With my printed-at-home boarding pass in hand, I checked my lone piece of luggage at the curbside counter. The whole process took less than two minutes – I set the bag on the scale, gave my boarding pass and ID to the baggage handler, waited a moment, and then received my boarding pass, ID and baggage claim ticket, all in a convenient little folder. With a deliberate "Thank you, sir," I was on my way. Or so I thought.
"Sir," the gentleman who handled my bag and paperwork said, looking me straight in the eyes. "We depend on your generosity for our livlihood." I patted my pockets, turned my hands, and said, "I don’t have any cash – sorry." "Really?" the baggage handler responded, incredulously. "Sorry. When traveling, all I use is credit cards." And with that I walked away.
This experience left me wondering about my bag, the economy, propriety, and convenience.
My bag. Because I didn’t give this man a tip, was my bag going to end up in Miami instead of Minneapolis? Or, perhaps, was it destined for an unofficial security check by the luggage handler? I had an uneasy feeling about leaving my bag with someone whose livlihood I just nelected to support. I doubt anything out of the ordinary will happen to my bag, but can I be sure? He didn’t seem particularly happy about my lack of cash . . .
The economy. Does this baggage handler really depend on travelers’ tips for his livlihood? Is his a union or non-union job, and is he making a living wage, or struggling with the unsustainable minimum wage? In an era when more and more middle and upper class folks use plastic money instead of paper money for even the smallest of purchases, how many workers are missing out on once-dependable tips?
Propriety. When is it appropriate to tip? Not to be cheap, but I didn’t realize that the work this man did – two minutes of paper processing my and a ten-foot toss of my bag from the scale to a conveyer belt – was tip-worthy. As a child I recall my parents tipping anyone who helped us load or unload our car, or haul bags from our car to a counter, hotel lobby or hotel room. But the work this man did today didn’t seem of the same caliber.
Convenience. When traveling for business I prefer not to spend any cash, if I can avoid it. Putting all my expenses on a credit card makes it easy for me to track my expenses and submit receits for reimbursement. And the way I travel, I rarely need cash. Of course, in certain cases, my personal convenience can run up against another person’s livlihood, and that is not desirable.
Perhaps I need to become more aware of and sensitive to the cash economy and the number of workers who depend on it for their livlihood, and change my habits accordingly. More importantly, however, we should advocate for livable, sustainable wages for all workers and minimize the need for workers to depend on the unreliability of human generosity.