FSS Fragrance Khiew was four years old when she fell in love with horses and horse riding. The Penang native was on a family holiday in Cameron Highlands when her parents let her go on a pony ride. Fragrance couldn’t explain what it was that captured her heart; all she knew was it was “love at first sight”.
After that, Fragrance couldn’t get horse riding out of her mind. She began making calls to riding clubs in Penang from the age of 10, asking if there were vacancies for riding lessons at the local clubs. However, they seemed to always be fully booked with a trail of long waitlists. It also didn’t help that the classes were expensive, and her parents were reluctant to fund the hobby.
But that didn’t deter her. “I was a determined child filled with a pure love for horses and I’ve made a resolution to ride them again,” the 29-year-old recalls with a grin. She began saving her monthly allowance, and over the next decade, she kept calling, hoping that once she got a place, she could persuade her dad to help her cover the costs. But she never got to enrol in a class.
It wasn’t until she began flying with Singapore Airlines (SIA) eight years ago that she finally managed to realise her dream. With money set aside from her earnings, she signed up for lessons at the Singapore Turf Club Riding Centre. She was beyond happy to start riding, she says. She has since changed clubs a few times, but her love for horses has not waned.
The journey has not always been easy. Fragrance took a fall back in 2015 after the horse she was riding got spooked by a loud noise. It began running at top speed before suddenly stopping and flinging her off. She ended up in hospital for a week with a concussion. That incident made her fearful at the prospect of even mounting a horse, she says ruefully.
“But sometimes, to overcome your fear, you just have to get up and ride it out.” And she did. A week after her discharge, she was back at the stables. While she was nervous initially, she pushed herself and eventually overcame her anxiety.
In fact, Fragrance became even more deeply committed to equestrianism. She began riding more frequently, all over the world – in Taiwan, Switzerland, the US, the UK, New Zealand and even Kyrgyzstan – thanks to her work as a cabin crew.
She also began taking part in competitions. Her proudest achievement was nabbing first place at a competition last year. When asked why she decided to participate, Fragrance says that competing “shows you where you stand in terms of your skills and it’s the best way to improve”.
A love for flying and a desire to see the world motivated Fragrance to apply for a cabin crew position at Singapore Airlines when she was 20 years old, after obtaining her diploma in Broadcast Journalism back in Malaysia.
“It has always been my dream to fly because I like exploring new places, trying new food, learning new cultures and making new friends,” she says. Her dad wanted her to go to university, but resolute in realising her dream, she made a deal with him: If she failed the interview process for SIA, she would go on to pursue her degree. If she passed, she would fly.
Fragrance did pass – and the rest is history. Working at SIA exceeded her expectations. “I really enjoy flying with Singapore Airlines as I feel this is where I experience family, not just a career. The team is very close-knit, and they guide you, take care of you and help you grow in aspects of both work and life,” she says.
She recalls a time when she flew on SQ62, a flight to Houston via Moscow. It was her first month into work and she felt like a fish out of water. Thankfully, the other crew members were patient, and when they had time to explore Moscow and Houston, they provided guidance on navigating the cities and “taught her to be street smart”. The team got on so well that they spent every waking moment of the trip together. To this day, the team still meets to catch up, and Fragrance proudly “considers them family”.
There have also been many rewarding moments in her career. One that particularly stands out is on a Sydney-bound flight. An elderly lady had come on board alone and she spoke little to no English. “Despite that, we tried our best to make sure she was well taken care of,” she says.
They explained the safety features through gestures and helped her with the selection of movies and songs in her language on the inflight entertainment system. They also made sure she had her meals, had enough drinks and was comfortable throughout the journey. “At the end of the flight as she was disembarking, she leaned her forehead against mine and said thank you repeatedly. I felt really warm on the inside and simply melted.”
She adds: “Being able to travel around the world while working is great. But the most important part to me is watching passengers smile at the end of their flight with us.”
To Fragrance, her horse riding hobby has enriched her and made her more adept at her performance as a cabin crew. “As horses do not speak, I have to learn how to read their body language to understand their needs and act on them.” It is this same attentiveness that she applies to her work. For instance, she tries to spot passengers who want a drink refill even before they press the call bell, she says, or she’ll prepare a warm drink for a passenger who has been coughing.
Riding also helps her hone her situational awareness. “When you’re riding, you’ve got to be aware of what’s happening around you in the presence of other riders. This applies to flying too. Is the passenger unwell? Is there something wrong in the cabin? You have to know to respond accordingly.”
At the end of the day, riding and flying are not all about leading a glamorous lifestyle, she says. “It’s about building bonds, forming friendships, learning to self-reflect and to take care of others and yourself.”
Experience a career beyond the ordinary! Visit singaporeair.com/cabincrewcareers to find out how you can join us as a cabin crew member.
Video by Mark Teo
SEE ALSO: Cabin crew: Two sides of a story