While Inside Singapore Airlines may be the last of the three “Discover Your SIA” ground experiences, the response clearly shows that SIA fans are hungry for more. Over 20,000 people expressed interest in Singapore Airlines’ training facilities tours, and with only 2,000 slots available across four sessions, there were bound to be many disappointed folks.
But for the lucky few who managed to secure tickets, a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at the inner workings of Singapore Airlines awaits. Plus, at S$32.10 per adult/ S$16.05 per child, it’s the most affordable of all the ground experiences so far.
I paid a visit to Inside Singapore Airlines last weekend, and here’s what you can expect.
Inside SIA: Arrival and Registration
Your day starts at the entrance of the SIA Training Centre, located at 720 Upper Changi Road East. Don’t end up at Airline House! That’s a good 20 minutes away, on the other end of Changi Airport.
For those of you driving, free parking is available inside the compound, and in a separate lot just outside the guardhouse.
At the guardhouse, event staff will verify your e-ticket and grant you admission. Interestingly enough, no one checked my identity documents, although you’re still required to bring them along (unlike Restaurant A380, no passport is needed- a regular photo ID will do).
Once through the gantry, you’re allowed to walk unescorted to the registration area via a sheltered walkway. I imagine this isn’t a particularly high security facility, and it wasn’t like Restaurant A380 where there were literally staff every 15 metres ushering you from immigration to the gate.
After a short stroll, you’ll reach the entrance to the training centre. I arrived at 9.40 a.m, and the crowd was surprisingly sparse.
In fact, I was worried at first that the event would be packed to the rafters, since nothing tires me out more than crowds. However, as mentioned earlier, attendance is capped at 500 people per day, and with groups constantly doing tours and activities in other parts of the building, the lobby never got uncomfortably crowded.
The first stop upon arrival is the check-in counter, where you’ll get your goody bag and Inside SIA passport.
The goody bag contains a Lifebuoy hygiene kit (hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and a pair of masks), a Vitamin Spa amenities kit, a promo code for KrisShop (INSIDESIA- S$10 off with min. S$80 spend), and an ad for Pelago, Singapore Airlines’ new activities booking service (earn up to 9 mpd on tours, tickets and attractions)
The Inside SIA passport is your key to unlocking the day’s festivities. Be careful not to lose this, because there’s no reissuance- passports can’t be reissued because they’re stamped to mark what items or activities you’ve already redeemed (e.g your complimentary lunch). I do wish they’d made it a bit more sturdy though; it’s literally a piece of A4 paper that’s been folded into quarters.
As you progress through the day, you’ll accumulate stamps. Once you’ve collected at least five, you can redeem a set of Singapore Airlines iron-on patches.
The good news is that it’s perfectly possible to achieve five stamps without spending a further dime on add-on activities:
|Bold= free activities
Take a little time to explore the lobby area, where there are a few static exhibits showcasing artifacts from Singapore Airlines’ history.
You’ll even learn some fascinating trivia, like:
- SIA arranged for live entertainment onboard one of its B747 flights in 1976, with strolling minstrels doing pre and post-dinner gigs across all cabins
- 6 jackpot machines were installed in Economy Class on selected B747 trans-Pacific flights in August 1981 (all of them broke down on the inaugural flight). The experiment lasted just two months
- Passengers on long-haul flights received portable computer “brain games” like Backgammon, in the days before IFE became the norm
Don’t forget to take a photo with the Inside SIA backdrop too. Here’s my obligatory awkward photo with the SIA girls.
Inside SIA Tour
This is the main reason why you’re here, so don’t miss your slot! Guided tours run throughout the day, with each session lasting two hours (there’s a bathroom break at the halfway point).
Check your passport (or e-ticket) for your tour timing, and try to show up about 5-10 minutes before it begins. The meeting point is on the right hand side of the Level 1 (upon entering the building), and very hard to miss.
The tour starts in the Heritage Gallery on the mezzanine floor, where you have about 10 minutes to wander around and read the exhibits tracing Singapore Airlines’ roots from 1947 till now.
- The first B747-400 was delivered in 1989, and SIA was the first to operate it on a trans-Pacific commercial flight (Singapore to San Francisco via Hong Kong)
- Business Class was renamed Raffles Class in 1990, a label that continued all the way till 2006 when the name was abolished in favor of the more familiar moniker
- KrisWorld launched in 1994 (I still miss Super Mario World), with video-on-demand debuting in 1997
- SIA flights only went smoke free from February 1998. That sounds awfully late to me actually- does anyone actually remember being on a smoking SIA flight?
- Although it feels like KrisFlyer has been around forever, the program is actually relatively nascent, starting in 1999. Before that, SIA shared a joint frequent flyer program with Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines called Passages
- SIA entered the Star Alliance in 2000. Thai Airways wasn’t happy
- SIA was of course the first airline to operate the Airbus A380 in 2007, although the aircraft may not be long for this world
The wall, ominously, stops at 2011. The staff told me the display is updated every decade, but they’re running a bit late this time round. Perhaps they’re planning to give 2020 a whole montage to itself…
Fun fact: there’s no more space on the wall to expand the timeline further, so during every refresh, the whole timeline is reprinted in a slightly smaller font to make room for the next decade. Fortunately, by 2080 our pre-installed Bino-Eyes™ will enable us to read font as small as this.
The next stop on the tour is the cabin crew grooming studio, where SIA Girls learn how to dress, apply makeup, and climb stairs (seriously). There’s such an obsessive attention to detail that they’re even taught to walk in a way that avoids waking passengers.
Then it’s on to the cabin mockups, where inflight training is conducted. The crew do a short demonstration of meal service, although I’m personally disappointed they didn’t show how to deal with drunk passengers rhetorically asking the crew if they know who they are.
After the demonstration, the cabin crew pass around packets of peas and crackers (there’s no more peanuts served on SIA).
There’s a chance to explore the various mockups, ranging from the 2006 Economy Class (found on the A330-300s and older A380-800s)…
…to the dearly departed 2006 First Class seats (retired with the passing of the B777-300)…
…to the latest 2017 Business Class…
…and of course the 2017 Suites (the crew tell me this requires a lot more strength to set up than the 2007 edition).
We were seated in a mockup of the 2018 Regional Business Class cabin, and a member of the cabin crew walked us through the training process all crew undergo.
Even though these seats look like the real thing from afar, up close you’ll realise that most of the features are inoperable. The lights, for example, are just stickers, as are the seat controls and IFE remote. The seat is also made from cheaper material; no point outfitting these in leather! Crew will have the opportunity to train with the actual product on a handful of functioning seats elsewhere in the facility.
Following that, you’re taken to the safety and emergency procedures training area, where the crew prepare for something they hope will never happen. 2 out of 14 weeks’ training is spent learning safety evacuation procedures, ranging from how to operate emergency doors and slides to how to evacuate a cabin in no more than 90 seconds.
To that end, there’s a Boeing 777 fuselage which has two different doors and slides- one for the B777, and one for the A380. And before anyone asks, no, you can’t ride the slides. These are designed for speed and can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
To simulate water ditchings, there’s a huge wave pool three metres deep. The crew need to be able to climb into the life raft from the water without any assistance- no easy task when you’re in full uniform. The pool isn’t heated, and crew members pray they don’t get scheduled for this when it’s raining.
Next stop: flight sims. These full motion simulators are a world away from anything you’ve tried in the arcade or at home, and cost maybe US$10 million a piece, with hourly operating costs from US$500-1,000. There’s an entire cold room full of computers powering the simulators, which gives you an idea of the processing power required.
Pilots spend two days in a flight simulator every six months practicing normal and not-so-normal situations. These machines are incredibly detailed, even recreating the feel of the bumps of the lights on the taxiway as the plane prepares for takeoff. Every bank, every air pocket, every landing is recreated in an incredible amount of detail. We’ve come a long way from the first flight sims, that’s for sure.
The final stop is a sustainability showcase, where you can see the various initiatives SIA is taking to reduce its environmental footprint.
