As one of the world’s global business and tourism hubs, the UAE sees huge numbers of travelers entering and exiting the country via hundreds of daily flights. It is also home to thousands of employees for homegrown airlines Emirates, Etihad, FlyDubai and Air Arabia.
The role of cabin crew has long been regarded as one of the world’s most glamorous professions — enabling people to travel to exotic corners of the globe and explore new destinations on layovers. One week you could be sampling sushi in Tokyo, the next staring up at Cape Town’s Table Mountain.
But working as cabin crew presents certain lifestyle challenges, from a lack of routine to the peer pressure associated with socializing both at home in the UAE and when on layovers overseas.
Irishman Shane Seery had been a member of Emirates cabin crew for more than three years before he became a coach and personal trainer last year. Having fallen into the ‘Dubai lifestyle’ after moving to the UAE, he was able to transform his approach and now helps others do the same.
“About a year after starting at Emirates I was feeling very fatigued, very tired — not motivated to do anything really,” Seery says. “It was fly, sleep, party, repeat. I had slipped into a really unhealthy lifestyle and knew I had to change. I found a great trainer who helped point things in the right direction.
“After that, you would never really get to see me going out with the crew when we were on layover. I would eat healthily, try to train and always bring my laptop to research further education on fitness. I studied for qualifications in personal training and applied nutrition while I worked as cabin crew.”
Eating healthily and training while flying around the world wasn’t an easy task and Shane admits that self-discipline is required in abundance in order to be successful.
“I remember doing the 17-hour direct flight from Dubai to Auckland with Emirates. That’s 17 hours on board the aircraft, plus a two-hour check-in before and two hours getting off the aircraft and to the hotel. When we got to the hotel in Auckland — or wherever the destination was to be honest — I would just have a black coffee and go straight to the gym and do 45 minutes of cardio while others passed out on their beds.
“I was very careful with food, too. I prepped my own meals and took them with me everywhere. A lot of people seem to think you can’t take your own food on planes but you can actually bring anything you like — you usually just need to consume it on board before disembarking.
“My meals would come on the flights with me and then I’d also take tinned food to have when we landed — salmon, tuna etc. When on layover you can always find a grocery store anywhere in the world where you can pick up some broccoli or spinach or whatever.”
Seery’s approach raised eyebrows and intrigue in equal measure from his Emirates colleagues — with some keen to glean information but others ribbing him for his perceived ‘unsociable’ eating.
“For me, peer pressure was tough. I would take out my meal prep on board a flight and people would say, ‘Why are you on a diet? What are you doing?’ They’d try and offer me snacks — just trying to get you off what you eat. You need to have a lot of mental strength for that — focusing on long-term goal over short term satisfaction.
“People always use traveling as an excuse but I just don’t buy it. Go to Chicago, eat deep-pan pizza. Even though it is one of the most densely calorific foods out there. I’m sorry but in America, there is a Whole Foods in every city. Everything you buy there you can weigh so your portion control is accurate. Weighing food is not weird — that is just people’s perception.”
After deciding to compete in a fitness modeling competition in the UK, Seery dropped his weight from 98 kilograms to 72kg in four months at the beginning of last year — reducing his body fat down to five percent. He placed in the competition and it was that achievement that pushed him to leave cabin crew and become a full-time coach.
“I had more people coming to me across social media platforms asking me for help and advice. I absolutely love helping people and having a positive impact on people’s lives is incredibly rewarding.
“I turned to MefitPro in Dubai for their expertise in personal training and their educational support manager Leo helped me to become a full-time coach and personal trainer in Dubai.
“Having done it myself I can obviously point people towards the pictures on social media of my own transformations. It helps people trust you, which is so important. You know, ‘he talks the talk and he’s walked the walk’.
For clients who are cabin crew, in particular, Seery is able to lend an extremely empathetic ear. While not all colleagues took advantage of his expertise, he has still inspired a number of transformations.
“I gave a lot of my time and knowledge to cabin crew for free when I was at Emirates but honestly it surprised me a little that more people didn’t act on the advice. If you pay for a personal trainer you turn up for the session because you don’t want it to go to waste but I think some people just let my free advice just wash over them.
“If you invest in something, you want to see a return in your investment. If you take stuff on for free, many times, you will let it go for free or disregard it. Invest in yourself — health is number 1 in life. We’re only given one health — maintain it.
“Crew would see my fitness and photo shoots and I would be getting heaps of messages asking for help. But too many people want a magic formula and you quickly see that they are just not willing to invest the time and effort to make a change.
“Did a lot of them change their ways? No. Just like most people out there don’t. But working with the ones who do is immensely satisfying. I’ve had many cabin crew who’ve actually changed their mindset and gone through their own personal transformations. Those guys I’m really proud of.”
Featured image courtesy Shane Seery
Mark is a Dubai-based writer who has couch-surfed through Ukraine, broken bread with football fans in Basra, and appeared on a boxing reality TV show in the UAE – all in pursuit of a good story. Or at least an average anecdote.