Practically everyone I know carries their bag onto the plane these days to avoid having to pay a checked baggage fee. (As an aside – if you are one of those people dragging on a gigantic bag plus a laptop plus a backpack plus your purse plus your pillow plus your stuffed kitty plus . . . KNOCK IT OFF. People who lug half of the contents of their bedrooms on board are a freaking pain in the ass.)
If you can’t bear paying to check a bag, then PLEASE carry on a bag that is actually the right size to fit under your seat or in the bin with other people’s bags. Alternatively, you can fly Southwest (no checked bag fee) or consider getting a credit card through the airline you travel on most frequently. I more than make up the yearly fee for my MileagePlus Visa (through United and Chase) by being able to check one bag free on each flight. This saves me from standing on my tiptoes, trying to hoist a bag into the last available six inches in the bin over my seat – and it’s worth every cent to this short, old traveler.
As for tipping, if you check a bag at the airport’s curbside check-in, always tip the skycap at least $2 a bag. If I have a really large bag – and especially if the bag and I have to make connections – I’ll bump that up to $5. I’m sure there are plenty of big spenders who tip more than that, but I think it’s safe to say that those amounts are a respectable starting place.
Why tip the skycap? Well, I am knocking on wood so the airline fairies don’t get me for saying this out loud, but . . . so far, in more years of travel than I care to admit, I have only had a bag delayed twice – and never lost one. I believe that the nice guys at curbside check-in are the reason why my bags go where they’re supposed to go. I’m nice. I take care of them, they take care of me . . . it works out for both of us.
Getting help, getting around
Not everyone uses assistance getting around inside the airport. If you do, these next thoughts are for you.
At my home airport, Cleveland Hopkins, there are little golf cart-type vehicles that will take people to the gates if they have trouble walking or are loaded down with babies and bags or whatever. Anyone can just hop on and the nice driver will take you wherever you need to go.
A few years back I was traveling with a favorite uncle to my nephew’s wedding. He and my mother needed the golf cart to get to a far gate, so I flagged one down after we went through security. Imagine my surprise when we were dropped off at the far end of the C Gates and my uncle said he did not “believe” in tipping the driver because the airport was paying for the service. I tipped the driver for all of us but, as you may have guessed, gave my uncle an earful after the cart left.
Here’s the thing. Take a look at the drivers in your airport sometime. Chances are they are mostly older folks. I am guessing they are retired people who can’t live on social security alone and are trying to pick up a few extra bucks.
Alternatively, they could just be super-friendly people who would rather drive strangers around the airport all day than say, play golf or sit on the couch at home watching “Judge Judy.” I can’t say for sure, but I’ll lay odds that they’re doing it FOR THE MONEY. If I have to spend my retirement years driving people from one gate to another at Hopkins, I hope you’ll tip me. I guarantee you I won’t be doing it because I’m such a people person.
Give the driver a dollar, a smile and a big thank you.
About wheelchair assistance
And finally, airports around the world provide a complimentary wheelchair with an attendant, for anyone who requests this assistance. It doesn’t matter if you’re elderly and arthritic, or a kid with a broken ankle, or are just pretending to be sick because you don’t want to walk from security to Gate Q110 (they are too discreet to insist that you describe and prove that you have a legitimate disability).
These nice people will meet you at the door of the airport, help you check your bags and get quickly through security, and deliver you to your gate. I don’t know when the last time was that you pushed anyone in a wheelchair anywhere – but that’s hard work! Tip handsomely, please – and smile, and say thank you.
When it comes to tipping, I say when in doubt, err on the side of generosity. Whenever you wonder if you should leave $4 or $5, think of what a difference that extra dollar may make to someone else. Include a smile and a “thank you” whenever you’re face to face with the person who served you.
And finally, for more information on tipping in Europe, you can count on Rick Steves for great advice, as always. I’m not sure where you can learn what’s customary in other parts of the world, but I’ll bet if you Google “tipping in Thailand,” you’ll get a number of sites offering practical information.
Happy travels . . . and be nice!