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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