Tipping Flight Attendants? This Airline Encourages Gratuity For In-Flight Service

Passengers who fly the friendly skies with Frontier Airlines now have the option to tip their servers, err, flight attendants. Beginning last week, Frontier passengers now see a prompt on the payment system asking if they'd like to tip for their refreshment purchase.

The option to tip isn't necessarily new. The system has been in place for three years on Frontier Airlines, but the flight attendants would pool the tips. Now, the individual flight attendant receives the gratuity.

"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," Frontier spokesman Jonathan Freed said in this report from the Chicago Tribune. "It's entirely at the customer's discretion, and many do it."

However, it's not automatic that the tip option will appear. Frontier flight attendants have the discretion to process tips from customers.

A tip is standard for pretty much any service that accepts credit cards, from hair salons to bars to taxi cabs.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which represents 50,000 employees from 20 different airlines, including Frontier, has been against tipping from the onset.

"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," AFA President Sara Nelson said in the Tribune.

Henry Harteveldt, the founder of Atmosphere Research Group — which analyzes the travel industry — told the Tribune that airlines don't want their trained flight attendants soliciting tips like wait staff and servers in bars and restaurants.

"I think it's just like in a restaurant and, frankly, not an image the airlines want to have," Nelson said.

Frontier's payment system is tablet-based. With it, the flight attendant rings up the customer's order on the point-of-sale system and then determines whether or not to skip the tip screen.

JT Genter, from The Points Guy travel blog, said custom tipping options are 15, 20 or 25 percent — or the option to leave no tip at all, according to this report by CBS 4 in Denver, which is the home-base for Frontier Airlines.

Frontier doesn't track how many times the flight attendants add the tip screen, and the airline didn't disclose the amount of tips processed — though the airline spokesman said it was "millions of dollars" in gratuity over the last three years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a flight attendant in 2017 was $50,500.

In an industry that has constantly moved costs to the passenger — like checking bags, watching movies and ordering refreshments — Frontier looks to be the lone pioneer in moving forward with a tipping process.

"Industry experts say no other U.S. carrier gives passengers the ability to tip flight attendants, and they don't expect other airlines to follow Frontier's lead," Nelson said in the Los Angeles Times.