Let me start by saying- I don’t quite think so- but maybe. I fly regularly, and consider it a privilege every time. In an attempt to make the flying experience more social, warm and symbiotic- I like to bring gifts for flight crews whenever possible. My standard arsenal is a bottle of booze and some chocolates or other sweet snacks, dependent on location. It seems to bring far more smiles and happiness than anything else- so I stick with it. Last night a crew returned part of my gift- leaving me with mixed feelings.

I was flying on Qatar Airways, who I fly with very frequently and rate as highly as can be rated. To be clear-service  was excellent and I  respect the  purser for the decision, I just find it conversationally interesting.  in Doha I found some lovely chocolates and some good vodka, and did my usual. In all previous instances (even on Middle Eastern Airlines) no one has ever said anything but immense thanks for the gesture. I don’t believe it happens all that regularly.

Update: After hearing from a variety of present and former Qatar employees- I now understand just how strict their internal policies are regarding alcohol, fraternizing, 11PM evening curfews and potential for instant dismissal. It’s entirely understandable why someone did not want to risk their job in this situation. In the future, Qatari and other ME3 crews will get sweets only. 

Yes- we’re talking about Doha, where public consumption of alcohol is not ok, but drinks are consumed in the lounge, in the airport grounds and in restaurants, bars and hotels all throughout the city. Qatar is definitely NOT a dry airline. Most of the crews are not actually Qatari- and many of them are from areas or cultures where drinking is widely accepted. I would go as far as to say that most of them drink- officially or not. In previous years I stuck to bringing chocolates only, but in recent years- as I’ve gotten to know many flight crews better, they have remarked that a bottle of something to enjoy the night in their destination (after duty) makes the ideal present.

So last night, upon boarding I presented the gifts in a sealed bag. I received a warm mention of thanks from the purser and carried on. Shortly after take off, the purser traveled down the aisle to my seat with bag in hand. Uh oh, something is up I quickly surmised. “Sir, I’d love to return part of your gift”. “Um…ok, no problem”. The crew member proceeded to open the bag, hand me back the vodka and retain the chocolates. She was complimentary – but it felt very awkward. More so- because I had just spoken to a crew member who was enthusiastic about one of the new wine offerings on their menu and the crew was clearly a (mostly) alcohol friendly group. To be clear-this was not for them to consume on board, but rather in their leisure time at destination.

This was a first, so I just don’t quite know how to feel. I won’t take offense, the world keeps moving and people are just trying to stay employed – but it was an interesting encounter. I absolutely respect cultural differences, beliefs and ways of life- and if the purser was of a faith that does not tolerate alcohol- I accept responsibility for the unintended offense- but the gift was not solely for her- it was a gift to the crew- who I can 100% confirm were not all of faiths or backgrounds which do not enjoy alcohol. The purser mentioned that she didn’t want the crew to be drunk, which I absolutely respect and believe is important. No one wants drunk or hungover service, I’ve had plenty of it. But adults are adults, and one bottle amongst 20+ adult crew members seems innocuous enough for a night off duty in London (where drinks are expensive). I guess I’m just surprised that a more discrete move was not undertaken. I would never know what happened to the bottle after we landed. I feel as if a long standing tradition has lost a bit of its luster, but see both sides. People just want to keep their jobs- so no, it wasn’t rude- I guess. 

How do you feel about this situation?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation

24 Comments

  1. I don’t think it’s appropriate to buy alcohol for any crew – they are not allowed to drink on duty (rightly so) and how else could they ‘share’ your gift. For all they know, you could have been an undercover official or airline employee, so I think it was only appropriate to return the gift. I find chocolates or candy are always well received, so wouldn’t take offense at this return.

  2. I don’t think it was rude to return alcohol on a Qatari flight. I am surprised that any flight crew would accept alcohol from a passenger on any airline given the possible ramifications if they were caught leaving the aircraft with it in their possession.

    Stick to chocolates and, if you must, make them the alcohol filled ones.

  3. Not everyone drinks or likes drinking. I wouldn’t be offended.

    My question for u, who do u usually pick/directed to give the gifts to? entire crew or the one that serves u most or main purser?

