On 4 March 2021, Singapore Airlines (SIA) will launch its first flight to Phuket on a Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft, which was previously part of the SilkAir fleet. On board will be a full complement of cabin crew from the SilkAir team who have undergone conversion training – a programme that has been two years in the making.
SIA first announced plans to merge in 2018. The move will see SilkAir’s routes being distributed between Scoot and SIA, with the latter taking over SilkAir’s fleet of 737s and retrofitting them. SIA says in a recent press release that more SilkAir routes will be progressively transferred as nine 737-800 NG join the SIA fleet. This would also allow SIA to operate the aircraft to points within its current network, starting with Brunei in March 2021. The full integration of SilkAir into SIA is scheduled for completion in the 2021/22 financial year.
SIA’s Chief Executive Officer Goh Choon Phong, says the introduction of the SIA 737-800 NG will bring about a more comfortable and seamless travel experience for customers on the airline’s regional routes. “Integrating SilkAir with SIA also allows us to be nimble and flexible in aircraft deployment, and supports our fleet and network growth strategy.”
A total of 608 crew will go through the conversion programme, which was crafted by SIA’s Cabin Crew Learning and Development team. The team had to first review the training programmes that the SilkAir crew were previously put through, as well as the standards and procedures based on their current operating environment. This is to identify the steps required to be incorporated into the crossover training programme.
As the SilkAir cabin crew have experience operating on board a plane as crew, the training team focused more on assimilating them into the SIA culture and service standards. The SilkAir crew also attended a two- to three-day pre-course programme as a prelude to the core training programme. Fatimah Daud, a former SilkAir stewardess for nine years who’s now an SIA flight stewardess (FSS), admits that she was unsure initially whether she could cope with the change. “I was worried about adjusting to a new environment, culture and practices. But I’ve come to accept it as a challenge and a career advancement – to be able to further equip myself with skills and knowledge from the world’s best airline,” she says.
FSS Fatimah, who has gone through the training, adds that although she took a while to adapt to its fast pace, her family and batch mates kept her going with constant encouragement. “With the knowledge and skills acquired from the training, it has allowed me to better understand and manage the expectations of a Singapore Girl. We were trained and groomed to be the best version we can be. Role plays and wet runs in the aircraft mock up gave a realistic experience of the possible scenarios that we can face on board.”
Another SilkAir-turned-SIA fight stewardess Ivonn Yip, who was with SilkAir for 4.5 years, adds that although she feels sad that the SilkAir brand will retire after 31 years, she’s proud to be a part of the regional airline and is excited for the new journey ahead. She will soon undertake her conversion course and is hopeful. “I look forward to my training with an open heart and mind. There will definitely be a difference as an upgrade of service means higher expectations are required.”
We spoke more to the pair on their thoughts about the transition and what they are looking forward to in their new role.
What do you feel would be the biggest challenges in moving from SilkAir to SIA?
FSS Ivonn: Eventually I will be trained to work on wide body aircraft we use for long-haul flights, so I foresee my biggest challenge will probably be adapting to working on longer flights. In time to come, I will try my best to adapt as we need to provide more elaborate service to passengers throughout the entire long journey.
What was your favourite part of the conversion training?
FSS Fatimah: My favourite part would be the Communication Skills Training. It helped me to expand my vocabulary, improve my grammar and pronunciation. This is one of the key skills that is beneficial to me on board and in life. We also learnt about the expectations of a Singapore Girl; it all starts from grooming to the professionalism on board. As there are high expectations from the public, we learn to be on our toes to ensure we uphold the company’s image, always.
Now that you’ll be flying more long-haul routes, what will change about your process of getting ready for a flight?
FSS Fatimah: Packing for layovers will be one of the major changes I foresee, due to the different seasons of the countries SIA flies to. Other than that, I will also have to learn to manage my rest in layover stations due to significant time differences for certain stations.
What would you miss most about flying with SilkAir?
FSS Fatimah: Familiarity brings me a sense of warmth and security. I will miss the familiar faces of colleagues I would see in the briefing room or those I have been flying with the most.
FSS Ivonn: As we do a lot of turnaround flights, we mostly do not disembark from the aircraft. I would definitely miss having many of these short and sweet flights when I start to fly on longer routes with layovers.
What are some of the biggest differences working on SilkAir and SIA?
FSS Fatimah: SIA provides more routes across the globe which will give me the opportunity to explore more countries or cities during layovers once the pandemic is over. SIA also provides more inflight services and amenities to cater to the demands of passengers around the world. There are also more training opportunities. For example, apart from internal training, we were sent for external professional training to learn new skills.
FSS Ivonn: Dealing with jet lag will definitely be something new to adapt in the long run.
Where on the SIA network are you most excited about flying to, and why?
FSS Fatimah: If it was not for the current situation, it will definitely be Los Angeles (LA). Before the pandemic, I’ve always wanted to enjoy the view of palm trees lining up the roads while driving up to the Hollywood sign. I have never had the confidence to withstand ultra-long hours on flights as a passenger so to be able to visit LA (when the situation permits) with the distraction of work – that would be much more bearable hopefully.
FSS Ivonn: Zurich. Before the pandemic, I’ve been wanting to explore Europe and I guess Switzerland will be a beautiful start when the situation permits.
Which SilkAir destination, now under SIA, are you most looking forward to revisit and why?
FSS Fatimah: Hiroshima, for the Japanese cuisine which I love personally. The search for the best oysters in Miyajima Island, indulging in countless sushi at The Standing Sushi bar and sipping hot udon soup in quaint shophouses are some of the things I look forward to revisit when things are better.
FSS Ivonn: Busan – for the food and shopping when the situation is better! I really miss Busan so much. The ever-happening beach life and warmth from the locals, especially the friendly ajummas (aunties)!
What are you most excited about in your new role with SIA?
FSS Fatimah: Wearing the sarong kebaya brings me a new sense of belonging. I am excited to contribute to the success of SIA and to acquire more wisdom and knowledge from newfound leaders and colleagues.
FSS Ivonn: The fact that I am able to expand on my service skills. All in all, it would be a new learning journey for all of us in SilkAir. With the friendly and personable service we are known for, we will be ready to provide a greater experience as we merge with SIA.