On Monday 30 September United Airlines will be closing its crew base in Singapore. This base has been in existence for fifteen years and currently employs some 300 Singaporean flight attendants. The Bangkok base will be closing as well.
The closings are directly related to the September 11 attacks in the US and are part of United's announced plans to remove 20% of its workforce.
United's Singapore flights will be crewed by its US staff.
For many of us the main reason to use United's network in Asia was the professionalism and personality of the Singapore team. They currently fly United's passengers from Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Seoul and Narita. They do so with an understated mix of Singaporean style and efficiency with the more relaxed informality of a US carrier.
They were notified last Thursday (19 Sept) of the closure at the end of the month. They are entitled to one month's notice - but this is being paid out by the airline to allow an earlier closure.
The crew are generally a little older than their counterparts at say SQ. Many of them are married with families. For many of them flying has been their life. And within a week their lives have been turned upside down. Many of them have been flying since the base started 15 years ago. There are many long serving staff. Many passsengers are privileged to count members of this team as friends. As a team they have supported a number of charities in Singapore with fund raising events.
There is, I understand, still some uncertainty over termination payments and whether United will fully meet its obligations under the staff contracts.
There is almost an unseemly haste to close this base. Many of the crew are now on their last flights. They hardly have the time to say goodbye to eachother, or to be able to come to terms with the reality of not working, and not working in an environment that they love.
Their wake up calls for flights out of Singapore are between 3.30am and 4.25 am daily, for departures at 6.50am to Hong Kong and 7.40am to Tokyo. Their returns to Singapore are between 11.30pm and midnight. No one ever complains. And all of them would happily continue to fly these schedules if they could carry on working. Even a 20% pay reduction would be preferable to the job cuts - and I suspect that is true across most of the affected carriers and their staff.
Few of them will be able to fly again. Airlines are not rushing to recruit. And even if they could move to another carrier they would lose their seniority. The United team are all going to have to think about what to do next and where their careers and lives will take them. Their lives have changed and they are tinged with sadness, frustration and some anger.
Some 40 members of the ground services staff will also be laid off at the same time. United will also cease its Singapore to Hong Kong (and v.v) flight.
The last flights for the Singapore based crew will arrive on 30 September at 11.35pm and 11.55pm into Changi.
If you are on their flights in Asia over the next few days be understanding and show these good people your support.