Airport veteran wins top service award again

He befriended, helped parents of unconscious traveller; later arranged to fly his ashes to HK

Mr Karuppiah cut short an overseas trip for the wedding of a friend's daughter to attend Mr Goh's funeral.
Mr Karuppiah cut short an overseas trip for the wedding of a friend's daughter to attend Mr Goh's funeral.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

When a Singaporean traveller at Changi Airport became unconscious while waiting for his flight to Hong Kong last November, security officers rushed him to an ambulance.

But though they had done their duty, Senior Officer Commanding Arumugam Karuppiah, 55, did not let them stop there. Mr Karuppiah, who has worked for 35 years with Certis Cisco Aviation Security (CAS), got his team to check on the man in hospital the next day, then personally befriended his elderly father and mother, aged 86 and 79 respectively, and helped them through the difficult time.

For his dedication, Mr Karuppiah won Changi Airport Group's Service Personality of the Year award last night for the second time; the first was in 2000.

When he found out the day after the incident that the unmarried business consultant, identified only as Mr Goh, was the sole breadwinner for his parents, he visited the family in hospital to see how he could help.

"I am the same age as him," he said, holding back tears. "His parents were quite lost and said they didn't know what to do."

Mr Goh died several days later. Mr Karuppiah cut short an overseas trip for the wedding of a friend's daughter to attend the funeral.

"It was a very touching moment," said Mr Goh's cousin Joanna Portilla, 44, an educator. "He was able to share with the family exactly what happened after watching CCTV footage."

Mr Karuppiah and his CAS team raised an undisclosed amount for the family. He later helped arrange for Ms Portilla and her aunt to fly with her cousin's ashes to Hong Kong, where he had lived, liaising with the airline to help secure tickets on a fully booked flight and explaining the procedures for travelling with ashes in order to lessen their worry.

"Although we didn't know him, as fellow humans we wanted to give our support to the family," he said.

He still keeps in touch with the family and he visited Mr Goh's father in hospital earlier this week upon learning he had been admitted after a fall. "We've found a friend in him and we'll keep up this friendship," said Ms Portilla.

Mr Karuppiah picked up the top award out of 21 given out at a dinner for Changi Airport staff and partners at Marina Bay Sands last night.

Outstanding service staff, custodial staff, and service teams were also honoured. CAS was named Service Partner of the Year, having garnered double the number of passenger compliments last year compared with the previous two years combined.

Maintaining service excellence in the face of heightened security demands, slowing manpower growth and global economic pressures will be a challenge, said Changi Airport Group chief executive Lee Seow Hiang in his speech. But the airport weathered similar pressures after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks and now has the resources and technology to help optimise manpower, he noted.

"All collaboration and service exellence boils down to...the passion and motivation of our people to make the difference," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'Airport veteran wins top service award again'. Subscribe