Should airlines allow in-flight “tipping” enhance the brand experience?
Asking for tips in Business Class
Recently, I met up with a senior airline executive in Bangalore, India. He shared with me a very interesting incident. While flying Business Class from London to Delhi on Air-India recently, he encountered excellent customer service by one of the stewardesses. But in Air-India, service levels are not always of a very high level, so this was an exception. She spoke to him for long, served him extra wine and then emphasized multiple times how flight attendants need to work long hours with little pay these days.
She returned before landing to again sweet-talk him into giving her a tip. He was appalled and didn’t oblige. I was initially surprised too, but thought that this might just turn out to be an interesting way to enhance the brand experience on board the aircraft.
Tipping – a norm in the hospitality industry
A tip is a small amount of money given voluntarily as a token of appreciation for a service rendered. We tip our servers as a way of thanking them for good service. We might also leave a very low tip, or no tip at all, as a signal that the service was substandard.
In the hospitality industry, tipping is a common practice and we see tip-jars everywhere, from restaurants to concierges. In the US, even taxi drivers are given a tip. And these can range from 10-20% of the full price of the service provided, depending on the quality of service delivered. And airlines are somewhat part of the hospitality industry too.
Allowing tipping on board a plane might just do wonders for the in-flight service. Flight attendants may be more attentive, less grumpy and may go out of their way to enhance your travel experience more often than they usually do. But that may mean too much tip for one crew member and nothing for another. One way of making this work can be to pool all the tip received for all the crew in each cabin, and then split it equally.
In fact, this might just work better for low cost carriers, as opposed to full-service ones, since the latter are presumed to include great in-flight service in the price of the ticket (even though that’s not the case sometimes). Having a tipping system may allow airlines to reduce their staff costs further, and enhance the in-flight service at the same time. But there are a number of hindrances to make this system work well.
Will in-flight tipping work?
A crucial difference between airline crew and others in the hospitality industry like concierges, servers, cleaners and doormen is that they’re often not even paid the minimum wage, whereas flight attendants generally have strong unions ensuring that they’re adequately, if not well-paid.
Moreover, how would a passenger decide how much to tip a crew member? Generally, the tip is a percentage of total price of the service. So does that mean that people need to pay $40 as a tip for a $400 one-way fare? That may be just a little too much.
Although tipping is a multibillion-dollar industry, it isn’t a globally consistent phenomenon. In fact, in some countries, tipping is illegal. But airlines by nature are global organizations. So it’s a dilemma, whether this will work internationally or not.
Now that I’ve discussed the pros and cons of the practice on board a plane, let’s hear your thoughts too.
Do you think it’s something that’ll enhance in-flight service delivery and the brand experience? Or is it too “cheap” to tip someone in-flight? If it’s good, how can airlines implement it easily? Let’s hear it in the comments section.