Do you tip your flight attendant?

by Cris Merz:

As the presidential election looms over the US, topics on living wages, tips vs. salary, and a rise in minimum wage, are common around the water cooler and on social media.  I came across an interesting article about the different industries in which tipping is accepted, required, already incorporated in your bill, and discouraged.  I was surprised to learn that an industry I use a lot, the airline industry, actually has an argument in favor of  tipping flight attendants, and as I thought about it more and more I thought, “Sure, why not?”  Apparently, though there is no literature suggesting it, people actually do tip their flight attendants.  As someone that has spent more hours in the sky than underwater over the past four years, I have never done this.  I have never tipped my flight attendant.  Not once. Now I am hearing that several of my sky travelling peers do… and it’s often rewarding, perhaps in the form of an extra mini bottle of Absolute for that Bloody Mary.  I also learned that in order for them to accept a tip, you must offer three times before they will say, “Yes”.

Understand first that the concept of “tipping” is going to change dramatically based on geography and culture and those two elements are what will have the biggest determination on tipping.  The argument around socio-economic motives underlying tipping and the effects it has in a culture that relies on tipping can be had another day.

Tipping can be a delicate topic that people tend to awkwardly dance around at times.  I went to a consumer show in New Jersey called Beneath the Sea last April and was counting on catching a ride from Joe Stellini, our wonderful Regional Manager from the Northeast.  He was stuck in a regulator workshop and was unable to come get me.

“Grab an Uber,” he said.

An Uber?  I had heard of this “Uber”, but usually at the end of a one liner on late night TV;  I had never actually used one before.  OK, well, I signed up right then and there on the Uber website using my phone.  As I was looking over their features and benefits I saw a comment on tipping.  I do not remember the exact language but I recall something that read, “Pay on your phone and no need for tipping”.  Great!

I ordered my Uber and got a black SUV with leather seats to take me to the Meadowlands.  The car was clean, the driver was a professional, and he even helped me with my bag.  We got to my destination, I said thanks and I walked away.  It was a weird feeling.  Something was missing.  I thought nothing of it over the next few days as I had a lot of focus on the Beneath the Sea show and meeting new divers and dealers.  It was busy; after all we had just launched our new Full Face Mask Manual.  After the show, it was time to catch another Uber.  I loved it… had the app, took them 4 minutes to pick me up and what a surprise, a BMW sedan.  Again, clean, great driver and excellent service.  The problem as I walked away was… I felt empty again.  So, once settled in my hotel room, I Googled, “Do you tip Uber drivers?”  And there it was; so many search results all shouting the single answer, “YES”.  I felt horrible.  But it was right there in black and white on the Uber page, ”No need to tip drivers”.  What gives?

Back in the day, on the far side of the world, I was a divemaster that worked primarily for tips for numerous years.  I would like to offer advice to those divers that are simply not sure of how to tip, how much to tip, or if it is even appropriate to tip. Hopefully these pointers will help you overcome any uncomfortable feeling you may have encountered on dive boats in the past regarding tipping.  I don’t want you to walk away from your “Uber” wondering if you did the right thing or not.

So the first question at hand is: do I tip my boat crew and divemasters? The answer is YES, you do.

Why should I tip?

A DM’s job, as well as the crew’s, doesn’t begin the moment you hop into the water.  Their job starts hours before and includes (on most dive boats) hauling your tanks, checking your gear (though you may not even know that they did), calming the people that may be a little on edge, and the little things to make your life easier like passing your mask back to you after you’ve defogged it or spit in it. They also offer you snacks or drink, and the fun stuff – guide you in the water and show you a world that you may not have been able to find on your own, little critters, and big fish – the reason you are under water to begin with. However, and most importantly, they are there to assist you in the case of an emergency.  Did they make you feel safe?  Did they make you feel like if there was an issue that arose you could trust your life with this crew?  Would they ensure you made it back safely?  Like a flight attendant, is it just about serving drinks?  Or is it about having a professional person there for you in a moment of need to get you out of trouble?

How much do I tip?

A customary tip is between 10% and 20%.  Some divers give more and some give less (rarely).  You may gauge this based on your experience while on the vessel.  Did the DM go out of his way to make the trip entertaining and fun?  Did they take your gear back to your car for you? (Keep in mind, in some locations this may be easier for some crew members to do, in others it simply may not be possible.)  Did they make you feel safe?  Did they make you feel like this would be a trip you really wanted to do again, or make sure you told all your friends about?  I have seen divers that tour the planet’s oceans diving from boat operation to boat operation and from live-aboard to live-aboard.  These divers often treat tipping as they would in a fine restaurant.  They’ll start with a percentage and then it only goes up from there based on the crew and what they do that goes beyond the call of duty.

