The American tipping culture can sometimes seem alien to Europeans, and this year it’s going a step further as one airline asks customers to personally tip their flight attendants.
Frontier Airlines, a low-cost, largely domestic carrier in the US, is pioneering a new scheme where its 2,200 attendants can be tipped individually by passengers.
Customers could already choose to tip Frontier cabin crew, but previously all gratuities were pooled and redistributed equally. From 1 January 2019, crew get to keep all the tips they earn for themselves.
“We appreciate the great work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do as well, so [the payment tablet] gives passengers the option to tip,” said Frontier spokesman Jonathan Freed.
“It’s entirely at the customer’s discretion, and many do it.”
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Flight attendants can also choose whether or not they offer the tipping option on the tablets they use to process payments – it’s entirely their decision whom they ask for tips.
However, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union which represents Frontier employees, does not think the introduction of tipping is in crew members’ or passengers’ best interests.
“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 told Bloomberg.
AFA has been attempting to renegotiate staff contracts for two years, with members voting in favour of strike action in November 2018 (though so far no walkouts have taken place).
It was Frontier cabin crew themselves who pushed for a shift from pooled gratuities to individual tipping, in a bid to improve “transparency”.
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The airline spokesman said flight attendants had earned “millions of dollars” from tips over the past three years.
The news comes after several US airlines announced they are cracking down on support animals allowed on flights.
From 7 January, United Airlines no longer accepts emotional support kittens and puppies on flights and is prohibiting all emotional support animals on longer routes.
The American airline is the latest to clamp down on its rules around animals onboard, following in the footsteps of rival Delta, which banned puppies and kittens in December 2018.
United is also joining Southwest in limiting the accepted emotional support animals to cats and dogs, which will now only be allowed to accompany passengers on flights of under eight hours. Puppies and kittens under four months old will no longer be eligible to travel in the cabin on any flight.