Cabin Crew, SIA

Abby Low, 2002, 5Sc2

“You get your clothes from London, handbags from Paris, jewellery from Switzerland,
gadgets from America, vegetables from Auckland, meat from Australia,
cup noodles from Japan, coffee from Europe, cheese from Holland, wine from Germany.”
You get to live globally. But know also the reality…

If a passenger takes a dump on the aisle, you clean it up. If a passenger passes away on the flight, you might handle the body. You will be lifting, standing, walking for long hours; many of us suffer from backaches and eczema.

As an air stewardess (5 yrs MAS, 1.5 yrs SIA), I have seen glorious sunrises and sunsets the world over… But on the way there, I’ll be cleaning toilets and vomit, walking the same aisles for 9 hours straight, lifting weights that are half as heavy as myself, bending over and squatting and standing and doing it all over again, with a smile.

What you see, from the passenger’s point of view is only the surface. There is much more that meets the eye, both pleasant and unpleasant.

The main reason that we are on board, is for the safety of passengers. A big part of our training is on survival, first aid, emergency procedures and the usage of safety equipment on board etc. We are required to pass yearly safety refresher courses and tests. We are also required to answer questions pertaining to safety during EVERY pre-flight briefing.

However, the aspect of the job that we are most associated with is our service.

It is not just “coffee-tea; chicken-fish; peanuts???”

It’s a fascinating web of procedures, tact, flexibility and discretion. F&B knowledge is a must, and good PR with passengers, supervisors and crew members is essential. Getting used to being belittled and patronized for the mere fact of being a stewardess and subordinate can take a while. Therefore in this job, you must be able to handle emotions well and play a good game of tact.

Because of the increased frequency of flights these days, 4 days of relaxation at a station is no more the norm. Think 24, 36, 48 hours of rest, followed by another 12 hours of work on the return flight. Also, not every flight is a sight-see/stay trip. The bulk of our rosters consist of turn-around flights, where we don’t even step out the aircraft. We operate the flight to Jakarta, transit 50 minutes at Jakarta, passengers disembark, cleaners clean, we finalize flight preparations, passengers board, and we operate the flight back to homebase. That’s a whole day in an aircraft.

The perks of course, are the free travel. The aviation industry today is no longer the ‘golden era’ of the 60′s; flying is no more exclusive. Many days you will feel like a peanut seller in PuduRaya. It’s chaotic, frustrating, and bone-deep tiring. BUT! Come touchdown, you will find yourself transported to London, Rome, LA, Tokyo, Sydney, Amsterdam, Moscow, Maldives, Munich, Zurich, Athens, Seoul!

While the money is not great in the long run, it is relatively substantial and easy for someone without a college degree. The job is often quoted as a no-brainer because even though it involves a lot of physical, emotional and mental effort, it is possible to get by with mere beauty or brawn. With flight tickets and accommodation to places you can only dream of, this job can be a very good deal, especially suiting young people who have an appetite for adventure and a penchant for independence and freedom.

If you love to talk to people, be around people
AND travel AND party AND you like fashion and dress-up
AND have boundless energy, this job is perfect for you.
We crew often claim that this is not a job, but a lifestyle.

Personally though, what I have gained from this job has nothing to do with shopping opportunities. The experiences I have gained from working as an air stewardess far exceed what I could have hoped to glean from a million books. It has let me see far corners of the world, and immerse myself in cultures across the globe, without losing my identity. Most importantly, it has taught me the importance of treating people with sensitivity, awareness and respect.

Click here to read about my journey.

My Journey

Hi girls! I’m Abby. I don’t even remember what class I graduated from (5Sc1/2/3), all I recall is that I sat to a very patient and long-suffering Siew Hooi. She was and is the best!

I have always loved science, especially Biology, since I was a child. Wildlife, nature, the microbiological aspect of life fascinates me.

After F5, I wanted to attend a college or Pre-U program that wasn’t too… constrained, repetitive and results-oriented, (i.e anything but F6). So, I applied to some private colleges and Uni’s through the STAR newspaper’s education fund and got those scholarships. But my parents gingerly told me that even if the school fees were covered, they wouldn’t be able to afford my living expenses at KL.

To discover that the future I thought I was working towards
was infeasible… crushed me.

Making it through F6 and getting 3As, 1A- for STPM didn’t give me any academic satisfaction at all. To me, it was just a way for me to get my life back on track. I wanted to study overseas, for a myriad of reasons, but knowing our finances, I settled for Singapore. I got into NUS and NTU for Bio-related courses, as well as local universities.

When my parents sat me down and painfully told me that Singapore was out of the question because it would cost too much even with tuition fees covered, I wilted. I thought I had done everything required of me, I had finished F6, got the grades, and yet it was that deja vu high and dry situation again.

That second blow broke my spirits.
I was numb, confused, bitter and passionless.

People always ask me, “Why didn’t you get a loan that covered your living expenses as well?” Honestly, at that point, after being told so many times things weren’t possible, I really thought nothing was. I started not to care. My parents said they could send me out, but they’d have to mortgage the house. Knowing that that roof over our heads was the only solid asset our family had, agreeing to that would be horrendously disgusting. Even the local university fees put a lot of pressure on my parents’ finances.

So, I went to a cabin crew interview on a whim, and got in. I applied make up and wore heels for the first time in my life. Having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of people coupled with the fact that I was still in a daze over not being able to continue my tertiary education culminated in an initial hate for my job. University and stewarding were two very different ends of the spectrum.

During my first few working years, I tethered at the lowest points of my life. I never imagined that all those schooling years of studying hard, and trying to make my parents proud would bring me here. Oddly enough my parents thought the job was an excellent idea.

Looking back, I see now how I could and should have fought
for my education. I guess this is why I am sharing my story.
I found out a little too late, that there are many alternatives
to affording a university education.

Where ever you are, whatever your situation is, spare time to widen your horizons and find out more, about funding college education, about courses and career options, and about life beyond your books and school gates. The world is SO vast.

Life can take you on a batsh*t crazy adventure, but in the end, you author your journey. I pray that you will take time to explore yourself, explore society, be aware that there’s a whole interconnected world out there, and take time to nurture compassion in your heart and build your character. I promise you, after watching and interacting with a diverse multitude of people, as sure as the fat in your thighs and the pain of child birth… I promise you, it’ll take you far.? ;)



1 Comment
  1. Quote:
    ” I don’t even remember what class I graduated from (5Sc1/2/3)…”

    haha, Abby, you were in 5S2 for sure, I sat in front of you for two years, remember? What an odd that we are both in hospitality industry now :)

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