Perspective

What It’s Like Being An Air Stewardess In Singapore, From The Application Process To Strange Encounters

Being An Air Stewardess In Singapore

As children, we all had dreams of the jobs we’d grow up to do. Some of us longed to be firefighters or veterinarians, which often evolved from fantasies of being fairytale princesses. For Sangeeta, better known as Sangee among friends, she was always fascinated by the crew on aeroplanes and how put-together and pretty they always looked.

And while not all of us end up pursuing our dream jobs, Sangee held on to her aspiration of being an air stewardess — signing up with an airline the second she graduated. While her dreams have come true, her journey wasn’t all clear skies and smooth-sailing. We spoke to her to delve into the turbulent process that made her the air stewardess she is today, from the application to leaving the industry temporarily.

Reasons for joining the airline industry

A fresh-faced Sangee post-graduation with hopes of flying the skies

Graduating with both a diploma and degree in Communications, it seemed only natural that Sangee would take on a 9-5 type job after. However, with an interest in the service line, the gift of the gab and a deep longing to travel the world, she decided to pursue the role of an air stewardess instead. 

“I am the kind of person that can talk to a lot of people from different backgrounds. I will pick up on what their interests are so that I can make even a highly introverted person feel comfortable as well”, Sangee shared. 

When Sangee made the decision to fly, her mom lost it – she didn’t understand why after years of studying, Sangee would go on to work as a cabin crew. “But she also knows I’m not a 9-5 type of person. I can’t sit in an office and do work because I’ll eventually go crazy”, she adds. It only seemed right that Sangee gave her dream a go while she was still young. 

Application process 

Admitting to going into the interview blind, Sangee actually received most of her insights from a TSL video on the application process 

“For the process, there are 5 rounds. In the first round they will check your documentation, your height and skin as well”, she says. Consequentially, for Sangee, old burn scars on her hands from working in the F&B industry were taken into consideration by the airline, risking her chances of even passing the first round. “They want you to appear flawless because it’s part of their professionalism”, she explains. 

The second round was an English competency test in which Sangee “honestly thought [she] was going to fail”. Sangee shared how she was filling up the paper right down to the last minute, even leaving a few questions in a similar state to her mind then – blank. 

With each application round, more and more people were eliminated – it was strikingly similar to being quashed on a reality TV show. 

In the third round, they evaluated each individual’s teamwork and leadership skills, while the fourth part was a one-on-one interview where the panel of interviewers quizzed her on why she wanted to be a cabin crew member.

“I had rehearsed ever since I was young to say: “I want to be a cabin crew because I really enjoy serving people and I get to meet a lot of new faces, there’s a lot of experiences that you can definitely gain”. But on that particular day, the lines she had practised countlessly, escaped her. She ended up blurting out what came to her in the heat of the moment: “You know, I really like to talk to people and I know for a fact that I’ll be good at this job”. It was short, sweet and succinct – and it worked.  

Afterwards, she was tasked to role-play a scene in a restaurant, where she showcased her service and people skills, impressing the panel. Sangee eventually made it to the final round – a medical check-up, which was indicative of a “victory”, bar any health conditions.

As a matter of fact, Sangee initially thought her chances were dismal considering how she had turned up late for the application. But with her charm, eloquent answers and determination, she completely aced the interview. The dream had begun – she was finally going to become an air stewardess. 

Expectations vs reality 

But before her excitement could soar to greater heights, it was her friends and family’s words of advice that jolted her to ground-level altitude. Having been in the industry themselves, her inner circle warned her to be careful, given the airline scene could get a little toxic at times. Stories of bullying and bitchiness forewarned her.

“I wanted to go in with high expectations, but I told myself not to [so that I] don’t get so stressed out. Thankfully, it was actually very fun when I entered”. 

She further explained that what mattered was “work ethic” and that “as long as you’re someone who is interested to learn and receptive to advice from seniors, you’ll be fine”.

While she had had friends with bad experiences who left a month or 2 into the job, her personal journey was filled with positivity. “You need to have situational awareness, which is knowing [how to adapt to] what’s around you” – a concept that she noticed many found difficult to grasp since it took a lot of time and effort. 

