Seven miles over the Java Sea, on the way from Singapore to Sydney, there is an emergency.
My glass vintage 2006 Dom Perignon becomes dangerously low. Before I can register my inner panic, the door of my cabin opens and an angel (earthly name: Kelly) is displayed. In a seamless gesture, Kelly fills my champagne flute, puts a new, reinforced linen napkin on my knee (I scattered some caviar) and scans the room for something out – everything while I'm laughing at me like I'd only said a lot of droll had not).
Meet Singapore Girl. She is an explanation of Asian hospitality, and the most durable brand ambassador of an international airline with a strong reputation for quality service. (It was ranked best in the world by TripAdvisor in 2018.) "We train the crew to anticipate customer needs," said Foo Juat Fang, a smooth yet formidable boss at Singapore Airlines major training facility. I felt that my needs were expected a lot, spooky so, traveling in suites class, which basically is a luxury hotel room in the sky and one step above first. The bedclothes (there is a 76-by-27-inch separate light sleeper) and the crystal is of Lalique, as are PJs, slippers and amenities. The leather upholstery is by Poltrona Frau; China is Wedgewood; and the overall design is by Jacques Pierrejean. Kelly, my champagne savior, has a Balmain uniform.
From the dawn of the jet, the mystery of the flight attendant – sad, flight attendant – sad, cabin crew member – has been part of our cultural mythology. Even as a child, I was tied up. Coming from a small town in Connecticut, I thought the job was beyond glamorous. Perhaps the glamor was inversely proportional to my sophistication (or lack of it). I once took an aerogram to a childhood pencil like "Paris, France, Europe", which my mom (rest his soul) found infinitely funny. There was also "Coffee, tea or me?" Trope in different comedy kisses like adults seemed to keep up – I did not know why, but I laughed. The line even became a television movie title in 1973, for a movie about a flight attendant, natch, played by Karen Valentine, a future neighbor. Years later when she came to a holiday party in my house, she baked a cake with Christmas cookies and said, "Coffee, tea or candy?" She smiled like I had just said something very stupid.
The brave sexy romance of flight attendant / flight attendant / cabin crew member got a huge boost in the mid 1960s when the groundbreaking adwoman Mary Wells Lawrence launched a campaign for Braniff International Airways entitled "The End of the Plain Plan". were decorated with vibrant colors, inside and out. She employed Emilio Pucci to design crew uniforms, which had sock-it-to-me prints in colors that could be seen from space. The first uniform was actually called Gemini IV and came with a space bubble helmet. An advertisement that was supposed to attract businessmen was a bit ugly and sexually suggestive. It was called "Air Strip", and that was exactly what it sounds like.
Lawrence's genius was to market air travel as a chic but achievable adventure. It was a feast on the sky. She sold both the destination and journey. And she seemed to know that the keys to her pitch were style and service, especially the service from the flight attendant (sad, highly trained cabin crew staff). Fifty years later, two of the world's premier airlines, emirates and Singapore are still working from a similar game book, especially in the first and business class. (Both airlines provided travel to attract for this story.) Between them, they enjoy the benefits: built-in showers, increasingly sophisticated wine and food programs, snacks and bubble and single paint lounges, luxury brand packages, big screen, def entertainment systems, and spacious, fully-fledged places that make sense to the phrase "Netflix and chill". However, Catherine Baird, vice president of cabin crew training at Emirates Aviation College in Dubai says "everything comes down to service and how the crew engages with customers – the human connection that defines the experience." Put in another way: high altitude.