For the first time in a long time, we checked our luggage on our recent vacation to the northeast. We had gotten so good at packing everything into a couple of carry-ons that we actually did a two-week trip to Australia about 15 years ago without checking a single bag, but for some reason, this trip was different.
So, we pulled our bags up to the curbside check-in and were pleasantly surprised to find no line. The guy at the counter took our IDs, looked up our flight information on his computer terminal, handed us boarding passes, and printed out the sticky things that go around the luggage handles to ensure that our four bags went where they were supposed to go. We thanked him and then there was an awkward pause before we began to move away. He cleared his throat and said, “I’m your skycap, and I’ll make sure these bags get on the plane.”
I thought, “Well, of course you will, that’s your job.” But what he meant was, “This is when you tip me.”
I have no problem tipping someone for providing me an extra service, and I’m not stingy about it. You help me unload the luggage from my car, put it on your cart, then help me cut to the front of the line so we save time as you expedite my luggage-checking, and I’ll happily slap some green on you.
But this guy wasn’t doing anything the people inside the terminal at the airline counter weren’t doing — in fact, it was the exact same job! No one in their right mind would ever tip a ticket agent for making sure the bags got on that conveyor belt, so why does this guy deserve a gratuity? The airline outsources the job, and the consumer has to pick up the slack once again.
It’s no different than going to a restaurant to pick up a to-go order. If you pay by credit card, there’s that spot on the receipt where you would add a tip if you’d been served by a waitress in the restaurant or had the food delivered to your home, but does anyone add a tip when they’ve driven to the restaurant and picked up the order themselves? Do you tip at the McDonald’s drive-thru or the Starbucks counter?
I have the same thought whenever I’m in Vegas and need a taxi. I walk out of a hotel to the line at the cab stand and wait my turn. When I’m next, the doorman (or transportation expediter, which I’m sure is the politically correct term) asks me how many people are in my party and where I’m going. He then opens the door of the cab and repeats this information to the cabbie. For this minor and completely unnecessary service, I’ve seen hundreds of people slip the guy a buck or two. Thanks, but I can open a car door and speak to the driver myself. Done it thousands of times in major cities all around the world. Why exactly do I need a middle man?
Once, I asked a Vegas cabbie about this practice. He told me that the doormen were making such huge sums of money from these tips that the larger hotels were starting to demand up-front payments of tens of thousands of dollars before they’d consider someone for the job. He also said that while cabbies were usually treated equally, some of these doorman run a ruthless extortion racket when it comes to limo and other for-hire drivers, refusing to steer guests to them unless they got a kickback, blackballing those who wouldn’t play along.
I felt a little extorted myself at the curbside check-in, especially when I heard, “I’m your skycap, and I’ll make sure these bags get on the plane.” The insinuation there was that if I didn’t cough up a few bucks, my bags were headed to Santa Fe instead of Boston. Since that’s one of the classic fears of flying — and since we could still recall a rather horrific lost-luggage experience from a couple of decades ago that had first set us on our policy of carry-on-only — I pulled out a five and handed it over. The skycap thanked us (with all the sincerity of a Soprano bag man collecting protection money) and we went on our way.
I’m happy to report that our bags went the same way we did, but I felt so used.