WHEN he is not busy running British Airways' South-east Asia operations, Mr Robert Williams is serving meals and cleaning toilets on planes.

Appointed in March as the region's Singapore- based general manager, the Briton, who leads a team of 25, is also a trained cabin crew member.

Once in about three months, he hangs up his "boss" hat and dons his navy blue cabin crew suit.

He tells The Straits Times in a recent interview at his United Square office in Thomson Road: "I spend all my time telling people they should fly with us because that's my job.

"Surely I should know what it is that we are delivering for the core part of our product, which is in the air... Serving as cabin crew gives me a real understanding of what the customer is going to get on board and what the differences are between the products and services that we offer in each cabin."

Mr Williams is one of about 600 British Airways staff who have opted to be part of the airline's Inflight Customer Support Programme, which was launched in 2010 to forge rapport and understanding among employees.

Ground staff who are keen and get selected undergo the full five-week cabin crew training and serve on actual flights.

To comply with British civil aviation rules, they need to fly at least once every 90 days and sit a three-day course and test once a year.

Mr Williams, 34, who has completed 15 to 20 flights, thinks the programme is a great idea.

"It's an opportunity to talk to our customers to find out what they like and don't like... It makes everything so much more immediate because you're not just relying on feedback forms and customer surveys."

The part-time job has also given the Leeds University graduate in French and management a better appreciation of how tough it is for the airline's 14,000 cabin crew.

It is not just exhausting being on your feet for hours but you also never know what you will encounter on a flight, he says.

"I've had people being sick, which is not pleasant. If something has not worked the way that it should, you have to deal with it. I've also had people being rude to me."

He says: "There's always some tension, for example, when everyone is trying to fit their baggage into the overhead lockers. They turn their frustrations into directing comments at you. The key is to always remember that it's not about you personally and to just smile through it."

Meal services can be challenging too, Mr Williams says, when chicken or beef runs out, for example, or when parents ask for children's meals they did not pre-order.

Being in the air also means leaving his boss badge behind.

He says: "On a flight, I take instructions from the senior crew. It's actually quite refreshing really because you don't have to make the decisions."

And yes, he cleans toilets too.

"We all do toilet checks every half an hour," says Mr Williams, who admits: "It's not the best part of the job. But you've signed up to do the job that delivers the best to our customers so you just do it."

The youngest of three boys, Mr Williams "loves hosting dinner parties and having people over". He describes himself as "naturally service-minded".

Travelling is his passion. Before joining British Airways in 2007, the bachelor, who lives alone in a condominium at Robertson Quay, was with APL, a unit of Singapore-based shipping giant Neptune Orient Lines.

He says: "One of my favourite things about Singapore is how easy it is to get out. I am still discovering Malaysia, Thailand and other places."

The food is great too, he says.

"I love eating out. Hawker centres during the week and restaurants over the weekend. I love satay, teh-si siew dai (tea with evaporated milk and less sugar) and Indian food."

He declares: "I don't understand chicken rice though. Someone told me they cook the rice in chicken fat."

With so much more to see and do in Asia and around the world, Mr Williams is ready for his next duty flight.

"In September, to Vancouver" he says with a big smile.