This includes using Forest Stewardship Council certified paper products, digital inflight menus, biodegradable plastics and implementing food waste tracking.
If you’re hungry after all that walking, head over to the staff canteen and sample some of Singapore Airlines’ inflight meals. There’s plenty of seating, and it’s a testament to crowd control that I never saw the place more than 50% full.
Order chits are distributed at the entrance, and you’ll order and pay at the counter. Visa/Mastercard/NETS/Kris+ all accepted, and yes, contactless payments are available. Transactions code as SINGAPOREAIR SINGAPORE SG, so you can use the KrisFlyer UOB Credit Card for 3 mpd.
I must say, the price of food at Inside Singapore Airlines is extremely reasonable. Each ticket comes with a main course, and additional main courses can be ordered for just S$6.42 each. Desserts, including Mövenpick Ice Cream, cost just S$2.14, a can of beer costs S$2.14, a glass of wine costs S$3.21, while Evian and Perrier could be had at S$1.07! It’s probably because they need to clear their surplus inventory, but hey, I’m not complaining.
There’s hardly any wait for the food as it’s already prepared. I had two main courses, a glass of white wine, a bottle of Evian and some ice cream for the princely sum of just S$12.84.
Food is served in the style of Singapore Airlines’ brand new Economy Class meal concepts (read a comprehensive review of that here) which launch from 1 December, and while the boxes look small, they contain the same amount of food as the traditional casseroles.
I’m not a fan of the color scheme, but the boxes do a great job of keeping the food warm- the congee was almost too hot to eat right away.
I tried a few items from the menu, and would strongly advise you to pick the Asian options over the Western ones. The congee was the star for me, and the fried rice and carrot cake were half decent. The chicken with mac and cheese was awful, and I spotted someone’s rather unappealing beef goulash.
Don’t skimp on the desserts either, as the ondeh-ondeh and pulut hitam cakes are rather good too.
The last order for F&B will be at 5.30 p.m.
For those in need of retail therapy, you have two choices:
- KrisShop Sale
- Inflight Items Sale
The KrisShop area (where photography isn’t allowed) is where you can buy things like aircraft models, LEGO sets, tote bags and the like. I *think* the reason you aren’t allowed to take photos here is because the prices are lower than the official website.
For example, I bought this tote bag by Loqi for S$16, versus S$22 on the official site. All transactions code as KRISSHOP (ALH) SINGAPORE SG, so again the KrisFlyer UOB credit card is the way to go here.
Don’t forget to earn your free miles with Kris+ and transfer them to KrisFlyer (only possible within 7 days of transaction); the rate on offer is 3 mpd.
The other area features a sale of inflight items. If you’ve ever needed SIA Business Class mugs and plates to set up your own pop-up restaurant, you know where to go.
The full price list can be found here, but to give you an idea of prices (before GST):
- First Class stainless steel dinner spoon (box of 10): S$35
- Business Class stainless steel dinner spoon (box of 10): S$25
- Business Class Narumi Porcelain Soup Mug (box of 10): S$25
- Business Class Porcelain Square Condiment Dish (box of 5): S$8
- Business Class Porcelain Square Plate (box of 5): S$18
- SIA Teddy Bears (pair of two): S$20
- Business Class blanket: S$20
- Plastic champagne flutes (tube of 10): S$3
The real head turners are the bar carts, from the B747 and B777 aircraft. They’ve seen more than a decade and a half of service, but have been washed and cleaned. You can buy a half-sized cart for S$450 nett, or a full-sized one for S$500 nett (extra charges apply for spray painting).
Pony up for the “content” option, and you’ll receive quite the bounty in addition to the cart:
- 6 bottles of champagne
- 6 bottles of white wine
- 6 bottles of red wine
- 20 Business Class multi-purpose glasses
- 20 disposable champagne flutes
- 2 First Class Lalique amenities kits
- 3 First Class sleeper suits
- 1 Economy Class amenities kit
- 1 day blanket for First Class
- Lalique lavatory amenities
- First Class slippers, eyeshades and socks
- Business Class eyeshades, slippers and socks
This will set you back S$999 nett for the full-sized cart, and S$799 nett for the half-sized one.
