Friday, January 12, 2007

When is a tip not a tip?

The ground under the traveller's feet is shifting at warp speed. Before you embark on a bargain trip, consider this:

Fares have been kept low by ruthless pruning on the travel operators' part. First the in-flight meals went, and the pillow and blanket. Next, you paid extra to book a particular seat, and some more to get a little extra leg-room. Then miscellaneous taxes were surreptitiously added to the tantalizingly low offer price, bringing a "bait" price of 89 pounds sterling to just under 200 pounds.

What's left to cut? People, that's who.

Some airlines pay their desk staff minimum wage and cut back on staffing so there aren't enough personnel at check-in. The ones that are there figure they're not paid enough to take grief from the public--or to help them when flights get cancelled or delayed. Airline rules mandate a hotel when your flight's cancelled or delayed overnight--but just try getting one.

Enter the bribe. A tip, offered up-front when the going gets rough, sweetens the day a little for harrassed staff and taxi despatchers, and can make the difference between your sleeping on the airport floor and a clean bed in the right city.

I discovered this quite by chance, asking the despatcher at the head of a long taxi line, with the clock ticking, for change for a twenty so I could give him a tip. Immediately we had a cab. Our bags were whipped into the trunk and we were off. Incredibly, we made a flight fifty miles away that took off in an hour and a half--and this despite another line-up there to check in, and excruciatingly painstaking security.

So--word to the wise: Pack a handful of twenties when you travel. Remember the working stiff on minimum wage who's enabling you to ride for that low fare. Just as you now pay for your own in-flight meal, you are now going to be subsidizing the pay of the airline staff.

The difference between a tip and a bribe? Timing--and discretion, that's all.

And this in the Land of the Free, fast becoming a banana republic.

No comments: