Lessons learned at the Singapore Airlines Training Center – part 2

During a tour of the Singapore Airlines Training Center this week, there was a heavy emphasis on how well-trained the airline crews must be. (See this earlier post for some safety tips.)

But most people are much more interested to learn about the training regimen for the always-beautiful-and- incredibly-poised Singapore Girls that are the hallmark of the Singapore Airlines service.

Becoming a Singapore Girl (that’s the airline’s official term) is not only an honor; it’s hard work. Before taking to the air, Singapore Girls (and boys) must make it through an on-the-ground training course that is 3 1/2 months long – the longest in the industry.

And those chosen to be “transformed from trainees into gems,” explained Foo Juat Fang, assistant manager for cabin crew training – human factors and grooming, must excel in classes designed to teach everything from beauty and deportment to how to handle emergency situations and the age-old tradition of in-flight ‘souveniring’: the tendency of some passengers to pocket anything not tied down.

After watching a short role-playing session in which a class of trainees showed us how they might deal with a variety of stereotypical passengers, our tour group quizzed the instructors:

Q: How would you deal with a passenger complaining about other passengers gathering in the aisle and being too loud?

A: We might encourage the loud passengers to return to their seats ‘for safety’ and offer ear plugs to the person who was complaining.

Q: What would you do if you saw someone pocketing one of the Givenchy plates?

A: We’d assume that they do not know that is not appropriate. And mention that we’ll pass along to the airline the suggestion that there be a way for passengers to purchase these items.

Q: And how do Singapore Girls and all crew members maintain their energy and strength for those long 12-hour flights?

A: We encourage them to get plenty of rest before each flight and stay hydrated during the flight with water, not coffee or tea. And when they are off-duty, we encourage them to be active in sports such as as cycling, dragon boat racing and martial arts.

Q: What other secrets or special skills do you teach them?

A: We teach them to walk without being heard and, especially in business and First Class, we teach them to be there before you push the button – to read your mind.

Lessons learned from the Singapore Airlines Training Center – part 1

It’s been fun this week to learn about and, better yet, experience, the plush seats and top notch service offered to business and first class passengers on board Singapore Airlines’ new A380 service from JFK to Frankfurt and Singapore.

Demo of bed in First Class suite on Singapore AIrlines A380

But there’s also a serious side to these giant airplanes: safety.

That’s why I was so interested – and so attentive – on a tour of the Singapore Airlines Training Center.

A mock-up of the A380 is set up here and, on a tour of the facilities, we learned that not only is the drop from the door to the floor exactly the same height as it would be out in the ‘real ‘ world, but that every member of the Singapore Airline’s crew must return here each year for a training ‘check-up’ that includes deploying and going down these slides.

That way, if there’s an emergency, crew members “don’t think; they respond,” the trainer on duty told us.

I wondered what the famously polite Singapore Airlines crew members are taught to do in an emergency with a passenger who might balk at going down a slide.

“Those passengers would feel a gentle, but firm, push,” the trainer told us.

I would have liked to try out that evacuation slide, but thought twice about even asking to jump into the cold, choppy waves outside the water evacuation pod used for practice in the next room:

Noticing the heels and the outfits some members of our tour group were wearing, the trainer also offered some “dress for success” tips in case of a flying emergency: Thumbs up on loose slacks and low heels. Thumbs down on pantyhose, high heels and clothing apt to be flammable.

I’d heard those tips before – and mostly ignored them – but after getting a close look at these evacuation paths – and heights – I’m going shopping for new, safer, travel outfits.

Next up: Transforming flight attendant trainees into crew-worthy gems.

Note: I’m in Singapore as a guest of Singapore Airlines.

Singapore Airlines adds A380 service from JFK to Frankfurt and on to Singapore

On Monday, January 16th, Singapore Airlines began A380 service from New York’s JFK airport to Frankfurt and on to Singapore.

I was lucky to be one of the invited guests on board.

Pre-boarding festivities include a full spread of food and refreshments for passengers in the gate area, the opportunity to get a photo taken with a trio of Singapore Airlines flight attendants, speeches and a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Passengers boarding the flight even got a welcome-aboard present that included a box of chocolates.

What’s the big deal with this plane and this route? Beyond the fact that Singapore Airlines now offers (almost) around-the-world service via A380 (JFK-Frankfurt-Singapore-Tokyo-LA), this version of the world’s largest commercial aircraft also has two double suites: private cabins equipped with double beds for two passengers.

There are single suites as well, and while I didn’t get to travel in a suite, I did get to pass by them and noticed that, like many hotels, each suite has a card letting the customer know the name of the person who prepared their night’s lodging.

Lufthansa brings A380 to SFO

If you were at San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday, May 10th, you would have seen these signs all over the place.

The airport was in celebration mode for the arrival of Lufthansa flight 454 from Frankfurt, which represents the first, and so far the only, daily service of an Airbus A380 to SFO.

The A380 is the world’s-largest passenger plane and Lufthansa has this plane’s 526 seats configured with room for 420 coach seats on the lower level and, on the upper level, 96 business class seats and 8 first-class seats that are 6’9″ long and 2’7″ wide.

I rode along on the inaugural flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco and before the flight had a chance to roam around inside all cabins of the airplane. Up in the First Class section, the stand-out features include the absence of overhead bins (each passenger receives a locker instead) and the two large, lounge-like lavatories that include changing areas and, hidden behind roll-back walls, urinals, which will go a long way in keeping the bathroom area more welcoming during a long flight.

As you might imagine, before and during this inaugural flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco, there were speeches, a cake and a bevy of airline officials and invited guests in the first and business class section.

But not all passengers knew that this was a special flight.

For my seatmate, Oliver Friedrich, CEO of PV Contractor, a German solar and photovoltaic company with an office in San Francisco, snagging a business class seat on the new Lufthansa jet was a fluke.

He’d missed his United flight to SFO the day before and had spent a frustrating evening trying to get re-booked on another flight that might get him to San Francisco in time for an important meeting.

Ending up at the Lufthansa counter, Friedrich considered himself lucky to be able to exchange his United ticket, 100 Euros and a wad a frequent flier miles for a business class seat on Lufthansa’s flight the next morning. “The woman at the counter mentioned something about a new plane and a new service, but nothing more than that,” Friedrich told me.

So imagine the surprise when Friedrich was settling into his seat and was interrupted by Lufthansa passenger airlines CEO Carsten Spohr, who was passing through the forward business cabin introducing himself and welcoming people aboard.

“Business class is usually quiet and reserved,” Friedrich told me later, “I was wondering why everyone around me seemed to know each other and was chatting away.”

Lost and found at Frankfurt Airport

I’m tickled to be one of Lufthansa’s guests for a ride on the Airbus A380 airplane traveling from Frankfurt Airport to San Francisco International Airport on May 10th, the first day the giant airplane begins regular service to SFO.

Airbus A380 at Frankfurt

I’ll have lots of photos and details to share after my 10-hour ride, which comes after many hours spent touring Frankfurt Airport.

Among my stops today was the airport’s Lost and Found department, where Mr. Wallrodt (pictured below) was kind enough to take a moment away from his task of trying to find the rightful owner of this backpack.

Wallrodt told me that the airport’s Lost and Found department receives about 80,000 lost items a year, and an average of 300 lost laptops each month. Many of the items do end up being returned to their owners, but every three months the airport holds an auction to get rid of unclaimed items.

The strangest item Wollrodt remembers being turned into his office? A parrot that didn’t say too much and was quickly reunited with its owner.