Hard At Work is a collection of different accounts from sixty people about their life and work in Singapore.
The book, edited by Gerard Sasges and Ng Shi Wen, examines their experiences of their jobs, as well as their reflections on their lives and society.
Here, we reproduce an excerpt from the book touching on the perspective of an air stewardess with Singapore Airlines.
Hard At Work is published by NUS Press and you can get a copy of it here.
The interview for the position is intense
My name is Nisa. I’m 21 years old and I work as a cabin crew in Singapore Airlines.
The interview to get this job wasn’t easy. It differs for each person: some of them have to read passages, while some of them have to debate. Yes, I had to debate, I’m serious!
I don’t know what they were trying to look out for when they asked us to debate. Apart from our interview, we also had our height and weight taken, and also we got checked on whether we had scars or tattoos on our body. If you have scars on your arms, legs or back, you cannot get the job.
You can say that they are very strict. Let’s say you have a small scar here, [points to hand] you cannot get the job as long as the scar can be seen by the passengers. There was once I was just about to sign my contract, then this girl – I think she fell or something or played sport – so she has this small scar on her hand. She could have used a concealer to cover that scar.
Maybe she didn’t cover it because she thought she already went through the interview. But when the interviewer saw it she didn’t get the job. Just because of that small scar!
We had to debate in a group interview
My interview was a group interview consisting of eight or ten people, I think. Basically, they asked questions like, “What colour best represents you?” or something like that.
It was the most nerve-wracking thing because you can see that everybody there was so tense. But I remembered what my friends told me: just keep smiling! So I did that. But I think they don’t really care about your answers for that interview. Rather they wanted to hear how you speak.
Then I went to the debate round. And the question was, “Do you think the man is the king of the house?” My team had to disagree.
I tried to answer questions honestly
Right after that debate round, they had another round where they asked us questions and we had to answer individually. The question for this round was, “If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?”
My answer was I think the most honest answer I could give. I said that my family is not very rich. I will use the money to support my family first then maybe donate it, or something like that. The other girls gave very different answers. They were also quite honest. Some said they would use the money for shopping.
After all the questions, we had to take our height and weight. I just got through the height minimum which was 158 cm. Can you imagine, they were like whispering, “Aiyah, I think we just give her a chance lah….” They then told me that they will email me for the last interview.
My last interview was with the management and their question was, “What was the lowest point in your life?” I was like, “Damn … what’s with all these questions?” I was thinking of the time when we got kicked out of our flat because my dad got bankrupt. That was the lowest point of my life.
My family had to stay at the void deck for the night and that was the point where we felt so lost and so helpless. Since I am the eldest, I had to bring my family together and put up a strong front. Even though at that point of time, I was actually tearing apart.
Anyway, they also asked me about school and, right after, we just had to wait for the management for further update. They called a few names and then you could see a few girls walking away because they were rejected.
Then they called my name.
We also had to do a catwalk and a health check-up
That was not the end of it! We had to do a catwalk with our kebaya. So we had to find our size and then wear the kebaya and the sandals. And after you change, they will check your legs, your arms and check your back and even your face.
One of them even said to me, “You have a few bumps here, [points to forehead] you better be careful okay?” Then they checked our height and weight again. So they stuck this tape on the wall and it was supposed to mimic the height of the cabin and I had to stretch to reach it.
I had to really tiptoe to reach it. When they took my weight, they told me to eat more because I was too light. I was just like, okay.
So after that they told me that I was 90 per cent through the application process and the final stage was the medical check-up.
They checked my eyesight, my stomach and I had to go through urine test. I have a history of gastric pain, so I had to go another round of check-up and get the memo from the doctor saying that I am fit to fly.
I had to wait for a few weeks before they told me I could go for training.
My first interview was in March and I was only accepted in May. I had to graduate from polytechnic first, before I go for the training. So in the end, I only began training in June.
Many passengers drink too much
I’ve been cabin crew for a year now. It has its ups and downs. There were some good flights and bad flights.
But I truly believe that my colleagues make a huge difference. Like, even if you have bad passengers, you would just let it go and think of it as normal to have bad passengers.
There are many passengers who take too much alcohol, especially the Russians. They drink alcohol like water. But it really depends on their alcohol tolerance.
Most of the time, we just keep giving them the alcohol until we realise their speech is slurred or their eyes are bloodshot; then we have to tell our leaders on board.
Sometimes we just have to take precautions because there are very different types of getting drunk: some are happy drunk, some are angry drunk. If they’re an angry drunk, they might disturb other passengers.
One thing we do is to dilute their drinks. There was once a passenger who realised we were diluting their drink. They got angry and punched the crew leader.
Then, the captain had to come down from the cockpit and give a warning. If they continue to give us problems, we will just tie them up ah. [laughs] We call it the restraint kit. That means that the person cannot move anywhere, not even to the toilet. We have to do that if the passenger is violent. So far, such a thing has never happened in my flight.
If it ever happens, the police at the arriving destination will be informed and they will take the rowdy passenger away before letting everyone else out. We always ensure the safety of the passengers first.
One passenger took sleeping pills and was mistaken for dead
There are a lot of stories I heard which are really scary.
