Tip Airline Crew For Good Service?

Filed Under: Travel

Reader Kevin asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

Hi Ben,

I’m not sure if you’ve ever answered a question like this before as I did a search on your blog and couldn’t quickly find any related info.

I love traveling in Business and especially First Class and I wondered whether you ever tip the crew or reward them in anyway for looking after you so well on a flight?

I’ve had some great crew on past flights and apart from saying thanks, I wondered if there was anything more I should do?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Cheers, Kevin

This is a fun one, and I certainly have a few thoughts on this, based on personal experience:

Always thank the crew

I know this sounds obvious and perhaps ridiculous to some, but if I have an especially good crew I’ll constantly thank them throughout the service. If you smile at them and sincerely say “you’re doing a really fantastic job. I fly [airline] a lot, but you guys are one of the best crews I’ve had,” it makes them smile without exception, in my experience.

For example, on Cathay Pacific they’ll often give you a nice “note” with your meal signed by the crew, welcoming you aboard. I always make a point of thanking them for it, and the response is almost always “thanks, hardly anyone else seems to notice, so it’s nice to know some people enjoy it.”


A letter praising them

I think a lot of people don’t realize how much of an impact a positive letter can have for an employee. At many airlines letters of praise are considered towards promotions to “lead” flight attendant, and in many cases they actually have a quota they have to reach. Furthermore, if they ever get a complaint or accidentally miss a trip, letters of praise will typically “balance” that out when they’re called in their manager’s office.

It all depends on the airline, but at the end of the flight I’ll usually thank the crew for great service and say that I’d like to write a letter, and ask for the ones serving me to write down their names so I can properly recognize them in the letter. For example, on my recent Singapore Airlines flight from Frankfurt to New York, the leading stewardess came up to my seat on the descent and said “Mr. Schlappig, how did you enjoy your flight with us today?” First of all, let me say that I loved the way she phrased it. It wasn’t “did you have a good flight with us today?” but rather she genuinely opened it up for feedback. Go figure the flight was perfect…

That’s the point at which I asked for the names of the three cabin crew serving me, so I could write them a positive letter.

This is all pretty straightforward, but I do think a lot of people don’t realize how far a letter of praise goes towards making a person’s day.

To bring chocolates, or not to bring chocolates?

On US airlines I’ll sometimes bring chocolate for the crew. It’s a nice, cheap, “safe” gesture, that doesn’t have the ability to be misinterpreted. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this on non-US airlines, as it doesn’t seem to be perceived the same way. For example, I recently asked a friend that’s cabin crew for British Airways how he feels about a passenger bringing chocolate, and he was confused and then said that would be kind of strange.

So what do you give a great non-US crew?

In the past when I’ve had a young British Airways crew that was awesome and fun, I’ve bought them a couple of bottles of booze from duty free for their layover. It’s perfectly legit and only makes sense if they’re not headed home, but that has been perceived well.

Of course none of this is necessary

None of the above is really necessary. Last year there was a survey which said that 27% of people have tipped a flight attendant, which seems way off. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure a flight attendant wouldn’t mind if you tipped them a $20 or $100, but they’d assume it was just because you wanted a number, were really drunk, or had never flown a premium cabin before.

If you really want to “do something” for the crew, write them a letter of praise, which will go further than anything else.

But if you want to have some fun with them or make them smile, chocolates on a US-airline, or booze/Hello Kitty paraphernalia on a non-US airline can’t hurt either…

Have you ever brought a gift for a crew, and if so, how was it perceived?

  1. As an elite member of AA we are given thank you cards to recognize good service. I’m not sure what the value is to the crew member but it is always well received. Regrettably, I don’t have that much opportunity to say thank you so I have a back log of cards.

  2. Good post!

    However, I think you are putting too much credence in samples of one opinion. Hard to believe that booze is good, chocolates aren’t.

    I have twice given chocolates to SQ J attendents (on a two class LAX-SIN flight now defunct) and they were quite pleased. Once I was traveling on Xmas day, and that one was really appreciated.

  3. The letter sounds like the best approach, especially in the days of twitter and email. Too many health issues with giving out sweets or liquor, so wouldn’t try it. And definitely would never go the cash route.

  4. On a recent CX flight in first from ORD-HKG, I bought a box of Godiva chocolates in Duty free at the airport and gave it the lead flight attendant to share with the crew. I gave it to them shortly after service began at cruising altitutude and told them I appreciate how hard they work and please enjoy it as a token of thanks . Throughout the course of the flight I was personally thanked by the entire cabin crew, even the ones not serving First class. Needless to say, the service was excellent . At the end of the flight ,when I said my goodby and again thanked the crew for their excellent service, they again thanked me for the chocolates .

