Text and image by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra
We seem to be different dining customers in the air. Perhaps due to the lower air pressure, cramped legroom, or the unpleasant cabin odour, we become neurotic, demanding and disproportionately upset when the demands can’t be met. But the thing is, someone has to take all that nonsense from us, and do so with a smile. We speak to Ms Jeannette Chew, who was a Singapore Airlines stewardess between 2004 and 2009, to find out what’s a passenger’s right, and what’s plain bullying.
What was the weirdest demand you received? Someone asked me for bubble tea. We have tea, but not the bubble, so we have to explain to the passenger and apologise. Another passenger asked for teh tarik. He claimed that he had it on his previous flight, so I asked the chief if she wants to do it. Since the other crew spoiled market, we had no choice but try to tarik with two cups.
Why did you have to ask the chief’s permission to serve teh tarik? For something out of the norm, you have to ask the higher rank to make a decision. What if the whole cabin wants it? It’s better to pass that responsibility to the senior.
Can passengers ask for second serving? Yes. But it depends whether we have extra. And it also depends whether we want to give or not.
Because we want to eat mah. The crew has the privilege to choose their food first and then the ranking crew (industry speak for senior crew) will set them aside for us. But most of the time the crew will sacrifice their own meal if someone asks for more food.
The crew doesn’t have to eat?
It could be a short flight so the crew can eat after landing. Or maybe she’s already sick of eating in-flight food.
Did the food variety change during the five years you were working? Business class had special features like a 10 course Chinese meal for Singapore-China flight. For economy class it’s pretty much the same.
Food for economy class didn’t change for five years?
Not that it didn’t change at all. For meats you have fish, chicken or beef, which will come with either potato or rice. Sometimes they change the sauce. It is different but pretty much the same.
Do steward/stewardess gossip about demanding, ill-tempered passengers?
Words will spread. Not so much to gossip but to warn one another.
What was the most common complaint?
Not enough choice. By the time we reach the end of the aisle, there may only be one type left. The passengers either take whatever that’s left or they throw a tantrum and tell you they don’t want to eat anymore. It’s up to you and your ranking crew whether you want to give them something from the business class.
Isn’t it unfair to the passengers at the end of the aisle? No choice. We can’t prepare two sets for every passenger right? That will be a lot of wastage. If it’s a long haul flight we will alternate (the serving sequence) between the front and the back row.
What do you do with leftovers? SATS will collect from the plane. Usually they’ll throw.
What other options, besides in-flight meal, do passengers have?
Cup noodles are very popular. Some even forgo their business class meal for that. Usually after one person asks for it, a few others will requests too.
How will the others know?
The smell is very strong. The moment you make one and the whole cabin can smell it.
Can passengers bring their own food?
Yes! There were people who brought their own food and asked us to heat it up. We have seen chicken rice, McDonald’s…
Does turbulence make serving challenging?
We like turbulence because we don’t have to work. Everyone including us has to be seated. Sometimes the captain allows us to serve, but we can’t serve hot drinks just in case.