Travel etiquette: Should you bribe your flight attendant with chocolate?

In this series, Stuff Travel takes on some of the biggest debates around flying etiquette – and puts them to you to settle once and for all.

There have long been rumours that giving gifts to flight attendants could reap benefits for passengers, and Helena Afroughi appeared to confirm it in a recent interview with the UK’s Express newspaper.

Asked how passengers can get special treatment, or even upgrades on board, the flight attendant said “What always works is when people bring some sweets to the crew – chocolates or whatever. And they make themselves known.”

Afroughi suggested making the effort to chat to flight attendants before making a request, adding that “If you ask nicely and kindly, it’s rare that a crew will say no”.

While upgrades are far from guaranteed, gifts – and other acts of kindness – usually result in some perks, such as being moved to a seat with more legroom, fellow flight attendant Miguel Munoz said.

Have you ever scored a free upgrade? Email travel@stuff.co.nz

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The article did not specify which airline or airlines Afroughi and Munoz work for, so Kiwi travellers – or any travellers for that matter – shouldn’t rely on their comments alone.

Flight Attendants’ Association of New Zealand (FAANZ) president Craig Featherby said cabin crew sometimes receive boxes of chocolates or cards from passengers, which he sees as “gestures of kindness”, but rarely anything of higher financial value.

Flight attendants with many airlines, Air New Zealand included, are not allowed to receive cash or high-value gifts.

Supplied

Flight attendants with many airlines, Air New Zealand included, are not allowed to receive cash or high-value gifts.

Part of Air New Zealand’s cabin crew team, he said he knows of one flight attendant who was offered US$200 (NZ$315) on board, but “that’s about as extravagant as it gets”.

Many airlines, Air New Zealand included, do not allow staff to accept cash and substantial gifts, so the attendant told the passenger what he could do with his money.

“She said ‘If you really want to give me the money, let’s go together. I know exactly where you can put it at Auckland Airport’. There’s this massive UNICEF sort of bin there, so she said ‘Put it in there’. And unbelievably the American customer did.”

In Featherby’s 18 years in the air, gifts such as chocolates have resulted in small tokens of appreciation such as a glass of wine, but never an upgrade.

That said, crew will sometimes show special treatment to passengers who are celebrating a special occasion or are unwell.

Air New Zealand flight attendants have been so delighted by the cards they’ve received during the pandemic that they pin them to the airline’s Google Workspace platform for everyone to see.

Air New Zealand/facebook

Air New Zealand flight attendants have been so delighted by the cards they’ve received during the pandemic that they pin them to the airline’s Google Workspace platform for everyone to see.

“Just last week, I went to Brisbane and back and we had somebody celebrate 50 years. So we took two glasses of champagne from business (class) into economy. The good thing with Air New Zealand and a lot of other carriers is that they give crew the tools, and I guess also the authority, to go above and beyond.”

Featherby said medical events account for many of the rare upgrades.

“A few years ago, I had a medical where unfortunately a baby was lost on board, and there was a doctor on board. I had the seats available so I moved him into business class, and I told all the other customers in business premier why I was doing that so they knew what was going on.”

When Air New Zealand flight attendants receive chocolates, they often put them into the baskets of lollies that are taken through the cabin before landing, he said.

“We are extremely grateful, and we try to give them out to everyone else as well.”

Air New Zealand general manager cabin crew, Viv Vincent, said flight attendants treat all passengers equally, aiming “to deliver consistently world-class hospitality on all our flights.

“They work incredibly hard to get customers to where they need to be, so the best gift customers can give to our crew is to give them a friendly greeting, a big smile and a thank you.”

Featherby said it’s hard to give each and every passenger “amazing, exceptional customer service” on each and every flight, particularly if they are short or full, but crew do their best.

They’re so delighted by cards, which they have received more of during the pandemic, that they share photos of them on the airline’s Google Workspace platform.

That said, cabin crew do not expect gifts of any sort and, in the era of Covid-19, many are grateful simply to be back at work.

“People are paying a premium for their airfare, so there’s no expectation from the crew to receive anything from the customer. But it’s always greatly appreciated…

“Nearly every single person you meet on board an Air New Zealand flight was made redundant (during the pandemic). So when you get on board a flight we’re grateful because you’re flying again; you’re helping to pay our salaries. But when you do get the card or the box of chocolates, it just reinforces that “okay, I’m really happy to be back”.

Have you ever tried to bribe a flight attendant? What was the outcome? Let us know in the comments.


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