The Envelope Please…

September 25, 2014
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“This is your captain speaking: If you were pleased with your flight, I have left envelopes on the cockpit door for your convenience. Your tips are greatly appreciated.”

Friendly dinosaur Marriott made a huge announcement a few days ago: from now on, no matter what kind of Marriott product you use, whether it is a $1,000 luxury suite at the JW Marriott Essex House, or a $49 a night Courtyard in Boise, you will be finding a small envelope on/near your pillow. “The Envelope Please” program has the short blurb “Thanks for staying at Marriott Hotels. Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts”, stamped in a box is the name of the maid in charge of cleaning your room. I don’t know about you, but I was groomed to tip the housekeeper ever since I was a boy. Some people, on the other hand, may get confused: “With the non-smoking rooms you can’t steal the ashtrays anymore, and now, on top of that, they want my money. Marriott, you’re making my world topsy turvy.”

This is darn right, something is happening that should not: the service industry, including airlines, hotels, tour operators and restaurants, is gradually shifting the burden of payroll directly onto its guests and customers.

The same friendly dinosaur Marriott has been investing a great deal of money on Capitol Hill in order to make sure any thought of a living wage would be defeated: after all, why should HE pay his maids, if WE are dumb enough to do it in his place?

The new accounting philosophy has become: there are two ways you can increase your bottom line: you can do it by “squeezing” your expenses and that includes fighting tooth and nail any concept of “living wage”, asking instead the “guest, user, public, customer” to fill the void. The other way to do it is simply to take a good look at what you sell and make sure the “gratuities” (a coincidental word with double meaning) are from now on being charged for.

Until the law gets involved.

The more conservative among us, want to minimize the role of government. Government is all for that. However our constitution also clearly states that government has to get involved when there is a need to protect the weak. I don’t know about you, but when I am asked to travel six hours on an empty stomach in a seat so narrow I cannot open my book to read, while dealing with an oversized neighbor who is spilling over the armrests and invading my space, I feel our government has to get involved: make these seats bigger, make those rows deeper, have handicapped seats for oversize people, enforce policies on personal hygiene, feed me if the flight is going to last more than 3 hours. And do not charge me for the pillow, the baggage, the carry on, the worthless earphones. And stop lying about the cost of my trip: “LAX to Honolulu R/T for $400” ends up costing me $550 once I pay for the “fuel surcharge” (what do they mean, if the plane was using air to fly, instead of kerosene, I would get a break on the price?), taxes.

How soon is it going to be that the startup airlines (those devoid of unions) start treating flight attendants as “stewardesses” again, glorified cocktail waitresses in the sky, getting paid what your local restaurant waiter gets, expecting that the rest of her salary will come as tips from airline passengers?

Don’t believe me? Check on payroll practices on RyanAir, the low-cost flyer in Europe: “stewardesses” are paid 10 euros per hour, have to purchase their own uniforms, and are not guaranteed a full schedule. Yet, with 30% unemployment in Portugal, 28% in Greece and a pretty high number in Spain, they have no problem finding volunteers. Guess how they make it appealing: like a regular waitress, your flight attendant gets a “commission” of 10% on all drinks/food she can peddle during the flight.

Mind you the 26-year-old Wharton graduate who works 75 hours a week on Wall Street is on the bandwagon: he works for tips too, except they are called bonuses are are totally out of proportion with his/her actual performance. Of course his/her $190,000 base salary will pale next to the $2.3 million bonus.

Oh, by the way, there is one line of work in which tips or bonuses have never been part of the equation, and annual salary increases are never questioned. The name of the place is Congress.

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