Tipping is not a city in China

I have a question. As a rather new pilot, I am befuddled with the etiquette and strategy of tipping line staff at FBO’s. I wonder what peoples practices are. I get the feeling the reputation of GA pilots is as skinflints. What would be the effect if all Cirrus pilots were to invest $5-10 per flight in establishing a different reputation?

I was struck by a comment in an AvWeb column reminicing about days as a line boy, “The corporate guys were nice, they always tipped…”


I often tip a couple of bucks to the linefolk. They’re usually surprised and delighted!
It would be very cool if Cirrus pilots got the rep of being the friendly and appreciative pilots.



Most of my flying is in and out of smaller airports where “self service” is the order of the day. Cushy FBOs with leather chairs, meeting rooms, and warm cookies are not part of my usual itenerary.

Could you more experienced “big city” folks explain that a little - who, where, how much are you tipping? I do like to share a little happiness where I can, but I sometimes feel a little confused by tipping etiquette.



Roger that! [;)]

I have the same habit… and I hope for the same outcome.


Quick, attentive, happy to see you attitude, a little extra effort gets a tip just like in a restaurant. I was a line guy for awhile too. They are working for pennies and usually because they are trying to get into aviation.

I don’t want to sound like the proverial skinflint noted in an earlier post but, I have to ask - why tip? I know that we already tip the waiter/waitress, the taxi driver, the barber/hairdresser and too many others I can’t remember right now. It was (I believe) a practice started to recognize “exceptional” service because the provider was being paid a normal and presumably acceptable wage to deliver the service. Now its viewed by many as an entitlement even when the service they deliver is lousy. How many of us leave a tip in fear? I’m not saying we shouldn’t but its a slippery slope and I get frustrated by the whole concept. Just my TCW.

Interesting thoughts. I probably am a skin flint, but I have never thought of it as such. In all my flights with other pilots, I have never seen or had a discussion on the topic. My experiences typically fall into one of three categories:

  • Self service: 'nuff said.

  • Full service small independent FBO: I don’t usually tip if all I get is gas. If I get some extra service, I will tip $5-20 depending upon what they did. If I get a crew car, I either put more gas in than I used or leave extra on the dash and let the office staff know.

  • Full Service Chain (Signature, Million Air, etc.) Same as above. I won’t tip for the fill, and given the price I pay, I expect the very courteous service. As for the crew car, I offer to pay for gas upon my return.

Anytime someone goes above and beyond, I think I am a good tipper. Any time I get the stereotypical bad small FBO ‘tired old grunt service,’ I won’t tip.

Last note: I always try to pick up some gas to pay to keep the lights on, especially at the small Mom and Pop shops. They provide me a service just by being there and I want them to be there the next time I arrive.


In reply to:

I have to ask - why tip?

Well, another reason to tip is to differentiate yourself from others. If most GA drivers don’t and Cirrus drivers do, then when a Cirrus calls on final eyes will brighten and tails will wag. So perhaps we can begin a virtuous cycle leading to exceptional service.


I am pretty much in agreement with you, Richard. I am perfectly willing to tip generously when it has some impact on the quality of service rendered by someone whose compensation is primarily from tips. However, I frequently go to airports where I am forced to deal with poor service and line personnel that couldn’t care less about my plane. Many times the plane is fueled while I am gone, so I wouldn’t know who to tip. And has anyone been to a Signature Flight Support lately? In Savannah, GA, they bought out the only competitor on the field and immediately raised the fuel costs to $3.30-$3.40/gallon plus overnight parking fees unless you buy a bunch of fuel. Our company turbo prop pilot told me they were getting charged $3.50/gallon for jet fuel! There is no place to park except at Signature, so they get a shot at every pilot that lands. I know this is not the lineman’s fault, but his tip is going into Signature’s pocket, they can certainly afford to pay him a decent wage at those fuel prices. Even after numerous complaints to the airport commission about the exhorbitant prices, Signature still stands firm.

Signature’s tactic is no different than the high priced Radisson hotel I stayed in (also in Savannah, GA). They ONLY have valet parking, and you have to pay another $13/night for a place for your car to sleep. When the valet brings your car down, he also expects a tip. What a racket!

Like Richard, I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but the tipping thing is now taken for granted by too many.


Tip- To Insure Prompt Service- a slang term of art meaning, gratuity which means, something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service.

TIPS,used to be given before a service was rendered. Like at the start of a meal “grease the hand for a little special treatment” As time went on people would hold the TIP to the end of a meal or service to insure its promptness.

I worked for tips in after school growing up and I know I gave that extra service expecting a little bit extra from the customer.

Now that I am “older and maybe a little wiser” I like to command proper service from people and since I expect to tip well I expect good service. It for me is a mind set. As a result I normally get good service at most places.

I think it was a saying in an old Woody Allen movie “Don’t ever feel sorry for a man that owns an airplane”

Spread a little joy around.


Uh, maybe I AM the proverbial skinflint, but I do not regularly practice tipping at FBOs. I HAVE tipped the line guys when service has been exceptional (like the time I asked for a pull-out at PDK, only to get to the FBO to find it raining and my plane still in the hanger. When I asked why they hadn’t pulled it out, they replied that they were waiting to load the plane and for me and my pax to get in the plane first, so we wouldn’t have to go out on the ramp in the rain!)

I also make it a habit to give small christmas gifts to the line folks at my home FBO, and I remember the birthdays of the folks who really try to help me out.

On the flip side, I try to make sure I buy at least SOME avgas everywhere I land, regardless the cost. I figure it helps to defray the cost of garbage disposal, cleaning the bathrooms, keeping the weather computer running, and the phone lines working, as well as paying the line guys to do their jobs.

I don’t disagree and I think it is very important to keep the small guy running. But that prompts another question on the topic. No matter the venue do you offer a tip to the OWNER. Given that tipping was/is usually reserved for the employee, what happens if the owner is the provider. Should he/ she be treated differently? Another thought, if the receptionist calls you a taxi or whatever (above and beyond), do you slide her a tip? If not why not? Is it because we fear the line guy will cause a problem with the plane if we don’t? Richard

Interestingly enough on my way to the COPA fly in at Nantucket I stopped in New Bedford Mass and pulled up at Sandpiper on the basis of strong recommendations at AIRNAV. The service was superb and the lineman offered to drive me to my motel. The next morning he picked me up and delivered me to my plane. I offered him $10 but he refused and told me he was the owner of the FBO and only asked that I tell my friends. Consider yourselves all told.
I usually tip the line people when they take my bags in or provide any service other than simply parking me or fueling the plane.

Yes and what happens when it becomes expected and the service is standard or even less so. I agree that exceptional service begets exceptional treatment/compensation, etc and I do it. But it is a subjective determination and is mistaken when considered as a policy. My final TCW, I promise.

In reply to:

I usually tip the line people when they take my bags in or provide any service other than simply parking me or fueling the plane.

That’s my practice too. The truth is that GA pilots do have a reputation as skinflints, and I am part of the contingent here that is happy to distinguish the Cirrus group. The cost is a tiny differential in the overall huge cost of flying, so for me, personally, it’s worthwhile. Also, from my own days in the low-wage service sector, I know that whenever anyone who’s relatively better off shows some small generosity to someone relatively worse off, the worse-off person appreciates it. Cirrus owners by definition are financially better off than FBO line workers, so again I view this as a very small “social comity” tax. Just my view and practice, no recommendation for anyone else.

Sounds like a lecture but I think you’re missing the point. Since I have a few years on you, I’ll stand on my earlier comments.

Sorry, did not want it to sound like a lecture. But you did as “Why Tip” in your post. So thats why I tip.