When do I tip?

Tipping is usually done after the trip.  If you are at a resort and will be doing multiple day trips be sure to ask the manager, captain, or owner if tipping is okay at the end of the trip.  The reason for asking is because some crew, captains, and divemasters may get rotated and you may not always have the same people taking care of you.  In cases like these, it may be easier tipping at the end of the day rather than the end of the trip.  Usually the tips are pooled between captain, DM, and crew and it makes it easier, but for the most part resorts may simply ask, “What is easier for you…” and let you know they will figure it out.

Who do I tip?

In most cases, the captains will take the tips.  Usually they have a tip jar and it is available to drop a tip in there.  Some boats won’t have anything on display – please do not misinterpret this as, “No tipping required.”

Do Instructors get tips?

There is no reason why your dive professional should not get a tip.  Within the industry, it is common practice to give your instructor a little something once the course has been completed.  This is not exclusive to resorts with blue water, white sand, and palm trees either.  Please tip your instructors back home too.  They will appreciate it very much.

After spending 10 years with the Aggressor fleet working as a divemaster, instructor, naturalist guide, and every other job you can imagine, I can say that tips greatly impacted my salary and that of the crew but more importantly, it was greatly appreciated. When we saw some of those faces return, we wanted to go the extra mile – not for tips, but because we appreciated the fact that they acknowledged the hard work we put in for them the last time they were here.

Your dive crew is not just there to show you the pretty stuff… they are in many ways responsible for your safety.  A lot of training has been invested in these people and though they want to ensure you have a great time, they are primarily there to assist you in a time of need in the case of an emergency – and that is when that previous training kicks in.  Like flight attendants, they are true professionals that do so much more than serve food and drinks.  Show your appreciation by tipping them generously if they have earned it and don’t be shy to let them know verbally as well.  As the sun goes down and people start heading to the bars, there is still work to do on the boats after a day of diving.  “You and your crew did an amazing job.  Thank you!”  is a nice way to end their day.

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24 replies
  1. Richard
    Richard says:

    This article is utter rubbish .Tipping condones employer’s exploitation of their employees by compensating for a lack of commensurate payment. It is an American phenomenon and a practice common in countries where there are no or minimal government control over wages.

    • Cris
      Cris says:

      Thank you for your feedback. The philosophy behind tipping as well as the need to do it are certainly political/social debates that need to be had. However, this article is really to assist those that are participating in a culture were it is accepted and to offer an explanation to those that aren’t familiar with it.

      • Ted Reitsma
        Ted Reitsma says:

        I liked your article very much (but I will still not tip waitresses). I had not tipped for many years and only read about it later as something you should do. My first few years of diving were at Caribbean resorts with natives that work 20 hour days like the rest of the resort staff. Their standards of living are far lower than our own. If I get good service (and I have everywhere I have been, live boards too- where it is expected by the way in my experience) I will tip them. As for 10-20%- thats OK for resort stuff, but when the live aboard costs 3,000-6000 then this is too steep for my blood.

    • Bruce
      Bruce says:

      I utterly agree. The employees should be compensated by the owner vs the patron. Tipping is totally an american thing that the owners came up with to screw the worker and the patron. We need to stand up and say “NO MORE TIPPING!” I would prefer to pay more for the service than have to wonder how much I should leave them.

  2. Didier Follain-Grisell
    Didier Follain-Grisell says:

    I was on a dive charter a few years ago with a couple of German rebreather divers that were regular in town down here in south florida although their base was Germany. At the end of the dive the tipping came up as it traditionally does in our waters. The Germans were clearly offended the Divemaster was not paid by the boat operation and had to be paid by the customers. It was interesting to see their angle on the subject. They were not surprised because they dove here quite a bit in their travels but made the point it just wasn’t right. So it boils down to the culture you live in whether this is standard practice or not.

  3. Terry L
    Terry L says:

    I work in a hospital. Are you going to tip me if I give you good service? NO, you expect good service especially when your life depends on it. Employers should pay their employees a living wage and not require their employees to rely on handouts/tips to pay the rent. I still tip, but I think its a miserable custom here in the US.

  4. Jesse Iacono
    Jesse Iacono says:

    It seems like a lot of people are displaying negative attitudes towards tipping here (or maybe the employers who utilize systems that require it). Although tipping may not be the custom everywhere, it makes all the differences in the places where it is commonplace. You can find me working very hard on the dive boat just about every weekend and while we appreciate your concerns towards the fairness of our employers, we still go home empty handed at the end of the day if your generosity isn’t monetized 🙁 Regardless of your position on the customs, be familiar with the region’s practices that you are in and remember that when you don’t tip, you are only hurting the crew that is going out of their way to provide you with an enjoyable experience.

