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Talking tosh, the Singapore Airlines way

Screen Shot Singapore Girl

the singapore girl (the one on the right) – surplus or deficit? *image: sia website / screenshot by shukor yusof

Here’s proof the standard (in and out of the aircraft) at Singapore Airlines (SIA) has gone down another notch in recent times.

As part of an on-going review of its operations, SIA announced on August 3 it was offering voluntary unpaid leave to its cabin crew for three months starting September this year.

There’s nothing wrong for an airline to do that. Indeed, we think it’s a wise move. The problem, in our view, is the language used to convey the message to the media.

Bloomberg quoted an SIA spokesperson as saying: “Having temporary surpluses or deficits of cabin crew is not unusual due to the nature of our business… The intention is to offer it from time to time going forward.”

But wait, someone at Airline House in Changi clearly wasn’t done yet, to paraphrase Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway, in talking tosh.

“The division will need to exercise flexibility and nimbleness to better manage crew resources. VNPL and the leave buy-back scheme are measures that the division will take from time to time to achieve this objective,” SIA said in a notice to its cabin crew.

Say what?

First, the airline’s cabin crew are “surpluses” and “deficits”? And what is “the nature of our business”? Can’t they simply say: “It’s normal in the airline business to sometimes have more and sometimes fewer flight attendants than are needed.”

Deficits and surpluses – if you must know – belong in the financial sphere; for instance, when speaking about budgets, or goods and services. Your cabin crew, lest you forget, are of flesh and blood. Human beings. They made SIA “a great way to fly”, they’re not just digits on the balance sheet.

And what’s this “going forward” thing? Hasn’t anyone told your communications team such clichés are meaningless and vacuous? Nobody expects a top tier airline like SIA to go anywhere but forward!

Second, are employees in the division now expected to morph into contortionists so they can “exercise flexibility and nimbleness”?

You’d thought a world-class carrier could have done better than to send out banal, jargon-laden communiqués that are not only demeaning to its own staff, but devoid of creativity and originality, something SIA once excelled in.

We give you another example, this time of lazy copywriting: in May this year SIA announced it was flying to Stockholm, Sweden. And here’s how it described the Swedish city – “a vibrant capital with something to offer business and leisure travellers of all ages. From soaking in the rich culture of Gamla Stan…” Read it here.

Look, “vibrant” and “soaking” don’t quite go hand in hand, unless it’s in a vat of (Absolut) vodka. Most people we know go to Stockholm for the sex, snow and Smörgåsbord, or to find the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, not necessarily in that order. The more adventurous ones will probably go shop at Ikea.

We understand there’s quite a lot SIA needs to do these days, what with profits plunging and pesky low-cost rivals pressuring yields 24/7. But there’s no excuse in coming up with these sort of BS going forward – if you get the drift.

SIA has a tidy surplus of cash in its coffers but one can’t help feeling there’s a deficit in its emotional quotient.


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