Also on sale are Singapore Airlines’ inflight wines. The red is a 2018 Vina Borgia (S$27.82), the white a 2019 Frontera Sauvignon Blanc (S$16.05), and the champagne is a Jacquart Mosaique Brut (S$53.50). You have the option to buy a carton of 6/12, but there’s no bulk discount.
I’m not familiar with the white or the red, but you could buy Champagne Jacquart for S$42.90 per bottle at Bottles & Bottles, so take note.
The guided tour ends off near the complimentary craft activities area, which features batik rose making, balloon sculpting and coloring activities for children.
The batik rose making is basically the same as Restaurant A380, only that the fabric on offer this time round is purple, similar to that worn by the inflight manager (or is it brown- see the comments).
If you’re lazy, you can just pick up a free rose and get your stamp outside the room. Bouquets are also available at S$12 each.
The balloon making station is somewhat chaotic, with kids grabbing the most colorful balloon they see and parents fumbling to find their passports. Get your stamp, take your balloon and clear out as fast as you can.
Flight Simulator Experience
The flight simulator experience add-on costs a whopping S$535, but I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from everyone who managed to get a slot. Remember, this is no arcade game; it’s the actual full motion simulator that pilots train on, and as real as it gets without stepping foot on an aircraft.
Here’s an account from Milelion reader ladderman (who incidentally also happens to be a pilot):
I was assigned to the B777-300 ER. As a pilot, I feel that the flight sim gave me many learning experiences as I requested the instructor to create a challenging maneuver for me like a wind shear on final approach.
I began my sim journey at the holding point of taxiway EN before taxiing towards the threshold of Runway 20C. My route was a scenic flight around Singapore as I passed by several landmarks such as Pulau Ubin, Tekong, CBD, etc… The entire duration was 30-45 mins.
The instructors were friendly and helped answer any doubts I had. They were also able to put technical jargon into layman terms and provided useful slides showing us the rank structure from an Ab Initio up to the management levels
The grooming workshop add-on costs S$94.16, and while I didn’t get to go for this one (my skin tone clashes with the SIA color palette), Milelion reader Yasmine did and shares her experience below:
I was one of the lucky few ladies who managed to snag a seat for the Grooming workshop, conducted by SIA cabin crew. Each participant was given a bag of freebies which included a Lancome makeup palette, hairbrush and Olay white radiance cream. Participants each receive a certificate at the end of the workshop.
During the workshop, participants did a brief self-introduction of themselves (name, occupation and favorite skincare/makeup product). The instructors covered essential makeup tips such as makeup shelf life, selecting the correct primer and foundation, as well as some of the steps needed to achieve the ‘Singapore Girl’ look. The instructor carried out a live demonstration of how to tie your hair into a bun, as well as how to tie a French twist. After a live demonstration on the application of eye shadow and eye liner, we were given the opportunity to do a hands-on makeup session. I got to apply a couple of shades of eye shadow on one eye using the techniques taught, closely guided by the instructors.
Having barely any experience in makeup, this was a bit intimidating for me as there were so many steps to remember and things to take note of. Luckily, 1 instructor is assigned for every 3 participants, so help is always at hand! Unfortunately, I had to miss the last part of the session as the 90 minute class overran past 11am, and I was attending the 11.15am tour.
I have to say that what made the session truly special were the dedicated instructors, who were ever willing to answer any question from participants, from insider information to personalized makeup tips. Being a complete noob when it comes to makeup, I was quickly put at ease by their patience and willingness to handhold me as I struggle to learn the basics of makeup application. As I had to leave the session earlier, they went the extra mile to offer to conduct a one-to-one tutorial for me after I had completed my tour, to cover the portions of the workshop that I had missed. I took them up on their offer, and indeed learnt more during my brief one-to-one session with them. They encouraged me to continue to practice my makeup skills at home.
