To Tip or Not?


Should you tip a skycap for wheelchair assistance at the airport? If so, how much is appropriate? A lot of people are really confused about this pretty straightforward issue.

This fact was aptly illustrated as I was waiting at the gate last week, and a skycap wheeled a 60-something lady over to departure lounge. Her companion followed close behind. The skycap situated the lady close to the gate, put on the wheelchair brakes, made a little small talk and then did what I call the “tip shuffle”. He was waiting for her to go for her purse, but she didn’t make a move. When it became apparent that he was getting stiffed, he smiled, sighed and then left. I mean, what else could he do?

After he left her companion piped in with, “Marge, you should have tipped that man.” Marge laughed and replied, “Why? He was just doing his job? I shouldn’t have to pay anybody for that.”

So who was right? Marge or her companion?

In this case, Marge’s companion has the correct answer.

You should always tip a skycap for any assistance they provide. Just like you should always tip a bellman or a shuttle driver. AB or dis — you should always tip these service workers.

Does this mean you should always tip anyone in an airport who provides assistance? No. If an airline employee (note the uniform and the ID badge) provides assistance, tipping is not required. Same goes for those cart drivers in the large airports (like MSP and DFW); no tip is required. And for goodness sakes if you have your own wheelchair and push yourself and don’t need any assistance with your luggage, then again, no tip is required. But if you do need luggage assistance (and by this I mean pushing it across the airport, not merely lifting it up at the check-in counter) then yes, a tip is required.

And what’s the going rate? For skycap assistance at the airport, $5 is appropriate for regular assistance; more if they provide extra services (like helping you make a flight that you probably would have missed had they not been there). You should also tip the hotel bellman $1 per bag and the hotel shuttle bus driver the same. If you have a scooter or wheelchair that the shuttle bus driver stows in the back, tip a few bucks for that too. If you stay in your wheelchair during the trip, no additional tip is necessary.

Some people (like Marge) feel they shouldn’t have to pay extra for service, but remember skycaps and bellman are in an industry where tipping is the norm. The provide a service, and customers tip them for that service.

Although tipping is a personal choice (and based on service) I don’t think you should stiff anybody unless the service was egregious. For example, let’s say the skycap just left you sitting halfway to the gate, while he stopped and chatted with a friend; and because of this delay you missed your flight. In that case, no tip is required.

Some people tell me that they just don’t have the budget to tip (I hear this from cruise passengers a lot). My reply to that is that tipping is part of the cost of travel. You *need* to include it in your budget. If you don’t have enough money to tip, then you really don’t have enough money to travel. Just like, if you don’t have enough money to tip a waitress, then you do not have enough money to eat in that restaurant.

Personally I hate it when I see a PWD stiff somebody. It makes me cringe because it perpetuates that myth that all PWDs are poor, unemployed and on public assistance. We all know that’s not true, but when you stiff somebody that’s the impression they get. Don’t help perpetuate this myth. Remember to tip appropriately.