Sunday, 15 November 2020

7 questions with a Singapore Airlines pilot, cabin crew and air sommelier

Ever wondered what two planes do when they meet each other in the sky; the number of local flowers that appear on the batik design of the Singapore Airlines (SIA) iconic sarong kebaya uniform; or whether air sommeliers can enjoy a glass of wine onboard the aircraft once they’ve completed a meal service?

In the lead-up to Discover Your Singapore Airline’s Inside Singapore Airlines experience – which runs over two weekends, the 21st and 22nd of November and the 28th and 29th of November – we posed the same seven questions to an SIA pilot, cabin crew and air sommelier to learn more about their jobs and give readers a glimpse of what they can expect at the event, which has received overwhelming support and was fully booked nine hours after registration opened.

Singapore airlines inside SIA training centre
Get a behind-the-scenes look at SIA’s training area

The Inside Singapore Airlines tour offers a rare peek into the SIA Training Centre (STC), allowing participants to immerse themselves in the world of SIA trainees and staff through guided tours, activities and curated experiences for all ages.​ Besides learning more about the history and evolution of the airline and its ongoing sustainability efforts, you’ll have the chance to take part in activities such as making “roses” out of batik cloth and balloon shaping.

Grooming workshop

For an additional fee, participants can also sign up for a junior cabin crew and junior pilot experience, flight simulator training session, wine appreciation workshop, grooming workshop and more. All participants will also receive a limited-edition souvenir to take home with them as a memento of the event.

If you did not get a slot for the experience, fret not and read on to find out what goes behind being an SIA pilot, cabin crew and air sommelier.

Hennie Chin SIA cabin crew
Hennie Chin

Hennie Chin, chief stewardess

What made you decide to become a cabin crew?

An old colleague of mine in an accounting firm convinced me to join her for the SIA cabin crew recruitment call, and I was fortunate to be shortlisted for an interview. On the day of the interview, I was hesitant to go as I was a tad nervous and did not want to step out of my comfort zone. However, my spouse encouraged me to go and just enjoy the experience since I wasn’t that interested anyway. I did go in the end, without any stress, passed through all the stages and got selected! I really have my husband to thank – because of his great motivation, I ended up in this job, which I love passionately.

Can you take us through your training to get to where you are today?

Being a cabin crew, we are trained to do more than serve meals with a smile. We are safety ambassadors, fire fighters, first aiders and life savers during emergencies. Additionally, it is important to have warmth, sincerity and a good listening ear.

To be honest, I was a bit stressed during my training, as I didn’t know that it was going to be that tough. But once I adapted – and thanks to the support of those around me – I started to enjoy the training period. I learned how to open up and conquered many fears, such as jumping from aircraft escape slides; jumping into water from a height of at least five metres; performing CPR; and shouting evacuation commands. I also had to remember plenty of procedures pertaining to safety, security, services and much more.

Although I was not the best trainee in my batch, this job has helped me develop into the person I am today. After the training, I became more confident, sociable, independent and professional. Today, I am also a mentor, helping and guiding the newer crew by sharing experiences, company procedures and product knowledge.

What are three important qualities you need to do your job and why?

First, you need happiness and humility. I believe that to be a cabin crew, you must enjoy your job and meeting different kinds of people. When I’m happy and motivated, I always look forward to my flights and give my best. Humility is also a must. Regardless of seniority and rank, you should always remember where you started from and have mutual respect for your colleagues.

The next is empathy. Each time I encounter a difficult situation, I will try to put myself in another person’s shoes first. When I know how they feel, I can then better understand how to provide the appropriate service.

Finally, responsibility: to have integrity in everything that you do. You must be able to follow guidelines and standard operating procedures as much as possible. You also must be alert and have good situational awareness, so that you can react fast and accurately when the need arises.

Can you tell us about your most interesting experience on the job? 

Life in SIA pretty much guarantees interesting experiences. One incident that is etched into my memory is of a pregnant lady who had serious abdominal pains. This was about two hours before we landed in Singapore, and she was travelling with her son and her mother. The pain was so unbearable that she passed out while I was helping her to the seat, and her mother broke down and cried incessantly. We had to think and act fast. We calmed down the family, assisted the doctor who availed himself to help and eventually diverted the flight to the nearest destination.

