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Insta-CoGo: Skycaps, Tipping and You

Cindy Loose

The income of skycaps who check bags at curbside is said to have dropped drastically when many airlines began charging $2 a bag for checking at curbside. The workers depend on tips, with salaries generally at minimum wage or less. According to testimony in a recent lawsuit, many passengers stopped tipping, or tipped less, when the airlines started charging the fee.

Imagine what will happen now that passengers at curbside will be charged $25 to check a second bag. (The charge applies to most domestic economy fares even if you check your bags at the counter, but the point is that if you check at curbside, that's where you'll have to come up with the $25 for a second bag. If paying $2 made people unwilling to tip, paying $27 is probably going to make their wallets freeze.)

A Bostonian is on the case. The lawyer, whom the skycaps call Sledgehammer Shannon, last month won a case against American on behalf of nine skycaps who said their income plummeted after American started charging the $2 fee. The skycaps, all from Boston, were earning $5.15 a hour, so a drop in tips was a huge deal. Jurors awarded the group a total of $325,000.

Sledgehammer Shannon, aka Shannon Liss-Riordan, 38, told me yesterday that she plans to try to certify the skycaps as a class and bring suits on their behalf against American, United, US Airways, Alaska, Jet Blue, Northwest and Delta, which this month incidentally imposed a $3 fee for curbside check-in.

The suit will seek to end the fee and ask that skycaps be awarded tips lost since the baggage fee began. Shannon says there are potentially thousands of plantiffs and millions of dollars at stake. Discovery in the first trial, Shannon says, showed that in the first year of collecting the fee, American alone brought in $8 million, $2 at a time.

I can't help but wonder: How many of those who stopped tipping did so knowing that the $2 was going to the airline, not the little guy? And did those who chose not to tip know that the little guy was earning minimum wage or less without tips?

But I also wonder: Can a court order an airline not to charge a fee it wants to charge?


By Cindy Loose |  May 6, 2008; 6:36 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Cindy Loose , Insta-CoGo , Travel Trends
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I don't mind tipping if I use the skycaps but I had being told how much. And now that I know it's a fee to the airlines I will never use curbside. I can use the counter for free and since the majority of people said they use the counter I can't see it really benefits the airline except for price gouging. Let the skycaps have their tips. Don't be greedy!

Posted by: dancermommd | May 6, 2008 6:51 AM

I typically don't check bags for business trips, but will for family vacations since the lines inside are not worth the hassle. I have been giving the skycaps $5 which I figure covers the airline fee and a tip, but if there are more than three bags I stop at $15. It is not that I have a ton of spare cash, but I am generally in a generous mood when leaving for vacation and I know that a lot of people stiff the skycaps. Not to sound cynical, but I feel that this creates good karma which will help my bags arrive at my destination with me. You see people giving the skycap a hard time and then only paying the $2 fee and know that every once in a while the bag destined for Aruba ends up in Anchorage "by accident".

Posted by: Mike Sorce | May 6, 2008 8:12 AM

Alternatively, couldn't the skycaps lobby the airlines for higher wages? Just a thought.

Posted by: JJ | May 6, 2008 9:18 AM

Your poll was not specific enough. I always check my bag inside, but I use the self-check. I never wait in line to have the desk agent check it for me. Just scan my boarding pass (which I always print at home)at the kiosk, get my bag tags, and go.

Posted by: Sweetie | May 6, 2008 9:30 AM

I share Mike's fears--I rarely check curbside, but when I do, I make nice and tip well, figuring it increases the odds of my bags at least starting out in my direction. Higher wages would be nice and solve the problem of working in the hopes of the generosity of strangers. But A. most baggage handlers don't work directly for the airlines but for a subcontractor who presumably could lose the contract if he passes along the cost of decent wages, and B. if those working directly for the airlines were given a pay hike, it would kinda defeat the purpose of bringing in more airline revenue by charging a fee, so that doesn't seem too likely.

This raises a question about tipping generally, including in restaurants, cabs etc. My preference would be for employers to pay their workers and pass the cost on to customers, and then I can decide whether the price is something I want to pay without constantly being worried whether I'm being fair with my tips. What percentage do you tip for a haircut, anyway?

Posted by: cindy loose | May 6, 2008 1:35 PM

Since I am usually traveling alone, I never check curbside, although I have checked a bag at the Airtran convenience counter at the MARTA station in Atlanta. But, if I had a couple of kids, or elderly people with me headed for vacation I probabably would.
Personally if someone is in an airline uniform, they should at least be getting minimum wage. But I would tip regardless.
As someone with a history of jobs where I depended on tips(bartender/waiter), I always tip well (unless the service sucks).
For a haircut, I usually give my barber $2 for a $16 cut, If I get color I give $5. If it is near a holiday, or if I know he is headed for vacation I give him $5 also.

