SINGAPORE — Retaining your title as Asia’s Best Airline takes commitment, dedication and bravery. Just ask the young flight attendant standing in the open doorway of a Boeing 777 mockup who is about to take a two-storey plunge into a giant wave pool.
The young woman — in full uniform and wearing a bright yellow life vest — doesn’t hesitate. She throws herself into the pool, then swims to a giant life raft, where she lifts her body into the oversized rubber dingy.
I applaud her herculean effort and she flashes me an exhausted smile.
She has completed one of the most gruelling tests required of recruits who hope to become one of the famed Singapore Girls — the most recognized and decorated flight crew in the industry thanks to their unique kebaya uniforms and commitment to service.
Above: Before becoming a famed Singapore Girl, prospects go through rigorous training, even hair grooming.
The path to a coveted career with Singapore Airlines starts at the company’s multi-million dollar high-tech training centre located near this island nation’s fabulous Changi International Airport, the carrier’s home base.
Singapore Airlines’ flight attendants — there are over 8,000 of them and the airline still refers to them as stewardesses — are put through a rigorous 14-week training course where they are taught every aspect of the job by qualified instructors, most of whom have spent decades in the sky with the airline.
The reward for those who graduate is to be outfitted in the kebaya, a sarong-style garment worn by women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and parts of the Philippines. The kebaya , which is used widely in the company’s marketing campaigns, has served as the airline’s uniform for female flight attendants since 1972. Males wear well-tailored suits.
During their training, recruits are taught the three “S’s” of the job — service, security and safety. The company also puts a high priority on grooming, so both male and female recruits are taught how to style their hair and how to properly put on makeup — it takes the female flight attendants about 1.5 hours to get ready for a flight and they have to be in full uniform two hours before boarding.
The grooming instructor tells me male flight crew are limited to “gentleman’s haircut” — no dreadlocks or rock star long hair allowed here — while the females usually wear their hair tied in a bun.
Because water in the different locations the airline flies to can have an adverse affect on hair, the makeup artist even shows the recruits tricks so they can achieve the uniformed look set down by the airline.
Above: Safety is a high priority at Singapore airlines and mockups help flight crew learn evacuation techniques.
The newest female flight attendants are outfitted in blue custom-made kebayas. Longer serving flight crew get green, red and purple uniforms — the latter is reserved for senior flight managers. Interestingly, the colour of the uniforms matches the colour of Singapore’s money — i.e. $5 note is green, $10 red and $50 purple.
Graduates sign a five-year contract with the airline, which operates a fleet of long-range aircraft — the youngest in the industry, by the way. The contracts are reviewed every five years and maintaining the high standards set down by the airline regarding personal appearance is one of the main requirements for rehiring.
Recruits are also shown how to properly serve meals to passengers — all classes in the aircraft are treated equally — and some take courses in the training centre’s wine room, run by a certified sommelier, so they can help passengers select the vintage that pairs best with their gourmet meal.
On two recent flights with Singapore Airlines, I was struck by how engaging the flight attendants are and how quickly they respond to passenger requests.
What really tests the recruits’ determination to become a Singapore Airlines flight attendant, though, is the safety requirements. Besides the water test, crew members have to jump down rubber chutes used in the Airbus 380 and Boeing 777 — the main aircraft employed by the carrier — and are taught how to take command in a crisis situation.
Once the recruits pass all the tests, they can start flying with an airline that is regularly recognized as the best in Asia — and frequently the world — by industry watchdogs.
The training centre is also outfitted with state-of-the-art flight simulators where new pilots are trained and senior pilots take refresher courses. Singapore Airlines also trains pilots for other airlines. Singapore Airlines invests millions each year training their staff and the end result is that passengers are treated to one of the most pleasant experiences in the sky. On my recent 10-hour flight from Singapore to Tokyo, for example, the service experience was so good I wished we could fly around for another few hours. •