  5. Richard
    Richard says:

    Tipping…I have but on rare occasions on dive trips as you can tell at the end they are all poised and waiting for may/may not eventuate. The practice seeded by Americans abroad makes it become part of the culture and then others who are not used to this practice (Aussies/UK etc.) become the bad guy tourist because we fail to tip.
    Underlying our reason for not are that we have no requirement in our home countries due to acceptable minimum wages, a reasoning where “we pay money for a service and that’s it” approach.
    Only when our expectations are significantly exceeded would a person in Australia feel the need to tip, in my experience that is not often and we should resist the push to make tips ‘make up pay’ for employers not willing to provide decent wages.
    I would NEVER EVER tip an airline attendant, they are there in my opinion to exceed my expectations (They mostly do as well).

  6. Richard
    Richard says:

    I have seen tipping used a method to gain favour from dive guides, charter operators and liveaboard staff on numerous occasions. Typically a small group of American divers will use the promise of a tip as a bribe to commandeer the boat to take them where they want to dive( i.e Photographers), or to get the staff to setup and manage their dive equipment. This happens in Micronesia, and a rather well know liveaboard that operates in the Coral Sea.
    Can I suggest if people believe tipping is a custom to be observed in the USA, that conversely should not occur where is not customary. Can I also suggest that these divers refrain from being indolent – and setup, clean and carry your own diving equipment!

    • Cris
      Cris says:

      Thanks for your reply, Richard. Yes, it is difficult when cultures criss-cross. I worked on livaboards outside of the United States and the majority of the people visiting were Americans. It was difficult for the crew (all locals) to comprehend why they would get “rewarded” by some people and not by others.

      One of the reasons we would do things like set up gear and clean up was not because our customers were lazy and felt that it was required if they wanted a better tip, it was because we had tough competitors and it set us a step apart from other liveaboards. Competition, in the end made us better, not the tips. That said, if I get pampered like that, I will pay extra.

  7. Fiona
    Fiona says:

    As a UK citizen living and working in Thailand totally agree tipping should absolutely not be expected. Saying that LOCAL DM / Instructors are poorly paid and a little tip can help. By local I mean the national of that country not the western Instructor / DM swanning around Asia having an awesome time (I am one of those), they do NOT need to be tipped, they are there by choice, for a local though this might be their only job opportunity. With regards to how much NEVER EVER should you tip a percentage of the dive costs – these are costs that are making the owners a very nice profit . Look at the local economy – how much would a local pay for a meal / a beer etc and base you tip on this amount. Tipping 10% -20% on an average liveaboard costs totally destroys the local economy and is incredibly irresponsible…..

  8. Bud
    Bud says:

    Ahhhhhh. The cheapos are coming out of the woodwork.

    Look, don’t tip if you don’t want to. Don’t tip if it is against your socio-economic beliefs. Don’t tip if you think it encourages people to pay their employees less. Don’t tip because it’s too steep for your blood. Don’t tip if it offends you.

    But don’t complain when the guy that does tip, gets 110% service while you get 99%. Welcome to the real world. The world were money talks. Sure, you don’t have to like it – but that is how it is.

    • Richard
      Richard says:

      Mate , don’t accuse us if your country doesn’t protect all it’s citizens equally from the unscrupulous – blame your disfunctional political system . Keep your ridiculous practices in your own country.

      • Tom Magee
        Tom Magee says:

        Since no two people are equal, how exactly can everyone be treated ‘equally’ without resorting to treating everyone as the lowest common denominator? Frankly you may be content to earn the same as the guy standing in the corner picking his nose all day and be happy about it due to some egalitarian fantasy you have…but sadly the world simply doesn’t really work that way. Hence the reason all socialist nations are bankrupt failures.

  9. Tyler
    Tyler says:

    What a joke! So tip them bc of their assumed great services during the veery unlikely emergency situation. Ok, well how about NOT tipping them for their rudeness, their bossy and abrasive demeanor backed by the law and they know that, their constant shouting of commands and instructions over the intercom for our “safety” (when did u sleep well on a plane the last time), their great boarding procedures and “processional” judgement that your bag needs to be checked in despite that you have used it 100x becore, oh oh and this is a favourite, your inability to use your cell phone despite that it has nothing to do with safety and this info is even official now. Did you know about this?? So let me fill you in mr. I got one “good” reason to tip these guys: your new tip deserving friends don’t like you using your phone on the plane bc you are disturbing and harder to manage or at least thats their perception so their unions push for that and have resisted to allowed that so that’s why we still have these restrictions. Did you know about that?? can tou.believe it? So I can’t use my phone bc these employees don’t like it basically, even worse they think they don’t like it. Can you believe it?! More power to them and to you for trying to convince anyone to tip in this terrible business and service overall

  10. Marco
    Marco says:

    Y’all invited to Cancun and Riviera Maya where shop owners realized long time ago that by lowering comissions the employees could get even with tips having a decent “salary”.
    It’s not about about a country protecting or not its citizens.

