When I was 9 years old, I decided to be a cabin crew. I had seen one of my neighbours leave for her flight once. She was dressed in a beautiful uniform, with perfect hair and makeup. Her little suitcase indicated she would be away for a couple of days. I wanted to do that. Well, that was a dream as a child and till today, I’m a little fascinated with the life of someone forever living out of a suitcase. Almost a decade ago I dated an airline pilot and learnt things from their perspective. Schedules, hotel rooms, scheduling even dates – that’s what it was all about. All these thoughts came rushing through when I stepped into Singapore Airlines Training Centre.
As a passenger, we know very little about what goes on behind that PA, that smile the crew flashes you as you board, the synchronised service you get sitting in that seat, the piping hot food you are served. My visit to SATS (Singapore Airport Terminal Services) is a superb example of humans and machines working seamlessly together to provide the best possible service. It’s the one facility where every dining need of a passenger is tested, planned, prepared, packaged, stored, and expedited. The journey your plate of food takes is nothing short of adventurous. It’s also the place where crew members are trained as per SA regulations.
On Your Plate
The entire facility follows high standards of hygiene and food quality consistency. Only authorized workers and VIPs are allowed in certain section of SATS. I was lucky enough to have a badge that allowed access to the facility. But I did have to wear a hairnet, face mask, and a kimono-type robe. It was hilarious.
Just like any large organisation, planning your meal is crucial at SATS. They acquire food preference data from past records and prepare meals for each sector differently. That’s why you’ll get your soba noodles meal on your SA flight to Tokyo but a Moroccan lamb with cous cous on a Middle East sector. However, it is recommended you choose your meal preference on their website when you book your flight. This data helps them plan better and give you your meal of choice.
The kitchens are sectioned according to cuisines and quite fascinating to see the difference between them. I saw how those fluffy omelettes were made in a machine that looked like a carousel, conveyer belts transferring pots and pans across different stations, large pots of mash potatoes, steamed vegetables, and finally the plating area where every plate is expected to look similar before being packed for storage.
The menu is prepared by a team of chefs who test everything perfectly before adding it to the menu. As you know, food tastes different in a pressurized cabin, 30,000 ft in the air. The perception of taste alters when you are up in the air. Chefs subject themselves to flying conditions using a simulator and eat food inside it. This process is to add new dishes to the menu or to analyse customer complaints for a certain meal.
For more pictures of the kitchens, check out Siddhartha Joshi’s blog.
My second favourite part of the tour was the area where crew members are trained. Pilots in training have their simulator cockpits where they come face-to-face with emergency situations and learn to navigate their way through it by following standard operating procedures. I always dreamed of seeing one and I consider myself lucky to sit in one.
While pilots train in simulators, cabin crews go through an entirely different training school. They are taught everything from grooming to passenger care. They learn how to properly make cabin announcements through days of training. They learn how to handle emergency situations such as fire, water landing, evacuation, and so on. It looks glamorous on the outside but it is a lot of hard work. These drills require them to remain calm and handle over 120 passengers.
After seeing the tough part, we saw new crew members learning a trick or two about skin care. That perfect hairstyle and eye makeup is mastered over months. Singapore Airlines has strict rules about haircuts for men. For women, there is a manual on acceptable makeup colours to match with their uniforms.
It was such an educational day. I may not be joining any airline, but I’m more than happy to be a passenger on Singapore Airlines again and experience their hospitality.
Lucky for you, you can experience what I experience if you’re in Singapore on July 25 this year. SIA is having an open house for curious travellers. Click here to register.