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SIA's top brass walk the talk

The next time you're onboard a Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight, be sure to look closely at the cabin crew. The steward serving you juice or handing you a newspaper might well be the airline's chief executive.

For the last three years, SIA's 13-strong management team have been trying their hand as cabin crew at least once or twice annually, in a bid to glean first-hand knowledge and feel of what happens on the ground (or in the air, in this case).

Assigned routes are typically short-haul to facilitate a turn-around flight on the same day, giving the cabin crew "trainee" an opportunity to serve first in Economy Class and later in the Business Class cabin.

"It gives us a chance to talk to the crew as a colleague working onboard," says SIA chief Goh Choon Phong, who has done routes such as Hong Kong and Manila. "With management's attention, things do get expedited, which is helpful."

"I think (the cabin crew) very much welcome it," he adds. "They can really show us the constraints they face, then suggest things we can improve for the sake of our customers. These (could be) small operational details that are very useful for a crew," Mr Goh says. "Other than that, it's about working with our people in the frontline and experiencing what they experience."

Some passengers are curious when they spot him greeting them at the door, serving drinks or plating food. He goes on to say: "I have refrained from serving hot drinks, for obvious reasons. I don't want to embarrass our crew! They are well-trained for it. I'm not."

Mr Goh, an industry veteran who has been with the company since 1990, studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, where he racked up three undergraduate degrees - in Computer Science and Engineering, Management Science and Cognitive Science - as well as a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

In another life he might have gone on to do his PhD in artificial intelligence, but the lessons learnt during his university days still help him today. "The analytical process of how you dissect problems and go about solving them - those are things that will stay with you for a long time," he points out.

Oh, and the easiest part about being cabin crew?

Handing out ice-cream, he quips. "Everybody is happy to get it."