The teamwork and camaraderie I witnessed inspired me to always be ready for the unexpected. After we reached Singapore, we got news that the lady and her unborn child were saved. Despite the serious complications, it was the quick thinking and actions of the flight crew, together with the doctors, that made a difference that day.

What is your favourite or the most rewarding aspect of your job?

A couple of years back, I was privileged to be selected to be part of the Cabin Crew Special Duties Scheme (a short ground-stint attachment with various division departments). It was exciting as my attachment coincided with the launch of some new products and fleet. I was able to study the new seats and beds, so that my fellow attachment colleagues and I could in turn demonstrate and transfer the knowledge to the thousands of crew members who visited the mock-up (which you’ll get to see during the tour).

Can you give us a fun fact about being a cabin crew that many people may not know about?

Most people know that our iconic sarong kebaya was refined by French haute couture designer Pierre Balmain in 1968. However, a lesser-known piece of trivia is that there are about eight local flowers (including the Aquatic Ginger, Common Dianella and Malayan Ixora) in the batik design on our sarong kebaya. See if you can spot them!

What can people look forward to at the Inside SIA tour?

STC is more than just a place to train our crew – it is also full of history, beautiful memories and friendships. Visiting the mock-ups, training pool, slides and aircraft doors first-hand is an opportunity that does not present itself often.

My personal favourite is the junior cabin crew experience, which is an activity for parents with kids. Children are given an express intensive training session – starting with a grooming class and service briefing – before they get to serve their parents in the mock-up cabin. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is priceless and will be very meaningful for families. Remember to take many pictures!

Daniel Brian Neo SIA cabin crew
Daniel Brian Neo

Daniel Brian Neo, inflight manager and air sommelier

What made you decide to become an air sommelier?

It was a natural progression, with the combination of support from the company and influence from my peers. It began with the basic knowledge of alcohol and wines I received during my training as a cabin crew.

After acquiring the fundamentals, we had the option to learn more through self-directed courses that SIA offers their staff. I also joined the cabin crew-exclusive Wine Appreciation Group (affectionately known as WAG), where we were able to learn more about wines through related events and master classes.

It was through these avenues and interactions with cabin crew who were passionate about wines that my interest grew. When the position of air sommelier opened up, I applied for it and was eventually selected for the programme.

Can you take us through your training to get to where you are today?

Once selected for the air sommelier programme, we go through a 12-month process of acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge to fulfil our roles. This includes wine service etiquette; wine and food matching; in-depth knowledge of wine varieties and regions; and more tastings to sharpen our palates. Everything culminates in a final assessment that requires us to demonstrate an understanding of key concepts and theories, before being certified as an air sommelier for SIA. Additionally, all sommeliers need to attain a Level 3 Award in wines from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), generally regarded as one of the world’s leading providers of wine education.

What are three important qualities you need to do your job and why?

In addition to the duties required of all cabin crew, air sommeliers pay more attention to wine-related functions, such as identifying suitable wine and main course pairings and ensuring the wines are chilled to the appropriate temperature.

With that in mind, I believe that three important qualities are: being open-minded to taste as widely as possible, to acquaint ourselves with different grape varieties and styles of wines that are available; being inquisitive and acquiring as much information on the wines that we have tasted; and being willing to share the knowledge we have regarding wine and its evolving trends. These qualities will allow us to better engage our passengers onboard.

Can you tell us about your most interesting experience on the job?

On one occasion, a passenger travelling in First Class, upon realising I was a wine sommelier from my sommelier badge worn on the left lapel of my jacket, engaged me in a discussion of the wines we serve onboard. It turned out that he was an ardent supporter of SIA and followed our news closely.

We had just refreshed our First-Class wine list and had started serving Grand Cru red wine from Burgundy. The passenger had a tasting of the Grand Cru while I answered queries he had about the wine.