Appearance was also always a priority. In terms of how you carry yourself, “It starts way before you enter the airport, in fact, right from the time you leave the house. At home, you’re already wearing your uniform, so people know who you are.”.

She also shared how taxi drivers would ask which country she had flown in from “every single time [she] came back”, especially after Covid had hit. There was simply no hiding from the job even when the work hours were long over, which meant image was everything

Are looks important?

In an industry where looks are something assumed to hold utmost importance, Sangee shared that they only get you so far. “It’s not really about being pretty because looks are something that are very subjective. But I think what they look for is a pleasant-looking person”. 

She elaborated that it’s more about one’s persona, being someone who’s “engaging”, well-groomed and always smiling.

“Self-care is important. Do you groom yourself well? Do you look pleasant? It’s not about wearing a lot of make-up, but more about looking presentable.” she remarks.

With that, she also makes sure to separate the job from “being herself”.  She adheres to keeping kempt and well-groomed while on the job. However, when running errands and going about her day to day life, she doesn’t mind being more relaxed in comfy wear and having tousled hair.  

“I’m a normal human being after all, and my role as an air stewardess doesn’t define me”, she clarifies. 

Addressing stereotypes & misconceptions of air stewardesses

When it comes to an air stewardess in Singapore, it’s no surprise that many members of the public also tend to falsely generalise and label them.

Sangee has occasionally heard terms like “very cheap” and “mile high club” from others when referring to air stewardesses, and has even been asked about “what kind of things she’s done onboard, leaving her feeling uneasy. Her usual response to shut the ignorant up: “I only serve little kids and give you food. I don’t do anything else.” 

In fact, she doesn’t even understand the appeal. “Every time I check the toilet. I wonder how people do it; it’s tiny inside. And everybody knows, aircrafts are not the cleanest of places”, she shares with a laugh. 

Another common generalisation about cabin crew is that they’ve “got nothing to do [in life], that’s why [they] joined”. She challenges that belief, having had multiple occupations in the media and service industry prior to her cabin crew stint. She even divulges that she knows individuals with high qualifications who joined the industry, and that it’s simply “a passion thing” instead of not having smarts or not being able to get a job elsewhere. 

One misconception she addressed even left me shook: air stewardesses are not actually obliged to help you place your luggage in the overhead compartment – before this even I assumed it was part of their job. Going on to elaborate, she shares that despite getting the stink eye from passengers, cabin crew aren’t entailed to lift the heavy bags as they pose a potential hazard. Injured crew members would mean the flight can’t go as planned either. Makes sense, TBH. 

After all, “If you can’t carry your own luggage, why did you bring it up?”, Sangee quips.

Meeting celebs and cute passengers

As with any other job, being a flight attendant also comes with its fair share of interesting experiences. For Sangee, that was being able to meet some celebrities and kindle connections onboard her flights. 

On one particular flight, she encountered 2 local Mediacorp artistes. One of whom was someone she had met from her time working at Mediacorp before. “Throughout the entire flight, I walked past her a million times. She noticed, but didn’t want to disturb me while I was working. Eventually, she suddenly said, “Hello!”, and we wound up in a long conversation as if we were old friends,” she recalls. 

“Another cute moment that happened was when a passenger passed me his number on a flight back from Phuket”, Sangee shares. While she was walking along the aisles, she had noticed the guy sitting near the front of the plane, the zone she was in charge of that flight.   

“He was a *chef’s kiss* okay” she admits.“He waved his hand at me and asked to change his seat, adding that he wanted to sit in the area I was working at!”. This left her undeniably stunned – “I couldn’t even say anything”. 

Later on, “He gave me a small piece of paper and asked me to read it alone in my own time”, The piece of paper had all his socials on it, including his phone number. She gushed about how charming the gesture was along with other crewmates on the flight. 

They ended up becoming friends and if anything, that situation could very well be a scene from a  K-drama

Strange encounters onboard

As with all things in life, there’s the good, the bad and the weird – working as an air stewardess included.

