They might not be the people we think about often. In fact, we only wonder about them when we’re on our flight to that long-awaited holiday.
However, they are out there, in the skies and on ground, helping millions of travellers fly safely and comfortably to their next destination.
It’s not a job for everyone. Working as part of an airline team is demanding unless you have a passion to fly. For this Malaysia Airlines pilot, cabin crew, and aircraft engineer, there is no other feeling like it in the world.
Megat Arizal, a pilot who has been flying since 1997, says the happiest moment for most pilots is when they take off and land on their own
“The first time you start flying, you’ll be flying with an instructor to guide and teach you. When you are finally able to do everything on your own, nothing beats that,” Arizal says.
His most memorable memory from when he started flying for MAS was the first time he stepped into a Boeing 737-800. “During pilot training, we fly model aircrafts that are only single-seaters. It’s different from a real aircraft. When you actually get into the 737 and see how big the plane is, that was amazing. It’s huge!”
There is so much more to piloting than just ferrying passengers from one country to another. Arizal told us about a flight soon after the recent Nepal earthquake that left him a memory like no other.
A few days after the earthquake, Arizal was scheduled to fly the plane into Kathmandu. He remembered it being a full flight as the airport had just reopened. As the airport had only just recovered, the plane had to hold for a very long time before they were allowed to land. The weather was clear, but bumpy. He circled the plane just outside of Kathmandu for over an hour, waiting for the permission to land. He was getting nervous and the plane had 10 minutes of fuel left.
The wait was making the passengers impatient and anxious, especially since Kathmandu is not a normal airport; it is a special airport surrounded by terrains. He remembers constantly talking to the customers and providing updates to calm them down.
Finally, he received the green light to land. Right as the plane hit the tarmac, everyone started to clap. One by one, the passengers thanked Arizal for a safe flight as they disembarked. Even though Arizal hears “thank you” a lot, he does not experience as much interaction with people when he’s in the cockpit. “That was a rare occasion, it was an amazing feeling.”
From the cockpit to the aisle, cabin crew Suganthi Namasivayam interacts with passengers on a daily basis. Words like “glorified waitress” had been used to describe cabin crew, but her experience proved otherwise.
Sugar, as she is affectionately known, has been a cabin crew for 24 years. Starting from a new crew to leading stewardess, she is also an associate trainer for the Malaysia Airlines Academy.
“Being a trainer gives me a platform to be something more than just a crew,” Sugar says. The best part of her day is when she gets to mentor a new generation of stewards and stewardesses. It’s not just teaching them how to serve passengers, she also helps them cope with work, personal life, and finding passion in their job. “I don’t just fly and finish. I have a lot on my plate, and that’s the way I like it,” she says about the gratification she feels from work.
As much as she loves training, Sugar also loves being in the sky. “Serving people is a very humbling job. Can you imagine how many people I’ve served in the 24 years?”
We asked Sugar what is the most memorable moment in her career, and she struggled picking just one. There was the time when she was selected to serve on the inaugural A380 KL-London flight, or the time she wrote a new module on emotional intelligence.
Finally, she settled on a very unexpected note: Returning home after being away for so long. “You feel that all the problems that were bothering you before you left doesn’t matter. When you arrive home, you will feel that ‘hey, everything is going to be okay’. Somehow it helps you find new courage and energy to face your problems.” Even if it’s a two-day trip, Sugar says she returns with more love and appreciation for her family. That, for Sugar, is another all time happiness in the life of a cabin crew.
We fly down to the hangar to speak to a man who works behind the scenes - aircraft engineer Ee Yong Hua. On the surface, Ee’s job description does not sound pleasant.
Every day, Ee is faced with problems - defects in the aircraft, trouble shooting, faults in the electrical systems. “I have to make sure everything is defect-free. It’s difficult, but once you’ve solve the problem, it’s the most satisfying feeling!”
His favourite part of the job is one thing most of us take for granted - Ee is the reason we have movies and music to keep us entertained on long-haul flights. “I love maintaining the in-flight entertainment system! I feel a direct relationship with the passengers when I’m fixing problems in the system.” Ee explains that passengers do not know when defects in the aircraft engine are fixed, but they are always grateful when the in-flight entertainment system is well maintained.
Ee has been with Malaysia Airlines for five and a half years, joining as an apprentice right after high school. One of the best moments of his career happened during his first year as an official engineer. “I had just been established as an engineer and they sent me to Dubai! An aircraft had reached its end of lease, so they selected me as the engineer on board to trouble shoot the aircraft for defects and make sure it is in proper working condition.”
When we asked Ee about his recent most memorable moment, he told us about being featured in the MAS #PunyaAspirasi video. Little did we know, Ee is also an international yo-yo champion, having represented Malaysia seven times!
"I was really excited and nervous!” Ee exclaimed. Not many people knew about his secret life as a yo-yo extraordinaire.
During the video shoot, Ee got to meet other MAS crew member and discover each other’s unique hidden talents. “That moment in the hall with everyone made me feel that passion really is important. I saw how different passion gives people different strengths and interests, and when we all come together, we complement each other’s work.”
MAS #PunyaAspirasi video features Fazura discovering the hidden talents of the MAS crew. Watch the full video here:
Out of curiousity, we asked Ee one last question. “Does playing yo-yo help you become a better aircraft engineer?” His answer was simple:
“Oh yes! Playing the yo-yo helps you think fast and quickly decide on your next best move.”
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