The History Of The Singapore Girl

Filed Under: Singapore, Videos

When people think of Singapore Airlines, the first image which comes to mind is probably that of the iconic Singapore Girl.

Some may say it’s sexist, and it’s certainly true that Singapore Airlines has rules about appearance, height, weight, gender, etc. But at the same time, it’s amazing that even in the 21st century they’ve been able to keep such an iconic “face” to their brand.

To this day, Singapore Airlines’ advertising is consistently centered around the Singapore Girl, as we saw in their 2013 “Understanding Your Needs” ad campaign:

Despite having fantastic hard products in Business Class, First Class, and Suites Class, they’ve decided to center their advertising around their soft product, which says a lot in this day and age.


Which brings us to an awesome documentary which recently aired on Channel NewsAsia about the Singapore Girl. Not only does it get into the history of the Singapore Girl, but it actually reunites five of the ladies who appeared in Singapore Airlines’ first Singapore Girl themed ad campaigns.

To put into perspective just how awesome and sassy this is, here’s a picture of the ladies now:


As a fan of Real Housewives of Atlanta/Beverly Hills/New Jersey/New York/Orange County, I guess you could call this episode “Real Aunties Of Singapore,” minus the drama, of course.

It’s an incredible story, especially since the five ladies live all over the world now, from Canada to Germany to Singapore. And it really gets at the core of what Singapore Airlines service is all about.

Truth be told I don’t think Singapore Airlines service is quite as good as it once was, and I know that many senior crews at Singapore share that sentiment. Work ethic nowadays isn’t what it used to be across the board, and that’s evident with the incredibly precise job of Singapore crews.

Unfortunately, Channel NewsAsia removed their video iconic Singapore Girl.

(Tip of the hat to Carolina Travel Girl)

  1. It’s great that SQ focuses their attention on delivering a superior soft product. After all, any airline can install a great hard product and the service is often the key differentiator. I have never had a bad experience travelling in their premium cabins, but one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with their cabin crew was in economy.

  2. Maggie Loh is my favourite of the SQ Golden Girls 🙂

    I would agree with your comment Ben that the Singapore Girl marketing doesn’t generally live up to the hype today (bad service at SQ can be found without trying too hard, it’s quality control isn’t as good as it used to be), and the “dolly” component is a bit wrong (I don’t really care if cabin crew are hot/models, good service is way more important), but they do better than a number of other airlines (not all, but quite a few) in cabin crew service so they should be commended for that.

    Regarding your comment about changes in work ethic, I suspect that this change is due to attitudinal change, with more new intakes treating cabin crew duties as just another job rather than a source of personal pride and a responsibility to ensure their actions reflect well on the group (changes from group based culture to more individual focused orientation). You can still find new cabin crew who reflect older standards, just not as frequently as in the past.

    Very interesting article, a good addition to the OMAAT feed.

  3. @Al

    I agree that “soft” product can make a significant and lasting impact, the trouble is you just can’t rely on it (on any airline). These days, therefore, I tend to be influenced more by hard product first.

    I do think SQ have a competitive advantage in the Economy cabin over other airlines, offering more friendly seating dimensions, heightened service standards, and the like. Plus Changi is a great hub for Economy passengers (much better services and comforts than Y pax generally get at any other airport).

    I’ve got some long haul Business flights with SQ later this year, so it’ll be interesting to check their pulse again (I’ve given them a miss for almost two years, in favour of newer players). Will be in the new Business seats, so will be keen to see how much of an improvement they are over the last generation ones (which, while super-wide and offering direct aisle access, weren’t without some flaws).

  4. I’m under the impression that back in the day it was fairly common for SQ flight attendants to not have any education beyond O-Levels. For those who don’t have credentials beyond O-Levels, it’s hard to find a job that pays as much as SQ does. Now most flight attendants are university or polytechnic educated. If they don’t like their work they can find another job with similar pay. This leads to fairly high turnover and more difficulty recruiting new cabin crew. SilkAir will begin hiring men soon because of this. That could explain any changes to work ethic among cabin crew.

  5. Don’t make me laugh. Their in-flight service is good but nothing amazing, while service at their (crowded) flagship SIN lounge is below average by J standards. And having been to Singapore several times, I think 95% of the service industry there doesn’t understand the meaning of “service”.