Later I found out that the passenger had invited the entire crew for a meal during our layover at the station in appreciation of the service he received during the flight. It was definitely a team effort, and I was humbled to contribute to his positive experience with SIA in my capacity as an air sommelier.

What is your favourite or the most rewarding aspect of your job?

The most rewarding aspect is putting into practise the skills and knowledge acquired during my air sommelier training to better engage passengers and enhance their overall in-flight experience.

Can you give us a fun fact about being an air sommelier that many people may not know about?

Annual proficiency is required by air sommeliers to maintain our certification. It consists of a theory section, which tests us on our wine knowledge and current wine trends, as well as a practical component, where we are blind-served one red and one white wine. This means that we will are not given any defining information about the wines and have to correctly identify its characteristics. Also, the distinct difference between being a regular wine sommelier in the trade and an air sommelier with SIA is that we are unable to drink onboard the aircraft!

What can people look forward to at the Inside SIA tour?

This is a unique opportunity to discover the history, training and service DNA of our crew. The add-on wine appreciation segment will allow you to have an exclusive insight into SIA’s wine programme, as well as the chance to taste wines served in our premium classes, led by our very own air sommeliers.

Captain Gopala Subramaniam

Gopala Subramaniam, deputy chief pilot

What made you decide to become a pilot?

Like many children, I had an innate interest in aeroplanes. I was fortunate enough to have a relative who was involved in aviation and encouraged me to act on my interest. The rest, as they say, is history.

Can you take us through your training to get to where you are today?

I completed two and a half years of ab-initio training, which was sponsored by Singapore Airlines, before I became a first officer. After 8.5 years as first officer, I was promoted to captain in 2004. Currently, I am the deputy chief pilot A330/A350.

What are three important qualities you need to do your job and why?

A pilot must first and foremost remain calm and collected so that they can think clearly and stay focused on flying the plane, even in situations of extreme pressure. A pilot must also have the continuing desire to learn. As pilots, we are life-long learners, continually quenching our thirst for aviation knowledge and routinely keeping abreast with the latest safety information. A pilot must also be a good leader. As a pilot, you need to set the tone for the entire crew, which requires you to read people and situations, decide on the best course of action and then communicate it in a way that inspires your team.

Can you tell us about your most interesting experience on the job?

I once had the privilege of visiting the Airbus manufacturing plant in Toulouse, France, to collect one of our new aircraft. This afforded me an opportunity to test-fly the plane and tour their manufacturing facilities. For an aviation buff like me, it was like being a child in a candy store!

What is your favourite or the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I take great pride in providing excellent service to our customers, so my favourite aspect of my job is whenever I have been able to help passengers in need. Examples of this would be ensuring that a prompt departure allows our passengers to reach their destination and connection flights or dealing effectively and safely with unexpected situations.

Can you give us a fun fact about being a pilot that many people may not know about?

Unlike most professions, pilots are regularly tested and assessed on the job. We undergo simulator checks every six months. In addition, our health is closely monitored, and the data from every one of our flights is carefully analysed.

As far the average day goes, one of the beauties of being a pilot is that each day looks very different, depending on your flight schedule. On a typical flight day, however, I will try to get ample sleep prior to departure to ensure that I am well-rested. I then take a couple of hours to prepare for the flight by collating the necessary safety information and review the on-route weather. I then report at the airport at least one hour before departure to go over additional documentation and flight preparations. These days, most of this is provided electronically and available to me on a company iPad.

Interestingly, the pilot and co-pilot are not allowed to have the same meal onboard to minimise the risk of both having food poisoning. And just like driving, when we meet another plane in the sky, we may flash the landing lights to say hello!

What can people look forward to at the Inside SIA tour?

You will get a chance to see the simulators that we use during our training, and you will be able to chat with some of our pilots. You will also be able to take a glance behind the scenes of our safety and cabin evacuation training. You might also learn that pilots in fact only work with the same set of crew a few times in their career, if at all.

SEE ALSO: Singapore Airlines’ Restaurant A380 opens its doors to welcome a unique on-ground dining experience

The post 7 questions with a Singapore Airlines pilot, cabin crew and air sommelier appeared first on SilverKris.

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