People from all walks of life converge at this busy platform we call Changi Airport, and airline customer service staff are at the front line when it comes to dealing with jetlagged, irate but (sometimes) interesting passengers, wanting to get from point A to B as fast as possible.
I followed Thai AirAsia Guest Service Officer Alan Yam for a day to discover what a typical day is like for someone dealing with these kinds of problems.
Guest Service Officer: Alan Yam
Workplace: Counter 11, Departure Hall, Terminal 1
Job: Handling reservations and complaints, answering strange questions, receiving payment for overweight baggage and receiving feedback from passengers of Thai AirAsia.
9:10am: Disheveled-looking Chinese guy alights at counter. Asks if he can board the flight at 11am. Slight dispute ensues over weight of his hand-carry luggage (only a maximum of 7kg allowed). Cool-as-ice Alan Yam punches calculator busily and tells guy exactly how much he has to pay for weight difference. Chap gets boarding pass and is mollified.
9:15am: Next—Caucasian couple stops by. Portly guy gives me funny looks. Forgets about me when his pass is issued.
9:25am: Two ladies in full uniform with scarves and nifty skirts swoop down on Alan. They are luggage handling agents. They ask Alan some questions and he answers expertly.
10:15am: Good-looking couple asks random question—the flight schedule for Japan Airlines. Alan swiftly directs them to counter 4. Cool.
10:45am: Elderly Chinese man approaches counter tentatively. Wants to get to a place written on a piece of paper. Alan examines it and tells the old man that the address is for Malaysia AirAsia, in Johor Bahru. Gives clear directions on how to get to JB. There doesn’t seem to be a question Alan can’t answer.
11:30am: Flustered woman looking like a headless chicken asks Alan to check if her son, who is traveling with a school group, is on the next flight. Alan says politely that she should check with his school instead. “It’s better for her to check with the school, because I can’t reveal the exact movement of the passengers for security reasons,” he explains.
11:30am-12:50pm: Ultra boring period where I almost doze off and contemplate catching flies. Alan says “it’s quite quiet at this time, lah,” and clears his paperwork.
12:50pm: Woman pops up and asks where the POSB ATM and toilets are located. “Common questions lah, those,” says Alan. “We are like an information counter a lot of the time,” he says with a wry grin.
1:00pm: Alan’s colleague, Sheikh arrives. Counter gets super busy.
1:20pm: Would-be passenger asks Sheikh next check-in time. It’s at 3:35pm, so the check-in time is two hours before that—1:35pm. Sheikh says with an air of resignation that it’s a dead common question too.
1:28pm: Thai male passenger asks about check-in time. Also wants to know the timing of the next flight. It’s 8:40pm, so Sheikh advises him to return at 6:40pm.
1:55pm: Two ruddy-faced Englishmen stop by. Say they had called earlier to enquire about the next flight—it’s their first time flying with Thai AirAsia. Sheikh The Expert runs through regulations—no alcohol (audible sighs of dismay), free seating, meals to be purchased on board, etc. Then swiftly prints out the receipts and itineraries for them as they pay.
2:00pm: A gaggle of Indian ladies clad in multi-hued saris gather at departure gates. “Got lots of drama at the airport if you look around,” advises Sheikh. He’s absolutely right.
2:33pm: Caucasian couple make payment for their overweight baggage by credit card. Guy asks why the weight limit for luggage is 15kg, while other airlines have a 20kg limit. Sheikh explains quickly and politely that it is done to keep costs down so that flight prices can still be cheap. Guy argues some more. Finally Sheikh blurts, “It’s to make more money.” Direct approach works like magic. Guy shuts up. Wow.
2:38pm. Grungy-looking Caucasian drops by. Wants to know how he can change the time of his flight to a later one. Alan tells him he has to buy a new ticket. Guy looks bummed out but—no choice.
2:44pm. Another no-brainer but common question is asked—where’s the AXS machine?
3:28pm: Two businessmen want to delay their flight dates by one week. Proceed to make extra payment for penalty charges and fare differences.
3:50pm:. Mysterious looking Indian dude in shades asks about the fare. Freaks out a little at ticket price but returns later for more information.
4:00pm: I take my leave of the fascinating place called the airport, where strange questions and quirky characters abound—with a newfound respect for the guys I spent a day watching.