Behind-the-scenes at SIA Training Centre
I’ve always likened SIA Training Centre (STC) to a Barbie doll factory: trainees enter this mysterious facility in their “raw” state and come out polished Singapore Girls three months later.
It might sound a little exaggerated, but it’s true – after all, I was one of them when I made the YOLO decision to become a Singapore Airlines stewardess back in 2016.
After I left the airline in 2018, I never expected to set foot in STC ever again, until the opportunity to attend the one-off, sold-out Inside Singapore Airlines tour cropped up. Geared up with a familiar nervousness and mixed feelings of fear and excitement, I relived my time at STC for a day. If you’re curious to know what really goes on in here, read forth.
– The training centre –
There’s a massive warehouse with air crash simulators
From the outside, the SIA Training Centre looks like a typical office building. A driveway brings you to an atrium, which branches to wings on either side that house offices and classrooms. It’s pretty impressive then, that this facade actually conceals a massive warehouse with aircraft cabin and door mockups used for Safety Emergency Procedures (SEP) training.
The most impressive feature here is part of an actual aircraft body that has two huge emergency slides attached to it – the very ones that would be used in real-life emergencies.
During my training days and yearly safety recurrent training as a cabin crew, I got to slide down these bad boys quite a few times. It sounds fun, but if you’re not a fan of heights, jumping onto a slide from a height of about one storey while keeping your body poised to avoid injuries isn’t the easiest task.
But that’s not the coolest thing about this mock-up. It’s also designed to mimic a real-life crash. I’m talking smoke, pre-recorded screaming and crash sounds, lights flickering, and even visuals of flames you can “see” through the windows. As a trainee, I spent many days here screaming evacuation commands, grabbing safety and survival equipment, and rescuing dummies.
This area also has mock-ups of various types of aircraft doors. We had to know the inside-outs of operating them and what to do in case of possible faults during an emergency like malfunctioning doors and faulty slides… plus hone the muscle power to actually manually push open heavy jammed doors.
We also had practice sessions on how to evacuate and rescue people from crew bunks. There were life-size water rafts too, where we had to huddle onto them and assemble protective tarps. Fun fact: these always smelt like vomit for some reason.
There’s a swimming pool with waves
It’s a known fact that being able to swim is a job requirement for both cabin crew and pilots. But you don’t actually have to be as pro as Joseph Schooling to qualify as a “swimmer”. Swimming exercises here weren’t about doing butterfly or freestyle strokes, but rather how to shimmy your way through water while wearing an inflated life vest and your kebaya.
Hearing the sound of the waves in the pool during the tour brought back a sinking feeling in my tummy. I dreaded having to jump into this pool during training, let alone imagine having to do it with waves.
The water safety mock-up at STC has another aircraft cabin replica that hovers about 2 metres over the pool. Crew have to basically be able to jump down into the water, and practice things like huddling for warmth in the water and swimming with an incapacitated person.
That wasn’t the toughest part; we had to be able to haul ourselves up onto a life raft. It was no easy feat, considering we had a life vest blocking half our faces and extra drag from our soaking wet kebayas.
Now, I never got to experience this part for myself, but this swimming pool has the ability to generate ocean-like waves of different frequencies. That way, crew can truly feel what it’s like to swim against a current.
There are actual aircraft “cabins” in the building
The safety and emergency warehouse isn’t the only place in the building with aircraft mock-ups. There are also cabin replicas that are used as classrooms for service training at the opposite end of the building.
Aircraft enthusiasts would have a field day here, with mockups of pretty much all of SIA’s fleet, from the classic B777 to the snazzy new A350s. These include cabins for economy, business, first and suites classes.
These “classrooms” have aisles lined with actual aircraft seats, overhead storage, functioning P.A. systems, as well as functioning galleys for crew to prepare hot meals – just like the real thing.
We’d have practical exams and role-play sessions here, which involved us dressing in full kebayas and serving meals to our batchmates who’d double up as “passengers”.
Pilots can “fly” there
I always knew there were flight simulators in the building, but had never seen them for myself until the Inside Singapore Airlines tour.
You’ll even hear the sounds of an actual aircraft inside these cockpits
Turns out there’s yet another “hidden” warehouse-like space that houses four Boeing 777, 737 and 787 flight simulators that can actually move. They’re propped up on hydraulics to mimic real-life movements like the aircraft taking off, going through turbulence, and landing – bumps and all.
Media personnel weren’t allowed inside the simulators during the tour, but we got the next best thing: a procedure trainer that uses computer screens instead.
According to the SIA pilots onsite, these simulators feel 90% realistic compared to the real thing. Other than SOPs, this is where they can get a feel of emergency situations.
Fun fact: There are screens that resemble aircraft windows inside the simulator. These will also display outside conditions like bad weather and snow.
They have classrooms for everything
Given the detail of cabin mockups within the SIA Training Centre, it’s not surprising that they have classrooms tailored for specific types of training.
Our day-to-day classes were usually held in regular classrooms, but once in a while we got a change of scenery in one of the speciality classrooms in the building.
The Deportment Room
Probably everyone’s favourite one was the Deportment Room – a room that has floor-to-ceiling mirrors. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time here – perhaps just a couple of days – but we did use it to learn how to walk elegantly, and gracefully carry trays. It also doubled as our fitting room for when we got to try on our kebayas for the first time.
During our first week of training, we headed to the Grooming Room where we were assigned hairstyles and makeup. Some crew were forced to chop their long hair off if they weren’t deemed suitable for it.
Our least favourite place to be in was probably the Grooming Room. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a pretty impressive room lined with mirrors with professional-looking lighting that would be the envy of any beauty guru.
But it was here where we were assigned our hairstyles and makeup colours, and had grooming checks to make sure we weren’t doing anything “illegal” like growing our nails too long or using non-approved eyeshadow colours.
There’s even a dedicated Wine Room where crew can go for wine courses and gun for a certification as a wine professional a.k.a. sommelier
– The culture –
Crew culture is ingrained from day one
If you’ve met any SIA cabin crew, you’d already be well aware of what a big deal “crew culture” is in the airline. Naturally, as a trainee, you’re exposed to it from the first day you start training.
Spending three months here was interesting, to say the least. Trainees were required to greet every single person they walked past, whether you were a fellow trainee, the cleaning staff, someone from management, or an unsuspecting visitor. This means it was normal to see groups of 20 perfectly groomed 20-something-year-olds greeting you “good morning” in chorus.
If we didn’t greet someone who worked in the building, there was an 80% chance it would get back to our trainers, which meant we’d be in deep trouble. Now that I look back, it made sense because we had to eventually get used to cheerfully interacting with hundreds of strangers a.k.a. passengers on every flight.
Just like how it is once you start operating on flights, seniority in the training centre gives you more confidence the longer you are there. Most trainees will become familiar with the ins and outs of the culture by the time they hit their second month, so as you progress through “tougher” parts of training like aircraft fleet training and SEP, you become to feel more boss.
Although we were required to greet everyone it was an unspoken expectation that more junior batches would have to first take the initiative to greet more senior batches. Little did we all know that the moment we set foot on an actual aircraft, it would be a whole new ball game of facing crew who were up to 20-plus years our seniors. Good times.
You can get rebatched or kicked out
“Rebatched” was probably the most feared word during my training days. From the first day we were there, we were informed that taking leave and sick days would result in us being rebatched. By missing a day’s worth of classes, you’d have to retake that particular class with a newer batch of trainees while your current batch moved on with the programme.
My batchmates and I preparing for a presentation late into the evening
Image credit: Jessica Fang
The most horrifying part was, those who’d been rebatched would have to wait several weeks or even months to join a new available batch. This was because each batch was allowed a maximum of 20 trainees, and with the hiring surge during my time there, it was rare to have batches with fewer than 20 pax.
Likewise, if you failed a course, such as the English language course, or aircraft fleet exams, there was a high chance you had to do it over from the start.
For worst case scenarios, like trainees with major attitude problems, getting the boot was a possibility. During my time there, we heard of a trainee who stole a wallet of another trainee, which resulted in his immediate dismissal.
We studied and role-played a lot
I’ve mentioned this before but I’ll say it again: being an SIA cabin crew is not easy. The pressure to not get rebatched was pretty intense, to say the least, so most of us would be on our toes when it came to our health, practicing practical assessments, and cramming for exams.
Cabin crew role-playing as crew and passengers during the Inside Singapore Airlines tour
There were assessments nearly every week, and we had to absorb a lot of information and regurgitate them in specific orders as soon as we were quizzed about something. For example, we had to memorise exact steps as to what to do in the event of turbulence during meal service – anything that deviated from the black-and-white meant we were on our route to failure.
The Inside Singapore Airlines tour had a junior cabin crew programme where little girls got to experience what it’s like to serve on an aircraft
We spent a lot of our time up in the service and safety mock-ups role-playing possible scenarios. Memorising specific technical names for everything from safety equipment to serviceware was also a must. We were also required to know what to say in every scenario, including dealing with nervous and nasty passengers and doing service recovery when something went wrong.
We had full-blown graduation ceremonies
Just like school, we had an actual graduation day on the very last day of training at the SIA Training Centre. After all the hard work we put in for three months straight, I guess we deserved this grand send-off. Graduations were held at the training centre’s auditorium, and we were tasked to organise it ourselves.
My graduation ceremony
Image credit: Jessica Fang
The format of the ceremony was pretty cut-copy-paste from other batches’ ceremonies. We had to prepare a couple of performances and presentations, sing the company song, recite the cabin crew pledge, and go up onstage to receive a bunch of certs.
It was common to have batches perform their own renditions of the company song, or do dances and skits. Our audience was a mix of management staff, our family members, and other trainees who had to attend our ceremony. We also received special awards like Best Trainee, Best Grooming and Good English awards.
After the ceremony wrapped, we also had catered food and DIYed photo walls and display tables for picture-taking.
By the time I left the airline, I heard they had either simplified graduation ceremonies to exclude performances or eliminated them completely.
Revisiting SIA Training centre after 4.5 years
As trainees, we managed to squeeze in fun moments too, and took tons of group photos throughout our time at STC.
Image credit: Jessica Fang
Before attending the Inside Singapore Airlines tour, I had familiar feelings of nervousness. But seeing the facility filled with eager visitors quickly changed that.
With the tour being sold out in just nine hours following its release, I realised just how rare my experience was. Plus, there aren’t any current plans to bring back these public tours in the future.
Coming back here as an “outsider” and observing the reactions of visitors “oohing and ahhing” at the training facilities gave me a little sense of pride: I was among the iconic Singapore Girls who went through all this.
Experiencing life at the SIA Training Centre and getting to use its cool facilities was once-in-a-lifetime for sure. And this mix of bittersweet memories is something that I’ll likely treasure for life.
Read more of our Singapore Airlines experiences below:
- Singapore Airlines Restaurant A380 review
- KrisFlyer First Class cable car Sky Dining
- SIA@Home meal delivery review
- Airline secrets exposed
- What it’s like to be a Singapore Airlines cabin crew
Photography by Lery Villanueva.