  4. I work for a well known long haul UK airline as a Flight Manager and have met quite a few cabin crew and pilots working for Qatar Airways. From what they have all said about their experiences working there, I would not be surprised if whilst your gift was very welcome (what a nice touch by the way!) I imagine that the Purser was worried that if she accepted alcohol that she would be reprimanded by the airline. As you say, this has not been the case before, but I have heard stories of Qatar wiping peoples rosters, freezing their bank accounts and then firing them for things that you and I would consider innocuous and the airline is known for having a culture of fear somewhat amongst crews (curfews at crew accommodation, pilots and cabin crew told not to fraternise etc etc). Please try not to be offended by the actions of the Purser, I imagine she believed that she was acting in her and her crews best interests but equally I’m sure would never have wanted to offend you.

  5. No offence on either side. A lovely gift and was returned in without offence to be made. If it was thought to be an offence to give it back it wouldn’t have come back. Different strokes for different t folks. It was given with good intent and that’s the only thing we know. So on that look it was given back with good intention.
    So many reasons. Not allowed alcohol, perception of receiving, done drink alcohol, would have preferred baileys ??!!!

  6. I have been traveling to Qatar for the past 5 years and presently live here. My thoughts on your article:s.
    1) Alcohol is not an appropriate gift for a member of cabin crew for an arab airline (personally I don’t think it is appropriate for any airline).

    2) Arab airlines are very strict when it comes to to the conduct of their staff and very relaxed labour laws mean they could be dismissed instantly for any perceived minor discretion. I was on an Emirates flight once and we had to cover the cameras in the bar area to properly interact with the flight attendant.

    There will be a senior cabin crew member who would be overseeing everything, it would be his discretion whether this would be accepted or not.

    3) Alcohol is prohibited to be brought into Qatar and if they were clearing into Qatar at any point this would have them immediately sacked at the very least.

    4) Alcohol is only available in hotels in Qatar.

    5) There are exactly zero Qataris working as cabin crew members.

    6) Although the lady was not Qatari, if she was from a muslim country where alcohol was more accepted (Lebanon, Malaysia etc), it would still be rare for a female to drink alcohol, especially not vodka.

    So although she probably did appreciate the gesture, it was definitely a very high risk to her job and she probably felt very awkward and torn between being polite to a business class customer and ensuring her job.

    I would expect that a cabin crew member from any of the arab airlines would be sacked instantly for accepting alcohol and deported back to their home country.

    1. Andrew, I actually met a Qatari male flight attendant. I was shocked. Because like you, prior to this, I never met a single Qatari flight attendant ( 56 QR flights so far this year ). I always like to ask them which country they are from and he said, “Sir, I am from Qatar”. I was amazed. First and only time. That was about a month ago.

  7. I usually bring chocolates or cookies (biscuits) with me. While I think it was very nice to bring alcohol, I think that there’s too many ways to get in trouble with it (at least it would be in the US in my opinion) and the purser was right to give it back. no difference if you gave chocolate with nuts and the crew was allergic.

  8. Sometimes, gifts over a certain value have to be declared (to employer and for tax purposes), perhaps it was for that reason that she returned it or perhaps it was for credibility in her position. I wouldn’t be offended.

  9. Just damn rude!!!! A gift should be accepted whether you like it or not. It’s etiquette. Etiquette has sadly been lost in today’s grabbing and selfish society. Gilbert you are very gracious in your kind thoughts. Don’t let this odd gesture stop you offering gifts of gratitude in the future.

  10. Frankly, as a passenger, I’d prefer you didn’t give alcohol to the crew on any of the flights that I’m on, in the US or elsewhere!

  11. my wife is a chief purser for a major asian airline and thought they will accept things, they will usually throw it away. wrapped or not. company policy. and though some of the newbies will accept it, if a senior finds out, they usually get fired. they accept thank you notes all day!

  12. No big deal. Stick to the sweets….they are easily passed around. I remember seeing Emirates FA’s giddily picking out individual ones to sample, like kids! A Virgin Atlantic FA stated when we gifted the box of Godiva’s “Oh! You bought the posh ones…”. Look at it on the bright side, at least you had it for yourself when you landed.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *