TTI loves Singapore Airlines.
I really do. Not the shares. The company.
Tidbit of fact: Since 2010, me and my entire family have NEVER flown on ANY other airline, except SQ.
As the pandemic rages on past the 2nd year, we all know times have been real tough for SQ. Things might have gotten slightly better now, compared to the start of the pandemic, because of the reopening, VTLs etc, but obviously, the company is nowhere near being out of the woods yet.
YTD, SQ’s share price is actually doing pretty ok! That’s a surprise to me, I just checked. I guess cos it was coming off a very low base:
But if we zoom further out to compare against pre-pandemic times:
Not good man.
Almost -30% after 5 years…
I don’t really track SQ’s financials or their share price, but I think they had big write downs due to their oil hedging strategies, then they decided to discard that, and oil prices shot up. So their timing is as sucky as it gets.
I have never invested in Singapore Airlines’ shares, and don’t intend to.
So why am I a fan of SQ?
Cos of this: Eyjafjallajökull
No, that’s not a typo.
In 2010, 11 freaking years ago, TTI was a young newbie, and as a young newbie, I resolved to travel the world to meet up with highly successful individuals in my industry, to seek inspiration and learn from what they’ve done. Hopefully, I can then adapt some parts of what they’ve done, and end up making my own journey more exciting.
(reference what I wrote about Li Ka Shing’s teachings in my earlier post: https://thumbtackinvestor.wordpress.com/2021/09/12/happy-mid-autumn-festival-to-the-investingnote-team-ttis-top-5-generals-list-updated/)
In general though, when you are a young newbie, money is always a problem when u try to travel.
I always tell my friends that there’s no perfect time to travel. You just got to make the effort to do it.
When you are young, you have time and energy, but no money.
When you are middle aged, you have money and energy, but no time.
When you are old, you have money and time, but no energy.
That’s the conundrum I face! Tell me this isn’t true for most folks, right?
Unless of course, you marry Kim Lim, then you can travel anytime, anywhere you want.
So 1 way I got around this, was to attend certain “world conferences”. There are a few of these in my industry. Well, they still cost a lot of money to attend, but cos I was a “promising young dr”, many distributors were willing to sponsor me to attend these conferences. The rationale is that I attend these conferences, learn the new tech and know-how, and come back and buy their expensive equipment or materials to apply what I’ve learnt, and they get to profit from knocking me off with crazy expensive prices for decades and decades to come.
Better yet, some would even lock you in and make you commit to conduct certain lectures to share what you’ve learnt, and that’d kinda generate a whole new pool of clients for these distributors. Kinda like a MLM scheme. (OK, not that bad, there’s no actual commitment to buy from them)
But I was a young, poor guy, and beggars can’t be choosey, so I’d accept whatever offers were given to me then. Like I said, when you are young, you have time and energy, but no money. So I figured out a way to solve the money part.
These conferences are great, cos since you gotta pay a hefty fee of thousands of dollars to attend, they literally give you great food in between every presentation/talk/training session. It was in some of these random makan periods, when I made friends with fellow drs from all over the world.
Now, since these conferences were attended by literally thousands of folks ALL OVER THE WORLD… it does clog up the airports and all the infrastructure when everybody arrives at the same time. So flight tickets are generally cheaper if you fly in say, a week earlier than the crowd. So I try to negotiate with the folks sponsoring me to get me earlier flights, so that I have more time to do my own travelling before the conference starts. It’d be cheaper for them, and I settle my own extra accommodation costs anyway.
In this way, I get to sneak in leisure time and I get to meet certain esteemed individuals as well.
In 2010, I went on a trip to Geneva, Switzerland. It was on this trip that I arranged to meet a certain famous and successful guy within my industry. Obviously I can’t mention names, cos I don’t have permission to, and I don’t even wanna reveal my own identity either.
TTI is the, again, yandao guy on the right with the dark olive coat, whereas said uber rich and successful ang moh guy is the guy in the dark coat.
The Swiss are kinda formal like that.
Anyway, take note of the very beautiful, nice blue skies at the backdrop. More on that later.
So… said dude, let’s just call him RSD (rich successful dude), hosted me and my wife to fancy meals, drove us around sight seeing, shared with us his stories over many wines and even showed us some of the art collections in public museums that he personally donated. (Yeah, my wife came along as she was en route to the US then, but that US trip ended up not materializing… more on this later too)
I even bought 1 of the books that he wrote years ago, and tbh, it was a tad too expensive for me then, and I didn’t really read a single page. (I flipped through it looking at pictures on the flight and deliberately made some dog ears, so that the book wouldn’t look untouched… lol)
But I knew it’d break the ice, and when you write a book years ago, it’d mean a lot if some random young chinese dude from half the globe away, appeared in your life with a copy of it asking you to autograph it, ain’t it? So I bought it, brought it along, and got him to autograph it.
That really did the trick cos RSD was sooooooo excited to see a copy of his book in my hands. Old man was practically hyperventilating. That broke the ice and we were all best buds from then. LOL.
I’m telling u, TTI is a bit street smart like that sometimes.
1 particular anecdote that stuck in my brain all this while, was when he drove us through the old town. Geneva is divided into the “new town” and “old town”. I really loved the old town part. So……. historic.
Anyway, RSD pointed to a series of apartments as we drove slowly through, which was literally just beside the museum to which he donated his art collection to, and told us that he owned this entire series of apartments.
Well, I dunno if I’m doing it justice by describing it as a “series of apartments”, but it’s basically like a long long long row of many many blocks of low rise apartments. I don’t have a pic as we were just driving past without stopping.
I asked him how did he do it, since I knew he wasn’t doing anything property related. He told me that very early on in his career, a fellow university mate approached him to ask for funding for his property venture. Now, he didn’t know that university mate very well, but he knew he was a smart lad, kinda the type of guy who’d succeed in anything he does, u just know it in your bones. So he agreed, and basically threw money at whatever project the dude went into, without really understanding the details. RSD was basically a sleeping partner. This university mate then went on to snowball and compound his investment many many many times over. Each time, RSD was offered the profits from a successful venture, he just declined and opted to reinvest in the said university mate’s next venture.
He said there hasn’t been a single venture that didn’t make a ton of money for him.
His partner was already retired then when I visited in 2010, hence, RSD couldn’t reinvest any further, and just sat on the massive amount of property assets from the venture and collected rent. (Residential rent in Switzerland isn’t very high I think, but man, if you see that row of apartments……)
Anyway, I’m digressing a bit from this very exciting story. What has all this gotta do with Singapore Airlines, you say?
Well… in 2010, an Icelandic volcano known as Eyjafjallajökull, erupted. It was huge news then. The ash cloud from that volcanic eruption eventually travelled down to Europe, and disrupted air travel across Europe. It was absolute chaos.
Here, go read about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_eruptions_of_Eyjafjallaj%C3%B6kull
No shit, this is what it looked like:
So back in 2010, when Mr Eyjafjallajökull decided to blow his top, I was happily attending the said major conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Ah… now you’re starting to connect the dots….
Anyway, as the story goes, Iceland’s famous volcano decided to erupt near to the last day of the 2 week conference. I remember it very clearly, because the last speaker was very ironically, from Iceland, and he was joking about how the volcano erupted so that we are all stranded here and will have no choice but to sit in and continue listening to his presentation. (The last speaker always has the toughest job because people tend to either want to fly home early to avoid the crowd, or if leisure travel plans are made, people wanna leave early and are already on “holiday mood”)
So generally, you need to put a “superstar” speaker at the last slot to capture the attendees’ attention, otherwise the speaker will be speaking to an empty hall.
Well, anyway, the Icelandic speaker was right. Because as luck would have it, literally right at the end of the conference, as we rushed to the airport to catch a flight home, we saw this:
The ash cloud moved down to Europe, and all the flights in Geneva were cancelled!
Have you ever, in your life, seen a departure board that’s FULL of red cancellations?!
The entire airport was shut. And it’s ALL international flights!
I dunno how to describe the situation then, but it was ABSOLUTE CHAOS.
Like really crazy shit. There were long long lines in front of EVERYTHING. Even the freaking toilets. All the TV stations were reporting on this, so u see that on the screens in all TVs in the airport.
Crazy mayhem. You can film a doomsday movie there on the spot.
Mind you, this is a sudden 100% closure. You can’t even fly to another destination from your planned one, and hope to take a connecting flight. Think of the thousands and thousands and thousands of folks suddenly stranded, and what made it absolutely worse, is that NOBODY could tell us when the airports would open!
It could be closed for 1 hour, in which case you could just wait.
It could be closed for 1 day, in which case you could get a 1 night hotel accommodation if you are so prima donna.
It could also be closed for 1 week, in which case you are kinda screwed if you want to wait in the airport.
It could also be closed for 1 month, in which case, I think I will just apply for Swiss citizenship and settle there permanently. Maybe can convince my wife I need to take a Swiss mistress in order to get citizenship.
It was just devastatingly mad then. And since nobody knew when the flights would resume, suddenly, you have thousands, maybe tens of thousands, or maybe even over a hundred thousand passengers, who suddenly need accommodation!
Of course, not everybody would be able to get accommodation on such short notice right? Bulk of the passengers were already staking out their “territory” on seats and just literally any flat, clean and empty area. Let’s not even talk about the sudden massive demand for food and water. In this kinda scenario, you can 100% guarantee tempers would be frayed, there’d be raised voices etc.
As I’ve mentioned above, my wife was supposed to be en route to the US, while I make my way home from Switzerland. With this closure, her flight was obviously cancelled too.
Some random strangers suggested that we could catch a train south, into Italy, and try to “beat” the ash cloud front. Cos at that time, the ash cloud from the eruption had not reached Italy, and Milan’s airport was still open. We opted not to though, cos train ticket prices would’ve suddenly, exponentially increased a few times in price, and it was not even a guarantee that you could fly out.
It was already getting rather late, but since we were young and poor, getting last min accommodation was absolutely out of the question, so we were prepared to rough it out in the airport itself.
IN STEPPED SINGAPORE AIRLINES! (cue super hero background music)
SQ would have none of it.
The volcanic eruption was none of SQ’s business, but noooo, they wouldn’t leave their passengers in the lurch after cancelling their flights (through no fault of theirs obviously!).
Singapore Airlines decided to pack ALL their passengers from the cancelled flights, into airport buses, and transport all of us into the nearby airport hotels! On top of that, SQ also decided to pay for our dinners in these said fancy hotels! 100% complimentary. We didn’t pay a cent.
SQ basically, through their actions, said “you guys fly with us, we got your backs man.”
well well, lucky TTI and Mrs TTI, cos we got the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which is a very fine hotel indeed.
AFAIK, Singapore Airlines was the ONLY airline that did this. I shit you guys not. It’s true.
Remember the friends I made in the conference above? I called them after we were settled in Crowne Plaza Hotel, and nobody had free accommodation and free dinner (They didn’t fly SQ, so too bad. Remember I got sponsorship? Of course I’d fly the best airline in the world la! Lufthansa sucks the worst btw, won’t go into detail, but they suck so bad, I won’t ever fly with them even if it’s free. No, I’m lying. Actually, I won’t fly with them even if they PAY me to do so)
And for the record, the complimentary dinner paid by SQ, was not some crappy takeaway dinner box that they distribute out like we are refugees. It was ANYWHERE in the hotel that you choose to dine in!
Woo hoo. Mind you, imagine the chaos, imagine a poor young TTI and his equally dirt poor wife, 1 moment panicking about getting stuck, running low on Swiss Francs (obviously you’d try to spend all your foreign currency before you fly back right?!), SUDDENLY getting saved by SQ.
So while the other non-SQ passengers were screaming and shouting and squeezing at the airport…
TTI and wife, being true blue Singaporeans, looked through the restaurants in Crowne Plaza and decided to use our complimentary dinner at the most expensive looking, atas restaurant in the hotel.
Here is Mrs TTI, looking refreshed after washing up, and settling down to have some fancy Swiss dinner, in a fancy Swiss restaurant. You see so many wine glasses, you already know it’s fancy. HAHAHA
Mrs TTI chose the yummy lobster dunno what dish. It comes with atas names of course.
Whereas I got conned, cos my choice of atas sounding dinner, kinda looked like….. errrr…. u guys take a look and tell me:
Anyway, this nonsense ain’t filling my belly (rem it was 11yrs ago and I was a growing boy then), so we took the shuttle out to town for 2nd helpings then.
The day turned out… well, not good, but not too bad either. It was kinda fun tbh.
Quick IQ test: sharp eyed readers, tell me what’s wrong with this picture……..
Look at the skies; see any “ash clouds”?
That’s the thing, these said “ash clouds” are either imaginary, or maybe so far up that I can’t see them. The skies looked the same as all the other days that I was there! Simi ash cloud, look at the photo and see for yourself.
But the airport was still closed.
For the record, SQ only paid for 1 night of accommodation and dinner, but the airport was closed for much longer. iirc, at least a week.
But hey, no complaints from me, especially seeing the other airlines’ passengers get zilch.
Since then, I’ve only flown SQ. 100% of the time. Don’t tell me about cheaper flights, I don’t care. If it’s not SQ, it doesn’t exist to me. When businesses take care of their clients in times of adversity, it’s not an expense. It’s an investment. That amount spent, didn’t disappear. It gets converted into this obscure item sitting in the balance sheet known as “goodwill”. Sometimes, the goodwill is useless. For me, I’m just loathe to see good practices with no positive outcome for the practitioner.
Now, what happened next? Remember SQ only paid for 1 night, but the airport was closed for way longer. Here’s something funny.
That same night, we went to the front counter to ask for room rates, since that night was the only free night, and if we couldn’t fly the next day, we’d have to start paying.
The guy at the counter told us that for our room, it’d cost 550 Swiss Franc for 1 night! Now, remember, this was 11 yrs ago, so that’s a shit ton of money that I couldn’t afford then. (maybe now also cannot afford. LOL)
I then spied a little standee on the counter that says room rates begin from 250 Swiss Franc per night, and pointed that out to the guy. Since our room is probably the smallest room around (only 2 pax), shouldn’t it be the 250 Swiss Franc too?
The guy at the counter looked at the standee for just a second, then reached out and grabbed it and hid it below the counter and told us “That was off peak season rates. It’s now peak”!!!
LOL! DAMN THESE OPPORTUNISTS!
Volcano erupted. So rates in a hotel miles and miles away in a different country revert to “peak season”.
You just gotta love how this world works.
Anyway, the story is not over. Luckily for me, TTI has friends in high places.
After our 1 night complimentary accommodation, the next day, I dropped a quick text to our new found buddy RSD, and literally, WITHIN THE HOUR:
A merc came to pick us up!
This time, we were chauffeured to RSD’s personal residence itself.
This is me with RSD and his wife and their 2 dogs.
Now, this is something interesting. Upon arriving at RSD’s residence, we were looking for a front porch of sorts to take off our shoes, like how normal guests in SG do right? Instead, we were led directly to a lift within the house, which brought us up to the top floor (yes, you can imagine how massive the residence is from this picture.)
All this while, we kept our shoes on! Walking throughout the house on our house tour!
Almost the entire house was carpeted, except for the outdoorsey areas. But everyone was wearing footwear, including RSD himself and his wife, and the other minders/helpers etc, so I figured that’s just how the culture is.
Thank god I didn’t step on some mud or stuff like that before entering!
Not sure if this is how the normal Swiss live (aka wear the outdoor shoes straight into the house and walk around with them on) or is it because the uber rich Swiss have too many servants to clean the carpets, so gotta purposely dirty them a bit to generate some work. LOL.
Anyway, long story short, we ended up touring the entire Switzerland and spending an entire month there instead, way past the reopening of the airports. So even now, I’m kinda like a mini expert on most of the touristy towns in Switzerland. Would’ve included more photos, but it’s getting cumbersome to have to edit and block out faces all the time. So that’s the end of my story.
Hope u guys enjoyed it.
Remember, fly Singapore Airlines pls.