  5. I absolutely need to write a letter to AA in praise of the incredible SQ-esque service on my LHR-MIA flight. I have their names, anyone have any idea who at AA I send the letter to?

  6. If I’m in ECO on a long haul I always try to bribe, er.. um tip, the flight crew. Makes for a more tolerable flight.

  7. Whenever I fly F long haul I buy some premium chocolates and give them to the crew when I first get on and say something like please share these with the team as you guys really take care of us passengers. Done it about 30 times over the past 5 years to crew from QANTAS, BA, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore air. Every single time they are surprised / delighted and throughout the flight random crew ( and even the cabin director a few times ) come up to say they are appreciated and that they don’t get many thanks like that The service is then always beyond phenomenal. I usually only do in F as a rule so it not perceived as anything but a nice gesture from a passenger rather than some sort of inducements (free u/g etc). Also a few times I have been told “you gave me chocolates back in 200x” so it’s remembered!

  8. Yes you should personally thank them for their efforts during the flight and absolutely write a letter noting their fantastic service. We have come to expect things and often take things for granted. I am sure everyone is quick to tweet, write and blast an airline, hotel and car rental company when things don’t go right. You are demanding compensation for your “inconvienance”. When things go just as they should nothing.

  9. Compared to most of your followers who fly premium classes, I don’t. Many times, I don’t have a choice. So, on international flights, in economy, I give the flight attendants ball-point pens. At his time of year, I have purchased them for $.29 a pack of 10. So, I bring a half dozen packs and give them usually to the “cabin manager”. If I fly business, I check the amenity kit for a pen. If there is a pen in the kit, I still give the pens, but I add a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies. I like the Pirouette cookies as they are packaged in a can. But security usually opens the cans, so I have been bringing the bagged cookies lately. Usually one can find cookies in the duty free shops. So, I can give cookies on the return flights as well. I get lots of thanks for the cookies and pens.

  10. We once received exemplary service from a check-in agent, who, I thought, went above and beyond the call of duty to proactively resolve a potential dilemma. Consequently, I sua sponte wrote a letter of commendation to the airline’s customer service on his behalf. So often, passengers/customers only contact customer service when they’re dissatisfied or have received poor service. I think it’s also important to write when you’ve received exemplary service. That’s probably the best tip of all for the employee, because it likely figures into their promotions!

  11. @Rami – On most international flights PAX have to fill out forms. You’d be amazed at how many people travel without a pen. The FA’s are constantly being pestered for a pen so if they have a large supply of cheap pens they can just hand them out. I brought pens on an Int’l Delta flight and the FA’s eyes got big and he smiled and said “You are now my official favorite passenger of the month!”

  12. I always have a couple of chocolate bars in my purse that I give to the crew after the flight (if I think they deserved it) – when they have provided great service, and really put their heart and soul into their job.

    Oh, and this is exclusively on my flights with SAS. Both domestic, intra-EU and intercontinental.
    The crews are always very happy about it, so the mention of this being weird on non-US airlines.. I don’t really get that?

    Once, I gave chocolates to the entire cabin crew and flight crew, because.. Well, I had a lot of chocolates.. And it was their last flight of the day, after a terrible week with lots of cancellations and delays due to stormy weather. They appreciated it alot.

  13. For sure the letter thing is a good one. Several years ago when I was flying frequently to Toronto from DCA (back in the days when it only cost $150rt) one of the gate agents was always very good. So I sent Air Canada an actual letter to the head office in Montreal. I got a very nice response from the airline thanking me for taking the time to write.

    These days I just use the feedback form on the website. And only if the service was truly outstanding. If they are just doing their jobs (however well) I just thank them on the plane and leave it at that.

  14. @Atif,

    Thank you! At my company, if one travels on the “jumpseat”, the crews expect cookies. And maybe some help. All the airline crews love the pens. It really makes their lives easier. Especially the international carriers, as pens are expensive overseas. That is why the overseas carriers don’t supply them to economy passengers. Chocolates are 50/50 thing, which Lucky comments on. Many international carriers still have crew weight guidelines. I only bring one bag of cookies, but lots of pens.

    Letters complimenting crew performance, do go a long way to help employees. But letters aren’t instant, and a sincere thanks shows that you appreciate that person’s performance.

  15. I’ve given chocolates to both the cabin crew and even the gate agent when checking in (back before OLCI).

    Almost universally it’s been graciously welcome, with small gestures of thanks. For example, each member of the crew stopping by to say thanks. Drink refills happening a little more frequently.

