While flying Frontier Airlines. if you buy a glass of wine or an in-flight snack your touch screen will solicit a tip.

It's only recently this option arrived aboard some airlines US airlines, to the chagrin of passengers who remember when most food and drink up there was free.

Frontier Airlines, a pioneer in the tip-your-attendant department, used to split their tips on each flight. As of January 1, however, Frontier's 2200 flight attendants no longer pool their gratuities. Now it's every man and woman for themselves.

Frontier Airlines has been a pioneer in the tip-your-attendant department. Photo / Matthew Staver, Bloomberg
Frontier Airlines has been a pioneer in the tip-your-attendant department. Photo / Matthew Staver, Bloomberg

"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," Frontier spokesman Jonathan Freed said Friday. "It's entirely at the customer's discretion, and many do it." In fact, it's also at the discretion of the flight attendant: At Frontier, they can choose whether to trigger the tip option.

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But does this new system reduce the hallowed positions of cabin crew to little more than flying serving staff?

For decades American flight attendants emphasised their role as safety professionals-reminding passengers that, at any moment, they must become emergency personnel if someone falls ill, gets bellicose or the flight experiences a problem. Pushing the drink trolley was just a side-job.

Primary concern: Flight attendants train for emergency water evacuation drill. Photo / Luo Yunfei, Getty Images
Primary concern: Flight attendants train for emergency water evacuation drill. Photo / Luo Yunfei, Getty Images

That messaging got a tremendous boost after the September 11th attacks and the US airline industry's subsequent wholesale reorganisation. As carriers emerged from the bankruptcy era and began raising pilot and flight attendant salaries, they also began investing in on-board service standards as a way to command higher fares while seeking cuts elsewhere.

The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents Frontier employees, objected to the introduction of tipping in 2016.

"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 wrote Friday in an email.

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No "trolley dolly": Bryan Bedford, Ex-Chairman of Frontier Airlines, disguised as an attendant for the TV series Undercover Boss. Photo / Getty Images

The union has been trying to reach a new contract with Frontier for two years. In November, the flight attendants voted to authorise a strike, although federal mediators have yet to declare the talks at an impasse.

"I think it's just like in a restaurant and, frankly, not an image the airlines want to have," said Henry Harteveldt, a frequent flier and founder of Atmosphere Research Group, which analyses the travel industry. He said the new policy may cause some flight attendants to see their income lag colleagues, and could also affect service levels on board given potential differences between big tippers and others.

"This could really complicate the culture at Frontier," Harteveldt said.

Despite the differing views on tips, Frontier attendants pressed to keep their own gratuities, to allow for "better transparency" and counter past problems with tip distribution, Nelson said.

A 1960s air hostess serves drink to the passengers. Photo / Marisa Rastellini, Getty Images
A 1960s air hostess serves drink to the passengers. Photo / Marisa Rastellini, Getty Images

Frontier's tablet-based payment system allows flight attendants to skip the tip screen when a customer pays; the airline said it doesn't track how often flight attendants solicit tips via the tablets. Frontier declined to release specifics about how much in tips it distributes monthly, though Freed, the airline spokesman, said flight attendants had earned "millions of dollars" in tips over the past three years. (The union didn't dispute that estimate.)

Your safety is our primary concern: 'Trolley Dolly' plaintive

Across the US cabin crew feel the gravity of their roles as custodians of passenger safety is being undermined by airlines' eagerness to upsell additional services.

Through an increasing dependence of on a model of selling additional food drink and entertainment services, the crew are seeing their roles transformed into vending opportunity.

Most importantly it has affected how attendants are seen in the eyes of their charges, the passengers.

Recently a serving US flight attendant took to social media to pen an open letter to one of her passengers, in order to educate them on the complexity of the role.
Published yesterday by Forbes it has gained support from both inside and outside the aviation community.

"Dear Passenger in 5A,
Yesterday, when I wouldn't let you come to the front of the airplane because the pilots were going in and out of the cockpit, you informed me I was 'just a flight attendant.' I've had some time to reflect on that and decided to educate you on a few facts regarding this flight attendant.
"First, let's review my training and requirements for this job. I know how to fight fires while 35,00 feet in the air; I can perform CPR, do first aid-basic all the way up to inserting an IV; I know how to identify guns and weapons; I know how to identify bombs and then move them to a location on the aircraft that will hopefully cause the least damage should they go off.
"While smiling, I have been taught how to deal with people from many different cultures, people who are disgruntled, and people who are downright rude. I received excellent training for all these things and every year have to go through refresher training and learn new skills.
"Second, I'd like to share with you some of the personal experiences I've had in the last 20 years as a flight attendant. I've held the hand of a grieving mother who was flying across the country to claim her 21-year-old son's dead body. I have given my personal clothes to a passenger who threw up, although I had nothing else to put on. I have been poked in my arm and sides many times by people who can't wait for me to finish with one person before they get their drink.

Emergency personnel: Escape slide training at the Aeroflot Personnel Department. Photo / Marina Lystseva, Getty Images
Emergency personnel: Escape slide training at the Aeroflot Personnel Department. Photo / Marina Lystseva, Getty Images

"I have held babies while their parent went to the bathroom. I have been yelled at for not having the exact food a person wanted. I have prepared an aircraft for an emergency landing, and, while you were arguing with me about not wanting to turn off your computer, I was hoping I would be able to see my children one more time. I stood with tears in my eyes in the door of an aircraft while the remains of a US soldier were lowered in a flag-draped coffin. I have had the honour of flying US troops into foreign deployment areas. I missed Christmas Day with my family so you could get to your family. My work schedule is constantly changing, and there are times I go five to six days without a real night's sleep.

"I watched the events of 9/11 in horror, heartbroken from what my colleagues went through that day. I was scared to go back to work, but I reassured my child that I would come home -- all the while knowing it could happen again. I watched a man die in front of me, because the CPR we performed didn't revive him. Then I tried to reverently place his body on the airplane floor for the remainder of the flight, and, when we landed, I sat with his body for over an hour until the coroner could pick it up.

Easiest part of the job: Stewardesses train in food service. Photo / Getty Images
Easiest part of the job: Stewardesses train in food service. Photo / Getty Images

"Please know that I do love my job, and I choose to do it. I have a college degree, am a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a human being. So the next time you look at me and think, 'Just a flight attendant,' I hope you quickly remember who is trained and willing to get you out of a crashed airplane, save you from hijackers, perform CPR on you if need be and -- the easiest part of my job -- give you food and drinks."