To whoever is attending the workshop next week, do seize the opportunity to ask any questions on how SIA girls do their makeup and learn new makeup techniques along the way. You may learn interesting trivia along the way, such as the fact that each Singapore Girl has a unique set of makeup colours assigned to them, based on their skin tone, colour of kebaya and even personality (!)
The Wine Appreciation add-on costs S$40.66, and they were still selling spaces for the 3.15 p.m and 5 p.m slots on the day itself. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this was easily the highlight of the afternoon (but maybe that’s just the alcohol talking).
You’re ushered into a boring-looking lecture theatre, but don’t let appearances fool you- there’s a reason why this place is called the happiest room in the building. Here’s where cabin crew are taught the basics of wine appreciation, and where selected members can undergo more advanced training en route to their air sommelier badge.
Waiting at each seat are five wine glasses, a cheese plate (exactly identical to what First Class passengers get), a paper cup for spitting (you Philistine), and a labelled sheet to help you remember what’s what. It would have been nice if they provided some water to help you clear your palate in between wines.
Once everyone was seated, a welcome glass of Jacquart Mosaique champagne was served. Is it wrong that this was my favourite of all the wines poured?
Then starts the class proper, with the two (very knowledgeable) presenters walking us through the Singapore Airlines wine program, how wines are selected, refreshed and enjoyed onboard.
After that came two reds- a 2014 Albert Bichot Les Sorbets, and a 2015 Chateau Hostens-Picant, both from France. The wine experts gave tasting notes, and I tried to pretend like I was smelling the same things they were.
Along the way, I learned the following tidbits:
- Singapore Airlines passengers put away more than 2.1 million bottles of wine each year, with a S$30 million annual budget
- Sommeliers learn early on that the best wine is the one the passenger enjoys- there’s no judgement for enjoying a red with seafood, or a white with meat
- All wine that isn’t finished onboard is discarded- I swear I saw a tear in the presenter’s eye when he talked about how much Dom and Krug he’d seen wasted over the years
- Singapore Airlines used to serve Charles Heidsieck in Economy Class. Yes, Economy Class. This started in September 1998, and I’m still trying to find out when it was cut (9/11? SARS?)
- There’s been talk of offering a sparkling wine in Economy Class- not champagne, but perhaps a cheaper prosecco or cava, which would add some fun to honeymoon routes and set SIA apart from other airlines (I’m not aware of anyone who offers sparkling wine in Economy [edit: Delta?!]). Nothing’s confirmed, but who knows?
The whole experience was just over an hour, and went at a relaxed pace. The presenters clearly love what they do, and are more than happy to answer any questions you have.
Every time you disembark from a Singapore Airlines flight where the service was executed flawlessly, it’s worth remembering all that didn’t happen by chance. It’s the product of a long and arduous training process, one of the most intense anywhere in the industry.
Anyone who dismisses cabin crew as “flying waitresses” reveals how little they truly know about the job scope. Cabin crew don’t just heat and plate meals; they’re responsible for customer relations, safety, security, hygiene (cleaning the loos each hour on a fully loaded A380 requires a strong stomach), and the myriad of small things necessary to make each flight a smooth experience.
Cabin crew must be just as proficient making wine recommendations to the honeymooning couple in 43A/B as they are resolving a seat reclining dispute between 47 & 48E. They need to reassure 55B who’s having a panic attack about missing her connecting flight, while providing support to the flustered mother and screaming baby in 60G. They have to diffuse a potentially volatile situation with 73H, who is upset his special meal wasn’t loaded, while preparing a cake for the birthday boy in 79G. There’s no easy day.
I was so happy to run into a few crew who I met during Restaurant A380, and to see how energized they were to be in their element serving and helping guests. It’s a bright spark during these dark times, and not something to be taken for granted.
SIA doesn’t have plans to add extra sessions of Inside Singapore Airlines, but maybe they should- it really helps the public better appreciate the trials and sacrifices made by cabin crew to ensure their flights are safe and comfortable.
And hey, it’s a whole lot of fun too.
Did you attend Inside SIA? Do share your experiences!