Dubai duty free — a look at if flight attendants can purchase duty free whilst working

Can Cabin Crew Buy Duty Free? The Answer May Surprise You.

You may be surprised to learn that most cabin crew can buy duty-free items — sometimes even while on a flight — just like the passengers. In fact, they are often some of the best customers for duty-free shops. It’s one of the perks of the job, and cheap deals are another great reason to keep hold of your flight attendant friends!

Flight attendants also have access to some great deals on items like liquor, cigarettes, and perfume. However, the best deals are typically not found in the normal duty-free section of an aircraft. There are normally two additional methods cabin crew use to buy items below duty-free prices.

In this quick blog post, we will discuss the rules around buying duty-free items as a member of the cabin crew. We will also talk about some of the best items to purchase while in a duty-free shop, alongside what to watch out for…

Can cabin crew buy duty free on the plane?

So, can cabin crew buy duty-free items? The answer is yes! Cabin crew are allowed to purchase duty-free items while on a flight. However, there are some restrictions that they need to be aware of.

  • Some airlines add additional allowance restrictions above and beyond normal passenger limits. These are to ensure that the best stock isn’t taken by the cabin crew, and customers always receive a wide choice.
  • Cabin crew also need to make sure that they declare any duty-free items when they return to their home country. Flight attendants are not exempt from customs limits or country specific rules on bringing in items.
  • Not all flights qualify for duty-free purchases for flight attendants. Some flights — especially for European airlines operating within EU airspace — don’t qualify for duty-free purchases for crew members.
  • Some airlines entirely prohibit their cabin crew from buying duty free at all. It’s rare, but it is usually found in non-western airlines that have strong authority gradients and extensive crew behaviour guides. As an example, in 2022 Air India announced a ban on their crew from entering duty-free shops, allegedly to improve punctuality!

Behind the scenes: The secret cabin crew duty-free deals

One of the less publicised perks of the job is the ability to buy duty-free and discount merchandise at lower than normal passenger duty-free costs.

This is usually achieved in three ways:

Thomas cook flight attendant with onboard duty free bag

Airline discount

Plenty of airports around the world offer discount to any airline staff in uniform. This is normally applied on purchases from coffee shops to duty-free perfumes — on top of the normal tax saving.

Most airports offer around 10%, but some destinations are famous for up to 40% crew discounts, which, coupled with the already cheap price, means many flight attendants will seek these airports out near holiday season!

Staff shops

Ever wondered what happens to the things that don’t sell that well from the unique collection of watches, jewellery, and airline specific makeup and perfume that gets sold throughout the flight? At the end of the season, these duty-free products normally find their way back to the crew only staff store.

Often located in the airport employee only part of airport terminals, these staff shops sell the duty-free merchandise once sold onboard at even bigger discounts. It’s not uncommon for perfumes or makeup sets to eventually be sold for under half the original price.

Equally, at the end of the year, staff shops frequently have a big clear out, resulting in even cheaper deals — perfect for holiday season!

Discounted miniatures

At the end of a long day at work, sometimes you just want to relax with a glass of wine. Many airlines allow their flight attendants to do that through a mechanism typically called staff discount, or crew purchase schemes.

These schemes allow flight attendants and pilots to purchase a small amount of the beverages that they offer passengers from the bar at the end of a flight — at hugely discounted prices.

Schemes vary, but often there is one blanket price set for each category of drink: beers, wine, miniatures, and soft drinks.

As a result, at some airlines that serve ultra-premium drinks to their first class passengers, flight attendants can buy miniature bottles of luxury spirits or high-end wines for a fraction of their normal price.

Miniature luxury spirit bottles from aircraft duty free stores

Summary

In summary, there are multiple ways that cabin crew can buy duty free:

  • Airport duty-free shops
  • Onboard via the duty-free shopping trolley
  • Cheaper drinks directly from the aircraft bar
  • Staff-only airport stores

However, while there are many great deals on offer, and plenty of staff only schemes — like direct purchases from the aircraft bar — cabin crew are not exempt from normal passenger duty limits. 

In fact, some airlines place even stricter duty-free limits on the crew than are applied to passengers. As the, now sacked, flight attendant at Irish carrier Air Lingus who tried to buy 2,000 (instead of the limit of 40) duty-free cigarettes found out!

Visiting duty-free stores around the world means cabin crew have plenty of opportunities to look for bargains. However, with further discounts applied to leftover duty-free items at employee only airport stores, it’s often best to wait until they are back at home base to get the best discounts!

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Alissa
Alissa

Flyingbynumber’s Resident Senior Flight Attendant — Alissa

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