There was this passenger that didn’t tell anybody he was taking sleeping pills. So I think the flight was shorter than he expected. When the flight was arriving at its destination, the crew tried to wake him up, and I think at that point of time he had a weak pulse or they could not detect his pulse.
The crew tried to do CPR on him, but he did not react so they thought he was dead. They put him in a body bag. We have the body bag in case any person passes away on the flight.
So when they landed, the passenger woke up and was shocked to realise he was in the body bag. That’s when he explained that he took sleeping pills because he has a phobia of flying.
Sometimes, you meet nasty superiors. But also nice passengers.
There are times where I don’t want to go to work, especially after a bad flight.
By a bad flight I mean when the superiors scold you or something.
There was this guy who really brought me to my lowest and I felt so helpless because everything I did was wrong. He kept telling me the things I do was wrong. He was saying that I was very slow and if the flight was to Jakarta, we would have already landed before I finished my job.
I felt so pressured. And all these things make me stressed. I tried talking to the steward but, you know, he totally ignores me. Sometimes, I feel sad for him because I feel like he has no love in his life, like he constantly wants to instil fear in his juniors.
But you can also meet very nice people on board. There was this Singaporean lady, she asked me whether we had some toys, so I said yes. She told me she has a son and a daughter but the toy was more for her younger son.
For me, it was a light flight; we had a lot of toys so I gave her more even if she did not ask for it. She was so pleased with it, it surprised me. So in the end, she wrote a complimentary letter for me. That was nice.
Some crew, they expect to receive complimentary letters. For me, when I receive such letters, I will just hand it to my leader and it depends on my leader whether they want to write it down or not. Some crew expect their names to be included when another crew is praised.
Some crew would just give the compliment letter to the passengers and ask for their opinions. There are also some passengers who would verbally compliment the service and some crew would ask, “Would you like to pen it down?”
So these complimentary letters help for promotions. That’s why some of them die-die want the letters because they want the promotion.
Overall, I do like the job
Actually I love a lot of things about this job. The travelling and simply being away from everything, being alone and doing your own things. Other than that, meeting new people is fun. If the crew is a nice bunch, it makes the whole trip fun.
I also feel that this job is not so stressful unless you are a junior and the other crew do not have the trust in you. It is a good and a bad thing to be a junior.
Good because they allow you to ask questions and they know that you are learning. When you are not a junior, they expect you to know everything.
But other times, as a junior, you get bullied. When I was a junior, they asked me to do everything and I could not do my own duties. Honestly, you just have to suck thumb if you are a junior.
The politics can be quite bad sometimes. But the best part is you don’t see all these people every day so it is nice to get away from some people.
Although it can get mundane at times, every trip is a learning experience
Many of them who are staying in this job are because of the money and also the lifestyle. Because you don’t have any homework and you are only working when you are on board. You also don’t require that many skills and you are basically doing the same things over and over again.
Sometimes, it becomes rather brainless because you are doing the same things. Personally, I really like the travelling and seeing different parts of the world. But what I like most is what I get to learn.
I take it that every flight is a learning journey: there are different situations on every flight. This job also teaches me how to speak to people and it also made me very confident.
We always have to know the right choice of words when talking to the passengers, and how you react to certain passengers. Most of the passengers, when they don’t get what they want, they just want to know that the crew is trying their best to do something.
For example, some family members get separated on board. It is not our fault but we have to handle it. Sometimes they want to change, but they cannot change because there are not enough seats.
So we have to learn on how to be courteous and polite, but at the same time be firm with our answers.
Knowing flight safety is crucial
The job of a stewardess is very important. We are skilled and trained, and if anything were to happen to the plane, in terms of emergency evacuation or crash landing, we are the ones who are trained in what to do.
That’s why, before we go on a flight, we are always reminded that any other thing on the plane can be spoilt or whatsoever but we must always take care of ourselves because we are the most important people in the plane, apart from the pilots.
If anything were to happen, we are the ones who know what to do and who will be responsible.
In the future, I see myself being a teacher. It is very different from being a stewardess. Actually, I don’t know … I have always wanted to teach and I have always found joy in teaching.
But then again, I wouldn’t know really whether I would enjoy it. Because my current job is the total opposite of teaching, with the homework to mark and having to bring home work.
But I don't want to stay in this job too long
But I also think this current job is not for me. The crew culture always makes you insecure because people are always judging you. So I tend to be paranoid because sometimes I know people are judging.
And you know, they say if you cannot beat them, you join them. Even if it’s not for me to judge, somehow, I think if I stay too long, I will be influenced by the culture.
Some of them tell me that it is good that I want to be a teacher and tell me to go for it. Because to them, the longer I stay here, the more I will get stuck and I will not be able to get out of this job.
So yeah, it kind of stresses me out because sometimes I don’t know what I want to do and I’m afraid that if I take too long, I’ll be stuck in this job.
I don’t think people know what being a stewardess is really like. I’m not trying to say it’s a bad job, but I think the job is not meant for everybody.
Top image from Singapore Airlines Facebook
Content that keeps Mothership.sg going
We kacau a celebrity chef with some important questions.
This boomer helps other boomers with technology.
Want go Perth anot?
Technology can be scary for older folks, but it doesn’t have to be.