Use your credit card to buy a taco, a beer, or a cab in the US, and it is very likely that the receiving screen asks for a tip. A few years ago, that same option hit airlines, much to the chagrin of passengers who remember when most food and drink was free.
Frontier Airlines, a pioneer in the cutting-edge service department, used to share its tips on every flight. As of January 1, however, the 2200 flight attendants at Frontier no longer pay their bonuses. Now it's every man and woman for you, and maybe a beneficiary is the airline passenger.
"We appreciate the excellent work of our flight attendants and know that our customers also [the payment tablet] "It's entirely up to the customer, and many do." In fact, it's also up to the flight attendant: at the border, they can choose whether or not they want to tip, "Frontier spokesman Jonathan Freed said.
For decades, US stewards have emphasized their role as security professionals – reminding passengers that at any point they should become emergency teams if someone gets sick, gets bellied, or the flight has a problem. Pushing the beverage cart was just a side job.
That message had a tremendous boost on September 11 and the subsequent wholesale reorganization of the US airline industry. As operators stepped out of the bankruptcy era and began to raise salaries for pilots and on-board assistants, they also began investing in on-board service standards as a way to get higher fares while seeking cuts elsewhere.
The Border Commissioners Association, which represents Frontier employees, objected to the introduction of tips in 2016. "The administration has advanced a tip option for passengers hoping to dissuade commissioners from joining a fair contract – and an effort to change the additional costs for passengers, "wrote AFA chairman Sara Nelson in an e-mail.
The union has been trying to reach a new contract with Frontier for two years. In November, flight attendants voted to authorize a strike, although federal mediators have yet to declare negotiations deadlocked.
"I think it's like in a restaurant and, frankly, it's not an image that airlines want to have."
Despite conflicting views on the tips, Frontier officials pressed to keep their own bonuses, to allow for "better transparency" and to tackle past problems with tip distribution, Nelson said.
Frontier's tablet-based payment system allows flight attendants to skip the tip screen when a customer pays; the airline said it did not track how often stewards asked for tips from tablets. Frontier declined to disclose details of how much it distributes each month, though Freed, the airline's spokesman, said airline stewards had earned "millions of dollars" in tips over the past three years. (The union did not contest this estimate.)
However, Frontier, based in Denver, seems to be at the forefront. Two other low-cost domestic carriers, Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Travel, do not include deposit into their customer payment systems. Allegiant also has a policy against gratuities.
"I think it's like in a restaurant and frankly, it's not an image that airlines want to have," said Henry Harteveldt, a frequent pamphleteer and founder of the Atmosphere Research Group, which looks at the travel industry. He said the new policy could cause some flight attendants to see the loss of income from their colleagues, and could also affect service levels on board given potential differences between large truckers and others.
"This can really complicate Frontier's culture," Harteveldt said.
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