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Surviving SQ Culture Shock

*This is part 2 of a 5-part series of my journey as an SQ girl.

As a go-getter who loves a challenge, I wish I could brag about my seamless transition from student to Singapore Girl. However, there were many unexpected hurdles I encountered after training commenced.

Back to basics

A training batch typically consists of 20 cabin crew trainees, and the training spans three-and-a-half months.

From the first day of training, we were given a strict timetable and rules to adhere to. This did not sit well with my independently-minded batchmates as their opinions often had to remain muted.

Minor disagreements aside, we looked out for each other and shared the common goal of graduating together.

Knowledge is king

Our intensive training programme covered different aspects of the job such as service, safety, and security. We sat for many computerised and practical exams that included speech assessment and role-playing.

Contrary to popular belief, our job is not a no-brainer. As we’re required to be adept at multiple jobs onboard the aircraft, we need to be well-versed with the service procedures, safety and emergency drills, and SQ’s product offerings.

Additionally, we must have the menu memorised, and know which cocktail concoctions and meals were available. We also had to know the various categories of passengers who should not be seated at the emergency exit rows.

No piece of information was considered too trivial.

Being knowledgeable gave me the confidence to handle difficult passengers who challenged my instructions when they refused to comply with rules and regulations.

Manners maketh man

At the training centre, we greeted everyone we crossed paths with. From the canteen stall vendor to the management staff, we held doors and reiterated our “please’s” and “thank you’s”.

These practices inculcated us with a respect for people from all walks of life.

The importance of punctuality was often stressed. Once, a girl from my batch returned late from a tea break and an infamous male trainer made us stand for the entire lesson.

He had a reputation for being bitchy and often ‘zapped’ us for our grooming. Whenever he lost his cool, he would threaten to delay our graduation.

Coincidentally, he was regarded as a ‘Top Ten’ ranking crew; a list of the most feared crew in the airline who are known for their work peculiarities and difficult personalities.

Many crew members would report sick for a flight to avoid flying with them, because they dreaded handling a difficult crew more than a difficult passenger.

Scoring brownie points

After I started flying, I had a culture shock because I had to perform many ‘acts of kindness’ towards my senior colleagues, on top of completing job duties.

On my supernumerary flights, I was taught to curry favour with them, in deference to their seniority. As the most junior crew member, I had to offer my seniors drinks and allow them to choose and have their meals before me.

As probationary crew, I had to email every crew member I was flying with, to ‘seek their guidance and patience’ before a flight.

I even had to show up for the pre-flight briefing sessions an hour earlier and scribble down flight details, though it was the duty of the inflight manager (IFM).

On flights with a layover, I had to collect tips for our driver, while the other junior stewards had to assist in the loading of the baggage, and doing a headcount before we left for the hotel or airport.

During a hotel check-in, we collected our keys in a ‘unique order’, with the highest ranking crew going first.

Apologies are never enough

During my training, I’ve come to realise that SIA is dubbed “Sorry I Apologise”.

We are quick to apologise to our colleagues and passengers in any unpleasant situations, no matter whose fault it is.

If we can say “sorry” to a passenger for not getting his choice of meal, no issue is too insignificant for our apologies. Of course we are clairvoyant and should’ve known more passengers on a particular flight preferred chicken to fish.

As a result, over-apologising has turned me into a non-confrontational crew member. I learnt to take things in my stride and allow myself to be ‘corrected’, as many colleagues listened with an intent to reply and not to understand.

On many occasions, I bit my tongue because explaining my actions would’ve made me appear defensive or arrogant.

Once, I was questioned for not lining a passenger’s wine glass with a coaster. Instead of explaining that the passenger declined the coaster, I simply apologised for my oversight.

Respecting the hierarchy

Seniority is a big deal in the airline. Never mind if you’re the most diligent crew member or the highest ranking stewardess.

Ultimately, the upper management might assign you to work in the busiest cabin zone no one wants to work in.

It is impossible for the IFM to please everyone, though some thoughtful IFMs allow cabin crew to choose their work positions.

However, if there is a VIP passenger seated in the suites class, the IFM is likely to assign the most eloquent and well groomed crew to work in that zone.

Bullying is real

Another thing I learnt from flying, is that there are some few black sheep who tend to bully juniors.

While I share a great sense of camaraderie with most of my colleagues, I was a victim of workplace bullying.

Every time it happened, I put on a poker face to maintain my graceful image, and nobody had an inkling about the bullying.

I was bossed around by senior crew to cover their duties in the cabin. I was spoken to in a condescending tone for no rhyme or reason. I was teased for being religious because I declined an invitation to an outstation drinking session.

Call me a coward, but I dealt with bullying by not reacting to it because I knew my misery was temporary, and would end once the flight was over.

Talk is cheap, literally

Nowadays, male crew are more mindful with their words and actions because of the rise in formal complaints about sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace behaviour.

But unfortunately, offensive jokes of sexual and sexist nature are often passed, especially during the lull period on long haul flights. I myself was a victim of verbal sexual harassment on several occasions.

Once, a leading steward commented he liked women with big calves like mine, as big calves were “strong and good for certain activities”.

Another time, an IFM told me that I was “one of the prettiest faces” he had encountered in his flying career, and he would’ve dated me if I was older.

I dismissed such distasteful comments with forced laughter to hide my embarrassment. An idle mind is a devil’s workshop, and perhaps, they were probably trying to break the ice or entertain themselves.

While physical sexual harassment does happen, it is thankfully a rare occurrence.

Survival Of The Toughest

Initially, I was intimidated by the SQ culture. But I told myself I didn’t have to completely buy into the airline’s social norms, especially if it made me feel bad about myself.

Perhaps I should have reacted more bravely on those occasions where I was bullied or disrespected. If I could turn back time, I would have made my uneasiness or displeasure known.

Having said that, having a big, forgiving heart takes courage too.

Sometimes, the best way to deal with culture shock is to go with the flow and see where the tides lead you to.

Remember: you always have the option to raise the white flag.


Cover image: Source