Posted by: rja112 | May 6, 2008 8:55 PM

I always fly Southwest and I have used the curbside check. I never had anyone tell me that I was supposed to tip (I'm young). I saw people doing so when they had a very heavy bag or a large group, but I hadn't realized they were paid less than minimum wage like waiters. I always was polite and friendly, but that's just because I try to be that way to everyone. Now that I know they're like waiters, I'll tip. How much are we supposed to tip?

Posted by: Beth | May 7, 2008 2:30 PM

Hey Beth,
I just asked a skycap that and he suggested $1-$2 a bag. The other person on the phone line interrupted and said, $2 a bag. So somwhere in there. If they accompany you to the gate or something like that they expect more.

Posted by: cindy loose | May 7, 2008 2:54 PM

For people who are elderly, handicapped or both, curbside checking is a godsend. The task of getting from curb to plane is a huge and difficult task, without having the additional burden of your bag(s). Would you please address the subject of wheel chairs? When, where and how is one requested? There seems no fixed rate for the service, so what is an appropriate tip?
Can one ask the wheel chair attendant to: A. Stop at the lavatory? B. Wait for bags to arrive? C. Get bags, as well as traveler from baggage pick up to taxi? D. Wait with traveler and bags until taxi or driver/friend arrives and give help into taxi or car?
It would be so very helpful for a person who is elderly or handicapped (and often needing to be careful about money,) to know what the cost of their trip will be ....including two trips through the airport.
Thank you !

Posted by: Joan Hoover | May 7, 2008 4:58 PM

It's totally appropriate to ask a skycap to wait with you and your bags, wait for a taxi, a bathroom break whatever you want and need. The difficult part is deciding what it's appropriate to pay, since it's a tip, not a fixed rate. Is there a skycap or former skycap out there who can give guidance on what they consider fair? Meanwhile, I think you should consider how long it's taken the skycap, and what a fair hourly wage would be, remembering that the tip is going to be the bulk of his wage that hour since he very likely is making less than minimum wage, which is not something even a single person can live on let alone a family, and someone working full time should be able to eat and pay his bills. I'd also say once you figure out how much time he's spent with you and what he should be paid at minimum, the next question is: How generous can I possibly afford to be. No one who is destitute takes leisure trips, so take that into account as you're thinking about it.

Posted by: cindy loose | May 7, 2008 6:27 PM

I almost felt threatened the last time I used a skycap. He told me "it's two bucks not including gratuity." Wow. Talk about direct. I've never had a waitress or a massage therapist or hairdresser say "it's XXX without gratuity." I felt like my bag would not make it if I did not tip. I replied "gotcha" and gave him 2 bucks for a small bag. And I had to wait around for him to talk to his buddy first. Sheesh.

Posted by: Kensington, MD | May 7, 2008 9:17 PM

So Kensington, having been told that the fee for a bag is $2, you deliberately stiffed the skycap? If the bag was so small, why didn't you deal with it yourself, inside? You didn't tip hime anything!

The reason the skycap told you the fee did not include gratuity is that the airlines are now taking the $2 for themselves. Did you read this article at all?

Posted by: annapolis | May 8, 2008 11:04 AM

I seldom use Curbside, not because I don't trust the Skycaps, but frequently there are baggage wagons filled with luggage and people waiting in line. I am more comfortable with the bag going on the conveyer than waiting around outside until the Skycap has enough time to take it to the baggage area. Also, I heard from a travel agent that CVG has the worst curside record for bags delayed or lost so I definitely don't use it there. The kiosks have sped up the inside lines so there is seldom a long wait even at the busiest times.

Posted by: Carolyn Gollings | May 10, 2008 10:16 AM

Agree with many of the comments, particularly annapolis (kensington, didn't you read the article?). 20% is my baseline for ALL tips, from hairdressers to taxi drivers to waiters. Service has to be bad for me to give less. I figure my loss of a few extra dollars once or twice a week is much less to me than the benefit to the service provider if everyone tipped at a slightly higher level. Many low-wage workers are on duty 12 hours straight (taxis) or are on their feet for many hours. I'm glad to learn that my traditional tip of $2 per bag is about right.

Posted by: thousand oaks | May 23, 2008 9:00 AM

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