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OPINION

Norman: Tipping or not tipping: That is the question

CHARLIE NORMAN

Ten years ago, I retired from my job as a flight attendant with a major airline after 34 years. It was a terrific job for me and was a great fit for my personality. I love to travel, meet folks from all over, and be of service while on the job.

Now there was always certain airline protocol we were taught to follow during our six weeks of training at flight attendant school. We F/As were expected to adhere to these guidelines and procedures no matter the situation. That was just the understanding between the company and its employees, and I always tried to be a “good boy” and do what was expected.

Nevertheless, with the airline industry ever changing and clientele much different from the mid 70’s when I took the job, I became more and more comfortable interjecting my personality into my work and pushing the envelope (all in fun), when deemed appropriate, a little on out there the last few years of my airline career.

So it was one day, when I was on board our Super 80 aircraft at the gate (before passengers were boarded) preparing the galley area in the rear of the plane, when I was introduced to 12 year-old “Abigail.” She was what we called a UM (unaccompanied minor), and travelng by herself on her way see her grandma.

She was a “pre-board” and the agent who accompanied her toward the back of the aircraft made sure I knew of her presence and was properly introduced. Standard protocol. So as I’m getting things organized for our in-flight service, little Abby pipes up “Whatcha doing?” Well, right off I could tell this gal’s smart, inquisitive, and outgoing. So I tell her I’m preparing the galley and cart for the beverage/snack service we’ll be doing about 20 minutes after takeoff. 

She wanted to know about all my tasks, the airplane, etc. Not at all a pest, but just a curious adolescent spreading her wings, and I liked that. As we talked more, I thought, you know, maybe little Abby would like to work the cart with me on our beverage service. I can show her all she needs to know, and I’ll be right there with her the whole time (I’d done this with my own daughter a time or two years before and it worked out just fine).

My fellow F/A who usually works with me back in the Main Cabin could help out in First Class and could assist us in the back if need be. So I asked Abby if she’d like work with me on the cart when it’s time to serve the passengers and safe to do so. She said she’d love to. So we take off and when the time came, Abby got out of her seat and I showed her the ropes. Then, I thought, you know this gal might enjoy helping me make the inflight PA, informing our customers to stay clear of the aisle as they best can during our service, what items/beverages we have to offer, etc. I’d tell her what to say. She said “I’m all in.”

Good, this could be fun! So I tell her, it’s time to make our announcement and to just repeat what I tell her to say. “Okay?” “Okay!” So I pull little Abby over close to me and the intercom/microphone and hold down the “speak” button down continuously as I begin the introduction:  “Ladies and Gentleman, we’ll be beginning our inflight beverage service in the main cabin momentarily. Today, I have with me, a very special helper. Her name’s Abby.  She’s going to be working with me on the cart.

Say ‘hello’ to everybody, Abby.”  “Hello, everybody.” Good. “Now Abby, what are we able to offer these fine folks to drink off of our cart?” I point to various items and she just names’ em off: “We got Cokes, Sprite, Ginger Ale, Orange juice, water, coffee, etc.” She did really well.

Then I said, “We also have a few snack items for sale, like Lay’s Stax potato chips and Grandma’s cookies. These items are how much, Abby?” I hold up 3 fingers and she says “$3.” Right! We go through the whole spiel together, efficiently and smoothly, and Abby seems like a little pro at this. The whole time I’ve got my thumb down on the “speak” button on the phone so the passengers can actually hear my interaction with Abby.

Finally, it just came to me to say, somewhat in jest “And we accept tips!” (Definitely NOT airline protocol). Well, I wasn’t expecting this --- Abby’s demeanor immediately changed and she responds in a whiney girly adolescent voice on the PA with: “You’re not supposed to take tips!” Caught me totally off-guard. “Who said we’re not supposed to take tips?!”  “Mommy said, you’re NOT supposed to take tips!” I paused a couple seconds trying to think this through, then I just came out with: “Well, guess what, Little Sister... Mommy’s not on this plane, is she?” “No, sir.” “Well, who do you think is in charge of this service back here?” “You are.” “Right!” “Anymore questions?” “No, sir.” “Got it?” “Got it!” 

So with that all settled, I proceeded to obtain an extra “airsickness bag,” folded down the sides and  marked in big letters “NON-Solicited TIPS” and plopped it down on top of our cart for full viewing as we made our way with up and down the aisle. Abby did a great job, and I’ll say, engaged her customers better than some of the so-called professionals I’d worked with in years passed. The thing is, Abby happily walked off the plane about $25 richer than when she walked on. Not many passengers can say that, and maybe Mommy changed her tune.

Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at chas234@windstream.net.