Jan 11, 2016
The #crewlife is more than meets the eye.
As a passenger, what’s important to me is that the journey to my destination is a pleasant and safe one. What I haven’t really given much thought to, up until now, is how a cabin crew’s role fits in this mix. Like others, I was always under the impression that the job of a cabin crew is easy; all they had to do was attend to passengers.
How very wrong I was.
After speaking to the Inflight Services Manager of Cathay Pacific’s Singapore-based cabin crew, Thun Thun, and watching the rest of the crew members prepare for their next scheduled flight, I thought to myself: Would I really be able to do what they do, on daily basis? Maybe not.
The meticulousness, the care, the patience, the mental and physical strength, and the dedication of a flight attendant are all deep-rooted. Some can be trained while the others can be achieved over time. They have to love and want this demanding job, and not everyone can do that. This valuable insight has reshaped my impression of flight attendants.
Thun Thun, 54, Inflight Services Manager of Cathay Pacific’s Singapore-based cabin crew.
As the head of the team, Thun Thun exemplifies all the beautiful traits of a cabin crew.
The industry veteran has been flying with Cathay Pacific for more than 30 years — it was her very first job at the tender age of 19, and she is now 54.
After all these years, she still has an almost-photographic memory of what made her take this path in life.
“Back in the 80s, when I was still a teenager, I saw this commercial on television about Cathay Pacific. I remember vividly the uniform, the theme song and the beautiful smiles on the cabin crew’s faces, which triggered something in me. There was something about the way they served passengers, which was so professional, and also how their job included travelling to various countries.
“I told myself that was the job I aspired to do; I aspire to meet people and learn their culture and language. So when I joined Cathay Pacific, I told myself that this was going to be my first and last job.”
Here’s what happened when I followed Thun Thun behind the scenes at Changi Airport to observe the cabin crew for flight CX712, headed for Bangkok.
T MINUS 80 MINUTES TO TAKEOFF
80 minutes to takeoff
12.40pm: In the Cabin Crew meeting room at Changi Aiport Terminal 1
Thun Thun briefs the cabin crew and runs through new updates in safety procedures. The atmosphere is formal and polite. Then, Thun Thun asks each crew member: “What would you do to make a passenger feel special?”
Senior cabin crew member Audrey says that she will treat every passenger as an individual – she will ask a businessman if he will like his jacket hung, and to a lady carrying her child, if she needs help with her bags. This exemplifies ‘Service Straight from the Heart’ – a motto for all Cathay Pacific front-line staff.
60 minutes to takeoff
1pm: At the boarding gate waiting to board the aircraft
The cabin crew arrives at the boarding gate. During this 20-minute timeframe, they look considerably more relaxed; using this break to chit-chat.
It is clear that the crew share a certain closeness and camaraderie. Thun Thun describes the crew as being like a family to her.
“Most of the crew, especially the Singapore-based crew, are united and we care very much for one another. When we land in Hong Kong, we would meet for lunch or have drinks. The Cathay Pacific cabin crew team keeps in touch via Facebook and Whatsapp, and we’ll all come together for year-end parties.”
On this day, there’s a sudden change in boarding gates. There’s no panic whatsoever – everyone stays professional, which reflects one of the basic traits of a Cathay Pacific cabin crew. Thun Thun says: “Cathay Pacific trained us to be positive at all times because you can’t be negative in this industry. And this has stuck with me throughout my years of service.”
When time is of the essence, thinking on your feet is something that all cabin crew must be adept at, especially when a situation arises. Thun Thun recounts how a passenger once insisted on getting off the plane if he wasn’t given a window seat, just as the plane was about to back onto the runway for takeoff. “It was such a crucial timeframe so I immediately told my crew to take over my position while I approached the passenger very calmly bearing in mind not to rush as it will be unsettling for the other passengers. Within five minutes, I managed to pacify the passenger and calm him down,” says Thun Thun.
40 minutes to takeoff
1:20pm: On board the aircraft
The crew boards the plane and immediately proceeds to their stations to execute their tasks. There are seats to be tidied, life vests to be stowed, and glasses to fill.
Thun Thun explains: “As there are many passengers in Economy, we must ensure that items, like blankets, are well distributed and equipment, like the children’s headset, are properly stowed away.”
Whilst this is going on, the caterer enters the aircraft to provide the in-flight meals as the cleaners vacuum the carpet and the engineers scuttle to and fro on the aircraft meticulously checking each and every TV set for faults so each passenger is able to watch the safety video and their choice of entertainment.
On this day, the intercom breaks down and the engineers on standby in the aircraft are hard at work fixing it. They have less than half an hour before passengers start streaming in.
Everyone works swiftly and efficiently together to ensure that the aircraft is ready for passengers. As the plane had touched down at Singapore Changi Airport 45 minutes late, the cabin crew for this flight has to turn it around quickly to minimise inconvenience to passengers.
Due to their effectiveness, flight CX712 would arrive at Bangkok International Airport just 15 minutes behind schedule.
30 minutes to takeoff
1:50pm: Second briefing in Business Class
Because of the broken intercom, Thun Thun has to approach each crew member to inform them of the second briefing.
The cabin crew count is now 11, with four crew members from Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong base, who are now a part of this flight. This meeting agenda is for each crew member to understand clearly their responsibilities and their respective positions on the aircraft.
20 minutes to takeoff
2:10pm: At the entrance of the aircraft
The crew has 10 minutes before passengers start boarding, yet there’s so much to do. However, they stay focused and execute their tasks.
In the galley, the cabin crew prepares the in-flight food: chilling wines and juices, and preparing the mixed nuts.
Thun Thun tells me about the extra effort that goes into serving First and Business Class passengers: “We prepare hot towels and warm up mixed nuts, and also serve them welcome drinks when they board the aircraft.
“My role as the Inflight Services Manager includes knowing the Business Class passengers’ names by heart – I will refer to a seating chart and a secured iPad with all the passenger profiles – and ensure that the team is well prepared once passengers board the aircraft.”
10 minutes to takeoff
2:20pm: At the boarding area
The plane is now ready for boarding.
Thun Thun and her teammate, Carmen, stand at the entrance of the plane to greet and welcome passengers, as well as directing them to their seats.
5 minutes to takeoff
The doors are shut. The cabin crew is seated at their respective positions and begin doing a silent review on safety procedures.
“We have to clear our minds and think of nothing else except the safety procedure because safety is our first priority,” explains Thun Thun.
After a hectic hour and a half of non-stop action, it is finally time for take off!
I ask Thun Thun what the most satisfying part of her job is.
“To see passengers happy,” she says. “There are times where they even tap me on the shoulder and say ‘Well done, chief’, ‘Great job’ or ‘Awesome team!’. That really makes me feel like we have successfully managed to make our passengers feel happy and comfortable, and that we’ll see them fly with us again.”