  6. Grace and beauty must be appreciated and often acknowledged . Please , let’s not pretend beauty does not exist ( in many ways ) . Thanks for the Reunion feature .

  7. My family and I just flew SQ from HKG and back for a short summer trip last week. In the past we’ve flown Cathay, but we opted to try SQ this time. Couldn’t be happier with the service. The in-flight attendants immediately too notice that we had our little one flying with us (she’s 3) and brought her over a complimentary toy. When it got close to meal time, they served kids first (about 15 minutes before serving adults), which allowed my wife and I ample time to feed here and get her settled before managing our own food.

    An older video that might be of interest to some is a 3 part documentary series (originally produced by Discovery) called THE HISTORY OF SINGAPORE (2005). In part 3, they talk about the creation of SQ and the Singapore Girl brand. The late Lee Kuan Yew speaks in part about his role in the company’s formation (That section starts about 11 mins in on part 3). You can find all 3 parts over on YouTube for anyone intersted.

  8. italdesign<- I'm Singaporean working inn the service industry. The only readom why you think 95% of us do not understand the messing if service is because we do not get tips. People back in America has their tips pegged to the level of service they give. We here do not have minimum wage, work long hours and deal with people who think themselves God all the time.

  9. I’m a management consultant and one of my colleagues was a Singapore Girl for 4 years in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Fascinating stuff!

  10. @Kars – I agree compensation is part of the cause (though I think it’s about total compensation rather than just tips, since there are countries without tips that still offer good service, such as Australia and NZ, which have higher minimum wage). I also think it’s just a cultural difference.

  11. The concept of “Singapore Girl” makes me bristle. It’s a Geisha girl spin-off. Maybe for men who think little of women it might be desirable, but it actually makes me a little bit ill. Not offended, just ill. Like here we are in the 21st century and these women are still portrayed as subservient help who should bow down to passengers with a never-ending sunny disposition and smile. I view FAs as trained professionals who help to ensure that flights operate properly and who will (if luck allows a survivable situation) save my ass if there’s a problem with the aircraft or with a passenger. That’s why I never complain about how old FAs are or how they look, and that’s why I never complain if they are cool toward me. Give me a great seat, an on-time flight, and FAs who know what to do in an emergency and I am happy. It’s nice that the FAs bring me food and drinks, but I could easily serve myself in the galley, I don’t need to be waited on.

  12. Wallpaper Magazine has done a nice write up on the history of the Singapore Girl and her fashionable Sarong Kebaya uniforms. A true design classic that embodies all aspects of the Singapore Airlin.

  13. My better half works for SIA so I know the company inside out. There is no doubt whatsoever that SIA still has THE best soft product in the world. I have flown with ALL European airlines (where service us erratic), Qantas (where crew addresses you as ‘mate’ as if we had known each other forever) and Middle-Eastern carriers (which predominantly hire staid Filipino and eastern European staff)… SIA still has the best groomed, and the most pleasant on-board passenger attendance in the world. The quality of the hard product probably went down slightly over the years due to cost cutting, but the soft product is as good as before. Whoever says the contrary has not taken the airline or is lying. Plus, SIA pays very well, offering one of the best total compensation in the world, for crew and pilots alike. I can tell you that most staff are still proud to be part of the airline.

  14. @tara I thought it was a little rude to call the Kebaya a geisha spin-off especially because it has been around since the 15th century and is an icon to Singapore and other countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. You couldn’t be further from the truth with all your other remarks as well. Perhaps it’s your personal opinion but then again its not a very reliable one seeing that you gravely overlooked an important factor which I just rebuked. The Singapore girl is not merely some hollow shell or the Asian version of the dumb blonde stereotype. They are handpicked and are trained for 4 entire months- the most in any service industry in the entire world. You bet your ass will be in safe hands in an emergency with all these educated ladies. Since the introduction of the Singapore girl decades ago they have been marketed as the epitome of Asian hospitality offering great service and served have they! You would be glad to know that Singapore is the first country in Asia to do away with misogyny. It now lies on the top of ranking in gender equality.

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