Monday, July 25, 2016

Older and Long-Serving Air-Cabin Staff Need not be Sullen and Inefficient

For international travel, my first choice is Singapore Airlines.  However I often book Qatar Airlines, a close second in impeccable service, because of lower fares. (I have heard that the Emirate is subsidizing the airline to build its prestige and customer base.) Two demographics distinguish the cabin staffs of both airlines. :  they are predominantly female and within the 25 to 35 year-old age bracket.

Service on my rare journeys by American Flag carries – Delta, American and United fall well below the standard of Singapore and Qatar.  This saddens me since in the 1970s when I began an international travel regimen, Pan American and TWA, now both defunct, were the world leaders.  Not only are staff members less proactive and efficient, but also noticeably less cheerful.  Many seem only to be “putting in their time,” reluctantly fulfilling the obligations of a career they no longer find rewarding. My own impressions have been confirmed by friends and colleagues who, for various reasons must frequent  American flag carriers for international travel more regularly.

In addition to quality of service, what has also distinguished the American Flag Carrer cabin staffs has been their demographic:  many are in their 30s, 40s and, perhaps, even 50s.  This had pointed me towards two generalizations:  (1) cabin service ought to be a profession for the young; this is not a job that women and men over age 35 find rewarding.  (2)  American work-rules forbidding “age discrimination” require airline managements to keep lower-performing older staff members on the job. 

A recent trip on British Airways, from Tampa to London and London to Delft gave the lie to my generalizations.  Cabin staff members were neither young nor slim (they were predominantly, not exclusively, female). However they were not only warmly welcoming but efficient. I would gladly choose British Airways again and look forward to the journey, should the need arise.

What explains the disparity?  Clearly it is neither the age or years of service of cabin staff members.  Rather, I believe the explanation is high quality versus slovenly, and or indifferent and oppressive management on the part of those who supervise them. 

Saturday, July 09, 2016


Soon after I arrived for my first extended stay in Singapore, I was fortunate to meet with Professor Lui Pao  Chuen. “PC”, as he is called by many,  is among the wisest of the wise men who, though freed from daily responsibilities, generously share their wisdom with members of Singapore’s business, academic and public  policy communities.

After an exchange of greetings, PC got right to the point.  “What are you going to do for Singapore?,”  he asked sharply.  “It would be presumptuous for me, as a foreigner, to visit your country with plans to “do” anything specific,” was my response.  “I have come to learn about Singapore and, perhaps, when I have spent ample time observing, listening and learning, to share what I have learned with others.”

Several conference papers and publications, most notably “The Improbable Resilience of Singapore” (co authored with a Singaporean, Elizabeth Ong) are frist attempts to make what have been learning accessible and useful.  They represent just a tiny fraction of what there is to be shared.  I have decided that periodically resuming this Dormgrandpop Blog may, be another means of sharing. 

Singapore’s unique political-economic-social experiment has much to offer. What never ceases to amaze me is how few individuals whose paths cross mine either know about or care about Singapore’s political-social-economy. That “average citizens’ ” knowledge does not extend beyond “caning,” bans against chewing gum sales and vague notions of “authoritarianism” should, perhaps, not surprise me.  But to hear similar reactions from many academics and public intellectuals, who are my professional acquaintances, does.

This morning as news reports describe an America that is wracked by race-based turbulence and gun violence, I wish to mention two Singapore policies that could make a difference.   The first – rigorous proscription of firearms sales  - is one that Singapore shares with most nations of the world.  The second, proscription of enthno-religious political appeals and incitements is not. 

Before independence,  Singapore was a state within a Nation espousing a policy based on racial preference for “sons of the soil”, Malaysia.   At the time, Lee Kuan Yew observed that political/public policy statements that were the norm in Malaysia were a crime in Singapore; those that were the norm in Singapore were a crime in Malaysia.  Malaysia’s ruling party is the United National Malay Organization (UMNO).   My book, Paradise Poisoned, describes the tragedy visited on all Sri Lankans by racially preferential policies.  Like mustard gas when the wind changes, they “blow back” and poison those who use them. 

America and Singapore are societies that differ vastly.  But I have come to believe that immersing oneself in Singapore’s society does offer principles that merit consideration by America’s political leaders and those of other nations.  One, I have just described   Another provided a foundation for Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew’s  governance philosophy.  It graces the entrance of the School of Public Policy that bears his name and where I help students prepare of public policy service:  “IF YOU WANT TO REALIZE YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS, YOU CANNOT DO IT WITHOUT DISCIPLINE.”