A Flightful Experience

Students from the Diploma in Integrated Facility Management (IFM) do their internship at various organisations where they learn to manage facilities ranging from integrated resorts and theme parks, to commercial buildings, offices and even aviation facilities.  One of them, Lee Hong Sheng, shares about his internship at Changi Airport.

Hong Sheng (arrowed) with his fellow interns at Changi Airport

I was attached for a 4-month fruitful internship with Changi Airport Group (CAG), and was deployed at one of Singapore’s main attractions, Changi Airport as a Changi Youth Ambassador (CYA).   During the internship, I was attached to the Ground Operations department to manage the flow of arriving passengers and immigration procedures.  Our shifts were very unusual and different from regular office hours.  There were 3 shifts – morning, afternoon and night!  This is because the airport runs 24 hours each day!  However, I am very thankful that I do not have to work 7 days a week.  I was given 2 days of ample rest each week before I start the work cycle again.

The internship fell in June, which was the worldwide holiday peak period!  Indeed, as expected, there was an influx of tourists and CYA interns had to be deployed to manage queues at different parts of the airport.  For me, I was attached to the arrival immigration at Terminal 3 to observe the number of open counters and at the same time, to ensure that passengers pass smoothly through the Enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System (eIACS).  On one of the days when I had to work the night shift, there were so many people leaving immigration that I found it immensely tiring.  Through that experience, I learnt that there were in fact more flights arriving in Singapore during the dead of night than during the day!  This was indeed an eye opener for me, as it was not taught in class. 

Since it was in the wee hours of the morning, there were no buses or MRT, so taxi was the only mode of transportation.  Unbelievably, the queues at both the North and South taxi stands were so long that that both ends of the queue met!  It was so busy that the Cisco personnel had to be deployed to help with the management of the long queue!  As CYAs, my colleagues and I provided refreshments and guided the passengers to the queues.  We also had to ensure that the pathways along the concourse were not blocked.

Throughout my internship, I also had to handle numerous flexi-gate changes.  This refers to the situation whereby the arriving aircraft has a last minute change in its gate number.  Initially, I didn’t think that this was important.  However, thankfully, one incident made me realise its importance.  On one day in Terminal 3, there was a last minute gate change and the gates were situated far apart.  Passengers were uncertain and worried.  Those who were on connecting flights had to rush and hurry over to another gate to catch the next flight.  With airport knowledge gathered in class and on-the-job, I explained to the passengers the different directions to their respective gates and also answered their queries.  I had to guide them to their gates and apologise for the inconvenience.  That day was really hectic and tiring I must say.  Yet, it was really a good and fulfilling learning experience for me! 

Another rewarding experience would be when this passenger left her baggage at the arrival immigration hall and she cleared immigration and came out without her luggage!  How forgetful she was!  She must have been so happy after her trip that she forgot all about her belongings!  

Being an intern, I was unsure of what to do and what was the right protocol for re-entering the transit area.  I was really stressed up and worried for both the passenger and myself.  I was afraid that I might commit a mistake that could get me fired and cause me to fail my internship. Luckily, I was near an information counter and I was able to approach the airport staff for help.  Ok, so guess what’s the standard operating procedure for such a scenario?  Well, only the owner of the baggage could re-enter and retrieve the baggage herself!  I was surprised when I heard about this rule as I had absolutely no clues about it before.  The experience was really an eye-opener! 

To cut the long story short… As the baggage left behind belonged to the passenger’s sister, the passenger was unable to re-enter and retrieve the baggage herself.  She tried so hard to convince the airport staff that it was inconvenient for her sister to come back to retrieve the baggage as the sis had already reached home.  However, rules are rules.  So in the end, yes, the poor sister came all the way back to the airport.  One thing’s for sure, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so these safety measures are actually essential for a positive travel experience in our airport and country. 

By now, you can see that I had made many eye-opening discoveries during this internship.  But what comes next tops them all!  I bet you didn’t even know about this!  Here you go…. Well, the Terminal 3, Row 9 check-in counter is usually reserved only for Umrah Flights.  Umrah are non-mandatory pilgrimage flights for Muslims, who travel to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, via Saudi Arabian Airlines.  There were several times that I got deployed to manage Umrah Flights.  Once, even though we knew that about 60 passengers were going for Umrah, there were approximately 300 people crowding around the check-in counters!  It was chaotic!  Thankfully, Umrah Flights only depart on Saturdays, so we do not get this kind of chaos every day.

Once, an Umrah flight was not announced yet, so CAG was not able to provide barricades at the check in area.  Without barricades being set up, the large crowd could not be kept out, and so they followed the departing passengers to the Departure Immigration Hall.  This resulted in so much congestion and inconvenience for the actual passengers.  What we did was to advise those not travelling to stand aside at the corners, though it was still quite chaotic.  Ultimately, I made another startling discovery: that the ratio of passengers to well-wishers for Umrah flights is usually 1:5!  That is, for every flying passenger, there would be 5 friends or relatives seeing the passenger off.  Now, imagine if we had 60 departing passengers!  So as you can see, Umrah travellers and their families and friends are a really closely knit lot! 

After spending 19 weeks in CAG, my experience was truly invaluable.  I am very thankful to have such an amazing internship!  I have learnt that teamwork and communication come hand in hand.  Communicating with my team and supporting one another in our different deployments have made the whole process of solving problems much easier.  In addition, it has enabled me to apply the knowledge which I had gained from my diploma course, to real life scenarios, to solve real life issues that can never be learnt within the four walls of a classroom. 

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