Singapore Airlines rolling out a host of measures to reassure travellers

With Covid-19 wreaking havoc on global air travel, Singapore Airlines chief Goh Choon Phong talks to The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview about how the airline will weather these unprecedented times.

In addition to masks worn throughout the flight, all cabin crew now don goggles when interacting with customers. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

By the end of next month, travellers flying on Singapore Airlines (SIA) will be able to use their mobile phones to operate check-in kiosks at Changi Airport to print boarding passes and bag tags.

The SingaporeAir mobile app will also provide the latest information on travel and transit restrictions, for ease of booking and mind.

Other initiatives to be rolled out by the end of August include a digital version of the in-flight and shopping menu, the airline's chief executive Goh Choon Phong said.

Discussions are also ongoing with the airport and other partners to launch a new system that will allow SIA to alert passengers when it is their turn to board.

This will ensure that there is no crowding at the gatehold room.

Inside the plane, the "contactless journey" continues, with the mobile app already able to control the in-flight entertainment system.

With magazines and newspapers removed, passengers can also access SIA's electronic library with 150 titles.

They will be able to access all these services by connecting to the Wi-Fi network on board at no cost.

As the global aviation sector starts to slowly emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, industry bodies and airlines are doing all they can to assure travellers that it is safe to step into an aircraft.

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For SIA, this means leveraging technology in a big way, Mr Goh said. "Our top priority is ensuring that the safety and health concerns are addressed, both for our customers and staff... We are looking at every single detail and in a holistic manner; from the start to end of a customer's journey."

This includes regular and thorough cleaning of the aircraft, including the toilets.

With new safe distancing and other regulatory guidelines issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore for all Singapore carriers, SIA has also had to adjust its in-flight service. For example, in addition to masks that are worn throughout the flight, all cabin crew now don goggles when interacting with customers, and also put on gloves when serving meals. Contact with customers is kept to a minimum.

Those flying long-haul on business class are now served a one-tray meal, instead of the several courses served pre-Covid-19. On flights to South-east Asia and mainland China, they get a snack bag.

While all this has had some impact on the much-lauded SIA service, Mr Goh is confident the airline can retain its edge over its rivals when it comes to service in the air.

"I think the customers are still able to sense the attentiveness, the warmth and the friendliness of our crew when they serve them," he said.

"We continue to receive very good feedback from our customers... Some of them tell us that despite the crew wearing masks, for example, they can sense that the crew are smiling and are very friendly."

When it comes to food, the quality remains the same, he stressed.

"This is an opportunity for us to be innovative and to think creatively about how, despite the constraints, we can continue to deliver good service and also good quality meals for our customers.

For example, satay, which had to be taken off the menu initially because it was served as a separate course, will soon make a comeback in business class and be part of the meal tray.

On whether less service will mean cheaper fares, Mr Goh reiterated that demand and supply will ultimately decide how much travellers pay. "We believe that we will... continue to deliver a good and valued service to our customers."

This includes not just the in-flight service but also the entire experience, including the various measures and initiatives being rolled out to ensure the safety of customers, he added.

Travellers said that while the measures taken by airlines will go some way to reassure them, they are unlikely to want to travel until restrictions imposed by countries are lifted. These include, for example, having to be in quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Singaporeans and residents are mindful that if they travel and get Covid-19, they will have to bear the full cost of the treatment.

Graduate student Lydia Cheng, 24, said: "There's a very slim chance of me travelling, just given the risk in general. I don't think I can really enjoy a trip when Covid-19 is at the back of my mind."

It will be a long road to recovery but Mr Goh remains confident that SIA will emerge from this unprecedented crisis stronger, citing how it had overcome previous challenges such as the competition from low-cost and Middle Eastern carriers.

He said: "We have never shied from competition; we have always looked at challenges practically and made the necessary adjustments in order to not just meet the competition but to emerge stronger."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 07, 2020, with the headline Singapore Airlines rolling out a host of measures to reassure travellers. Subscribe