    The one outlier was on a recent ANA flight, where they apologetically said they couldn’t accept any food. So a pound of See’s chocolates made their way to Tokyo, where the crew on my connecting Thai Airways flight was happy to get them. 🙂

  16. I get treated very well by FAs, especially on Delta, so I almost always tip. I carry a stack of $5 and $10 Starbucks cards that I give out shortly after boarding (including the jumpseaters/deadheaders if they’re working the boarding). As a Delta Diamond and United 1K I also have the Thank-you cards that get FAs points that they can use to redeem items from their company catalog. And I’ve been told that a positive email sent to Delta Comments gives points to the entire cabin crew, so I usually send a compliment after a particularly enjoyable flight. Most importantly, though, I sincerely say “thank-you” when they’ve provided good service.

  17. This is utterly silly. Where does it stop. Do you bribe pilots too? How about the poor person who drives the jertway?

    It reinforces awful unethical behaviour more present in banana republics (I.e. I won’t give you good service unless bribed). Very unAmerican!

  18. I have given chocolates to crews on KLM and British Airways and the gesture has been appreciated. I’ve also given pens from my airline to LH crews and ground staff and they’re definitely grateful for this gesture. On the topic of praise letters, I can tell you that they’re taken seriously and are much appreciated by employees and management alike.

  19. Hey Ben,

    As all of my flights are on CX, when I fly during the holidays such as Christmas or New Years, I would buy the crew small chocolate parcels (1 each so total would be 18 parcels on a 77W). I started doing this a few years ago when I read a TR somewhere that its a good gesture as they had to work extra during the holidays and they were away from their families. The first time I did it, I was in J. They gave me some PJ’s, and amenity kit from F. It’s my way of saying thank you for being with us. I’ve done it always ever since.

  20. @ beachfan — To clarify, wasn’t basing my opinion on just that one experience, but rather from having talked to quite a few crew members about it. That being said, chocolate will still be well received by most crews, so wasn’t meaning to suggest otherwise.

  21. @ Robert Hanson — If you just send it to the customer service email, it should be put in the employee’s file.

  22. I recently had a fantastic crew on a UA domestic flight (really, I did!) that had WiFi. While on board, I tweeted @united and asked them the best way to commend a flight crew that was truly tremendous. They looked me up and found my flight information and replied that they would make sure the feedback got to the right people.

    I then told the FA working F that I hoped she didn’t mind that I tweeted how great they were. She seemed genuinely pleased, and later the purser came by my seat to thank me and tell me how much she personally really appreciated it, and it made her feel like she really was doing her job the right way, despite so much negativity that can be seen in her job.

    I really don’t “feel” the concept of gratuities (whether in cash or in kind) for FA’s, and while I’ve never done the tweet thing before, I’m hoping it won’t be my last, because it really seemed to make their days.


  23. You clearly don’t understand British/European culture if you’re buying young/old FA’s booze for their layover. Tipping is really an American thing that has unfortunately spread like a cancer to other countries/banana republics to pay for service that has already been paid for.

    Flight Attendants get per diems to cover their layover expenses (including booze) and are compensated in a manner that is of a much higher standard than what you are used to in America.. You buying them stuff from the duty free to get them drunk is not very ethical, and ”strange”.

    Now if you had tipped Ms Peggy on your US Airways flight I’m sure she would have appreciated that and you would have gotten better service out of it, and would have inline with American culture.

    But it seems given how often you feel the need to express how old/young everyone is on your blog that you are really an ageist.

  24. interesting to see this topic come up every once in a while. my better half works as a chief for ANA and they always get gifts from passengers. The food items are almost always from foreigners. Policy is for food items to be thrown away even if it is sealed. Once in a while, she will sneak it off the plane and it ends up on our dining table. When they do long hauls to Europe, the crew almost always get something and they are told to politely say no thank you but if “pushed”, say thank you, accept it and after everyone deplanes, dump it. receiving alcohol is a big time no no and is cause for immediate dismissal. They arent even allowed to purchase it while abroad.(since they are technically on duty).

    One the rare occasions cash is given, it gets thrown into a pot and gets split. so when there is max crew on a 787, that $20 bucks is suddenly 2 bucks a pop to each CA.

    So the next time on an ANA flight, a thank you goes longer than cash or food. Otherwise, I should be saying thank you to YOU for the choco.

    letters always work. but rarely ever told to the CA. Usually when they quit, they are told that they had XX letters in the XX years of service. back asswards.

  25. I think filling out a survey or writing a letter notifying how amazing the crew was go far and beyond. I at times also buy items from duty free (for myself) since I heard for certain airlines the crew member gets a commission.

  26. Just wondering if its OK to flirt and approach the FA on the flight that I take? Some of them are very pretty and I found that I’m attracted to them. How to get the phone number or email address without making them uncomfortable if their coworker see it when I’m asking one of the FA? I wish I can date an FA, like for example the guy in this article got the FA that he met in business class and married her:http://www.asiaone.com/specials/jamiecuaca/

  27. Great, thanks Ben for replying to my question. I like the letter idea as called out by yourself and others.

    On a similar vein, for in-house Butlers at hotels such as St Regis, would you say that a letter suffices again, or what level of cash tip would you give (e.g. assuming it would also be based upon country etiquette, length of stay and whether you’d deemed their efforts as above and beyond their expected duty, plus if it was at a Resort or City based property, etc)?

