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Never Do This When Ordering a Drink, Flight Attendants Warn

The seemingly harmless act could wind up getting someone in big trouble.

Despite how frustrating or unpredictable air travel can feel at times, the one in-flight perk all travelers can count on is the in-flight beverage service. Whether you're flying in first class or economy, the passing of the beverage cart is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a nice, relaxing libation while miles above the day-to-day distractions on the ground. But according to flight attendants, there's one mistake you should never make when you're ordering a drink on a plane. Read on to see what could be a major mid-flight misstep.

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Airline employees have recently negotiated changes concerning their working conditions.

United airlines flight USA; a flight attendant is seen helping travelers in first class on an airplane in mid flight

After more than two years of life under the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a wild understatement to say that waves of changes have been hitting the airline industry. Many of them involve tightening and loosening certain onboard health protocols, including when flight attendants advocated for reduced beverage and meal services to lessen their interaction time with passengers during the Omicron surge.

And besides safety-related issues, others are the result of changes brought on by airline employee unions advocating for better working conditions. Currently, pilots for Alaska Airlines are voting on whether or not to strike as negotiations carry on and flight delays and cancelations loom, The Seattle Times reports. And recently, a company memo attained by CNBC announced that Delta Air Lines would begin paying flight attendants during boarding time, changing a long-standing policy of starting the pay clock only after cabin doors had been closed.

There's one mistake you should avoid when ordering a drink on a plane.

Stewardess carrying food trolley in corridor of airplane jet. Interior of modern plane. European woman wear uniform, latex gloves and medical mask. Civil aviation. Air travel concept

Even as working conditions continue to change for cabin and cockpit crews, there are still specific rules about working the skies that aren't exactly common knowledge. One notable difference is the custom of tipping a bartender or server after being served a drink, coffee, or refreshment while on the ground, but not extending the same courtesy to flight attendants pouring your beverages during your flight. However, while offering a few dollars to show appreciation might seem harmless, you should never assume cabin crew are allowed to accept cash tips. Unfortunately, on some airlines, the act can even land them in trouble with their employer if they do, Southern Living reports.

According to Bloomberg, certain carriers such as Spirit and Allegiant have even gone so far as to remove a tipping option on their tablet payment systems used for in-flight purchases. And Allegiant has even gone so far as to outright ban tipping on their flights with official policy.

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Some airlines make it easier to tip flight attendants, while others remain ambiguous.

A flight attendant walking down the aisle of a plane checking on passengers

Confusingly, what's acceptable in terms of mid-flight tipping can change from airline to airline. For example, on Southwest Airlines, cabin crew initially refuse any cash tips but are allowed to graciously accept them if the passenger insists on passing them along, USA Today reports. On the other hand, certain airlines including Frontier have recently added gratuity options to payment tablets when customers buy in-flight drinks, per Bloomberg.

Despite confusing or conflicting policies, industry veterans say this is mostly about airlines not wanting to appear as though they are encouraging tips outright—even as pandemic-era policies are lifted. "Although we resumed regular beverage service about six months ago, just last month we started serving alcoholic beverages in the main cabin again," says Steffanie, a major airline flight attendant with nine years of experience. "Some passengers are very happy about this and have started offering tips to show their appreciation!"

While some flyers have been happy enough to leave substantial cash gratuities, she adds that many still favor discretion. "Some passengers pass the tip to flight attendants as they are leaving so as not to bring attention to the exchange," she explains. "If I'm asked if it's okay to tip me, I let them know it's not necessary, but it's their choice."

You can also show your appreciation for good service in other important ways.

asian woman using her phone on the plane

Even if you've forgotten your cash, there are other ways you can show your appreciation that can sometimes go even further. For example, some airlines, such as Southwest and American, offer frequent flyers the opportunity to recognize exemplary service with special programs that earn them gift cards, merchandise, and more, Travel + Leisure reports. But in most cases, simply reaching out to the carrier to commend good service can be a big gesture.

"Very rarely do we get positive feedback. I managed for over 12 years, and sadly, you will hear about complaints far more than compliments," says Heidi Ferguson, a flight attendant with 20 years of experience in the commercial and private aviation industry. "The best way to get in touch with most airlines now is through social media, surprisingly. Email is also effective, but [direct messages] or contacting them through Twitter gets replies very quickly."

And at the very least, the most important way to thank a flight attendant is to be as patient, kind, and courteous to them as you would be any other employee—especially after two years of uncertainty. "I wish passengers would realize that my job is just as important as a pilot's job," Lorrie Metrejean, a flight attendant, told Insider. "Flight attendants are responsible for the safety of the entire aircraft. At the end of the day, we're there for when an emergency occurs—whether that be a medical issue or security issue or if there's something wrong with the plane and we'd have to evacuate the aircraft and get everyone off safely."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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