    Just remember: as dive profesionals we don’t have a retirement plan as hospital staff might have or as flight atendants might have as well since they’re protected by their union.

    Tips shows gratitude for those who care and guide you under the water, Tipping is not gonna make you poor.

  11. Alex
    Alex says:

    Tipping in any situation where the worker is salaried and not dependent on tips for wages is ridiculous. Tipping a flight attendant? You’ve completely lost your mind. This is akin to leaving your $0.35 change in a cup at Starbucks or some other deli or convenience store. Why in the world would you tip someone for simply doing their job? What’s next … handing out a Medal of Honor for simply donning a flak vest and running into the fray? Complete hogwash.

    I know, let’s start giving out trophies to kids just for participating but not actually winning anything … oh wait … we’re already doing that. It’s all the same liberal politically correct BS that’s taken this country into a downward spiral.

    • Steve Kirkman
      Steve Kirkman says:

      Alex, Awesome reply and i am Laughing My Bo….cks Off (LMBO) but on a serious note in the UK we’re not used to tipping unless we personally believe the service deserves it, there is no standard amount it is entirely up to the customer and those who work in various industries involving service to customers do not expect to get tipped. Therefore, when they do it is viewed as something special between the customer and employee. When I go abroad on dive trips I refuse to participate in central tipping and pay my tips direct to individual and to the amount I believe they deserve. I do this because I view it as my way of personally saying thankyou to someone who I believe has worked hard etc and not simply paid to the captain so he can dish out the tips as he seems fit. What I cannot stand is situations like I had in Key West, Florida when a waitress who was serivng on our table thought all her christmas’s had come at once as she waited on to 17 military divers around a table. She was not impressed at all when she got her 15% tip and had the audacity to actually ask why we had only tipped her 15%. It took one of my fellow officers to explain that her service was OK but not great, providing her with some examples of her lacking in decent customer service. However, she became very snotty with group as she felt irrespective of her failings she should have been paid more tips but the best was yet to come when the owner of the resturaunt comfronted us and also asked why we hadn’t tipped her more than the standard 15%. He could not and would not accept our point of view and when we asked him why does he not pay his staff a sufficient wages rather than them having to rely on wages from his customers, his relpy was simply “that is how thing are done here in the States”. at that point we left.

      My point in this is that tipping irrespective of where you are in the world is something that is between the customer and the employee. It should never be expected by the employee but should always be considered by the customer as special way of saying thankyou for the over and above expected service.

  12. Tom Magee
    Tom Magee says:

    It is amusing how fast food workers in Australia make a minimum wage of $18, which seems like a lovely ‘living wage’ to the EBT culture Americans, who apparently don’t realize that a crappy studio apartment there is roughly $2500 a month. Breakfast consisting of toast and some jam is $16, a coke costs $6 and a pack of cigarettes is $25. Meanwhile my wife, that earns $2.13 an hour as a bartender in the USA brings home $1,200 in tax free cash each week at the job where she is being ‘exploited’ by an evil capitalist meanie. Everything is relative. Frankly I will take the superior service you receive in the United States over the lazy, entitled and frequently incompetent workers you find all over Europe and Australia making a ‘living wage’. There is a reason the USA is the world super power, the wealthiest nation and innovator of everything worthwhile for the last century on the planet while Europe is on the verge of complete collapse. It has everything to do with the imbecilic socialist attitudes I am seeing in this thread.

  13. mj
    mj says:

    I can tell you from working as a divemaster in Costa Rica that tipping is very cultural and varies an awful lot. I completely agree with people who say that divemasters and instructors should be paid more by their employers so they don’t need to be tipped. The problem is, that in some of countries, such as Costa Rica, the minimum wage is $600 per month. That isn’t a wage that most people who are traveling and working (as much of the divemaster and instructor work force do) can afford to live on and put any away for the next leg of their travels. The problem is, the dive shops can hire locals for this much money, so why would they pay traveling divemasters more? They shouldn’t really do that either. So you’re stuck living off of a small wage and tips, which are very appreciated when they do come.

  14. George Barber
    George Barber says:

    Nice report on tipping. I work in the ride sharing community with uber. I believe it is a good practice to tip those that serve you. When Uber started Tipping was not built on the plat form. Therefore, passengers did not feel that tipping was necessary. Just recently about a year ago Uber incorporated tipping into the software.


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