    Cheers, Kevin

  28. I have found that simply engaging airline crew in conversation and acknowledging the fact that they are at work, is enough to win them over. Let’s face it, in a job where 90% of the people they are dealing with are either openly hostile or completely indifferent to their presence, a simple thank you (especially to the purser) really goes a long way. On carriers based in the US, I will assume food is a nice way to win them over, but it seems like it can be a no-no on foreign carriers. I have had really great service, engaging with the crew when their worktime (meal service, etc.) is over. I will say that the vast majority of flight attendants enjoy passenger interaction, especially with a corteous and sympathetic passenger. No need for over the top gestures, just basic human decency goes really far. I mean, if you’re at work and one of your customers is really accomodating and polite, wouldn’t you make an extra effort to make sure they are satisfied? I think it applies in all customer facing industries.

  29. @ Kevin — Generally speaking I think St. Regis butlers expect tips, though it really varies on the market. In general I’d tip them just like you’d tip for any other individual similar task.

  30. I usually travel with hardcover books and the latest magazines (entertainment, sports, women’s fashions, etc). I give them to the FA and they generally seem to like to have something to read – it lightens my bag and as they are all newest issues, they get shared/recycled with others. For a great crew or experience, I will tweet and send a note as well.
    As for the pens noted above, I talked with an FA and she said tissues and pens on international flights are what get requested the most. I have many times shared pens with seatmates who have nothing to complete the forms so happy to give them the pens from the amenity kits if included.

  31. @ Sam — so what is an appropriate way to thank ANA crew? Scheduled to fly ORD-NRT on NH and back either on JL (to ORD) or SQ (to LAX).

  32. In the days of bmi I emailed in my thanks after the captain of our flight had done a superb job (both by way of flying skills and announcements to keep everyone calm) in very tricky weather – I received back a very nice thank you from the captain himself, so the airline had clearly passed my message onto him!

    Certainly much more in favour of the thank you letter approach, although I can see the nice box of chocolates for the crew when travelling first being quite a nice gesture too.

  33. I recently traveled on QF from SYD – LHR via DXB. They had different cabin crews from SYD – DXB and from DXB – LHR. I handed the crews on both flights Chocolates, and they were completely smitten by it. They actually thought I of the crew or an employee of Qantas (which I am not) and thats why I gave them Chocolate.I told them I honestly want to thank them for their hard works, and it is hard work being a good cabin crew. They are really the most under-appreciated employees in the world!!

    I think every passengers should try and give them Chocolates, just to make their day better, along with a positive emails =).

    PS. Maybe you can get better services too! =).

  34. With (free) wifi onboard access to the airline’s website, I often go to the feedback area and praise good service while I am still in the air. Have time, info still fresh in my mind. One one particular United flight, the cabin crew were outstanding. I penned a quick email to the Global Services team in air. When we landed, a Global Services agent met the flight to acknowledge receipt and inform the crew. A friend of mine is a UA flight attendant and tells me that nice letters look good in their file. Conversely, a negative letter, especially from top tier FF’s, can be quite harmful.

  35. This is a great topic. I flew LH 461 MIA – MUC seat 2K (First Class) on Dec 31st, 2015 and I thought that it would “suck” to work on NYE. I thought that I would thank the cabin crew working 1st class with a small token of generosity (assuming that I would have the normal top notch service that I get from LH).

    I was not let down, the 2 flight attendants were amazing and I was a very satisfied passenger. Before I took off I bought 4 x 5 dollar Starbucks gift cards at the Starbucks kiosk. When we were on approach to MUC I gave the 4 gift cards to the flight attendant mostly taking care of us during the flight and she was SO thankful for the cards. She could not stop being appreciative. The older flight attendant working the galley came by as well and could not stop thanking me. She told me the last time she had received a thank you gift was 2004ish. I would like to get them chocolate or something edible; however in these security days, I believe that cabin crew would be leery about eating something a passenger would give them.

    This was my solution. 🙂

  36. So subsidising their inflated salaries and lavish jetset lifestyles is no longer sufficient? Now we should offer chocolates , wine and thank you notes like guests at a dinner party? Absolutely NOT!

  37. Cabin crew work very hard to make sure our travels are pleasant and every need meet! Why would you not tip? A passenger needing a wheel chair gets a tip for a 10 minute push but a crew member that runs around for 8h plus is doing their job? Yeah I see the difference NOT! Service is service! Jet set or away from loved ones? A service job is what it is! They do a great job and should be appreciated

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