years, hates her job but can’t change her life, will do what is necessary to keep that paycheck but radiates a surly, “don’t cross me” attitude.  No friendly banter.  Just place your order promptly and let me serve the food and move on.

Normally this kind of server wouldn’t bother me.  I much prefer the brisk, no-nonsense old pro, for example, to the fake-friendly chatterbox who won’t shut up, the incompetent who botches your order, or the lurker who repeatedly intrudes on your conversation.

In this case, though, one member of our party wasn’t brought an English muffin on the side, and when we asked about it the waitress reacted with barely controlled hostility.  She curtly responded that it wasn’t part of the order, because the egg dish already was served on an English muffin.  We knew that wasn’t true because we’d been there before, ordered the same kind of dish, and gotten an English muffin on the side.  “Are you sure?”  “Could you bring one now?” we asked.  “I think I know the menu, honey,” she replied dismissively.  “It’s not part of the order.”  You’d think she would simply bring an English muffin as part of good customer relations, but that simply wasn’t part of Madge’s worldview.

Who wants to have a semi-angry encounter with a waitress over breakfast?  The incident was off-putting — but then Madge unforgivably compounded things.  During a stop to fill up our coffee cups, she made some brusque remark about knowing the orders after working there for years and then barked out a laugh.  Why bring up the unpleasant incident again?  Her asinine comment just made us stew about it even more.

Finally the meal ended, and we had to make the tip decision.  Normally I’m a generous tipper; I remember being a waiter and how tough the job is.  Sure, Madge was an unhappy jerk, but I don’t think I would completely stiff a server unless they served me food with glass in it.  I rationalized that Madge wasn’t going to change, and leaving her no tip, or only a penny, was just going to make her treat the next group of customers even worse.  Madge had brought our food and kept our coffee and water glasses filled, even if she was an ass with a vulcanized soul.  So, I left her a tip, but one that was below normal.

As we walked out, one member of our party scanned the menu again, confirmed that an English muffin was part of the order, and went back in to confront Madge.  That probably had more of an impact on her day than leaving no tip, but the whole incident still bothers me, and I wonder:  for the good of humanity, should I have left no tip?