Sangee recalls one of her weirdest experiences. “I was doing my cabin check and walking around to see if all the passenger’s seat belts were fastened, and in my peripheral vision, I caught sight of a passenger’s phone. He was watching porn! What’s more, this was while his girlfriend was lying on his shoulder, asleep.” 

Afterwards, the whole flight was filled with awkward glances between Sangee and him, since he had noticed that Sangee had seen what he’d been watching. Safe to say it’s best to keep your private life, well, private

Challenges faced as a flight attendant

Sangee with her younger sister

With clear skies, first, there must be a little rain – and Sangee too, has to face challenges while on the job. One of which is dealing with immensely difficult passengers, especially those who are self-entitled. 

Sangee has had to bear witness to this attitude amongst passengers multiple times, including over menial matters like water. “Once, this lady raised her hand and asked for a glass of water. Although we had already stated that we don’t give out free water on the flight, she started fighting with us about “human rights”. The funniest thing about the situation was that the water was only 1.” she recalls with a shred of disdain in her voice. 

They eventually gave her a cup because she was causing a commotion, but this didn’t keep her quiet. “Every 5 to 10 minutes throughout the flight, she would request to be served more free water.” 

Despite denying her demands, “We just kept seeing her refill her cup from the toilet, and aircraft tap water isn’t very clean actually”. 

Aside from fussy passengers, another challenge she faces is constantly missing her family. “I’m very close to them and we spend a lot of time together, especially [when it comes to] my sister”. Given the inconsistent flight schedule and her sister’s schooling, it made it difficult for Sangee to see or even call her sis regularly. 

“If you’re someone who’s close to your family, like me, flying might not be for you,” she concludes. 

In this current Covid climate, Sangee also believes that at times it may feel like your “last goodbye” when you take off for a flight, especially when lockdowns are spontaneous and safety isn’t guaranteed. This means that even with time, taking off and leaving home never truly gets easier for her.

Words of advice from Sangee

Despite the days that feel extra tough and having to stop flying temporarily due to Covid last year, Sangee still chose to stay on as an air stewardess. In parting, she also shares some tips for anyone still holding on to their dreams of becoming a flight attendant.

“If you want to fly, you should honestly just do it” she advised, but “of course you need to make sure to “do your research”. Don’t just step into it blindly and then dread it. There’s a contract and a bond, which you must have an understanding of” she voices out, breaking her previously light-hearted tone for a bit.  

Another thing she spoke of was being able to handle rejection. “When I went for my first interview I got rejected. I cried so much and felt extremely worthless at the moment. It was a slap in the face because I thought I wasn’t competent enough to fly”, she shares. Despite all this, she kept trying and eventually, she landed a role in her dream job. 

Sangee also warns that “During work, not everyone is going to be your friend and not all your passengers are going to be nice, [so you need to be aware that] the fundamentals of the job revolve around serving people”. 

She also lets on how being an air stewardess means hard work, and not just an excuse to find an affordable way to travel — you have to be committed to the actual job scope. Being an air stewardess is a privilege, but it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows either.

The Life Of An Air Stewardess in Singapore 

With all that she’s shared, the next time I catch a glimpse of an air stewardess at Changi Airport or on board a flight, I’ll be reminded of everything beyond just the travel perks and head-turning uniforms. As Sangee reminds us, being a member of the cabin crew is no easy feat. If you can’t see yourself taking on a service role, then it’s probably not the job for you. 

However, if you do relate to having an interest in communicating with people and helping to make their experiences onboard better, then it’s worth a shot. At the end of the day, it’s your life and every experience will amount to something — so why not spend it soaring 35,000 feet above the ground? 

All images courtesy of Sangee.
Responses have been edited for grammar and brevity.

Watch the full Ask Zula episode here:

Also read:

Singaporean Cabin Crew Secrets: What I Wish I Knew Before Signing Up

Ilarnna Chrisandra

Psyche degree courtesy of the 15 seasons of criminal minds ive watched.

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Ilarnna Chrisandra

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