Health and wellness

How Instagram star Dutch 747 pilot in Hong Kong stays fit, beats stress – and lives the dream

Eva Claire Marseille was captivated by the idea of flying Boeing 747s as a young child. She talks about how a dream came true, life in the air, maintaining work-life balance, and her fitness regimen

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 April, 2018, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 12:19pm

When she was seven, Eva Claire Marseille’s stepfather drove her to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to look at aeroplanes, including the fleet of Boeing 747s. “I remember seeing the plane and feeling, ‘Oh my god, this is insane that people can fly that, they must be really special’,” she says.

Marseille thought the prospect was beyond her reach as she didn’t excel at physics, maths or other prerequisite subjects. Still, she aspired to a challenging and globetrotting career and enrolled in a journalism and Dutch literature degree programme. In her final year, though, she had second thoughts.

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“My friends and mother said, ‘Why don’t you do flight school as you made several comments that you are jealous or admire pilots,’ – I didn’t even realise I had said these things,” she recalls. The then 22-year-old toured a flight school, and after completing her undergraduate degree, she enrolled in flying classes and graduated in 2010. With a recession affecting Europe at the time, it took more than two years for Marseille to land a pilot’s job.

Fast-forward to February 2018 and she finally piloted a Boeing 747 to Clark International Airport in the Philippines during training, “a surreal moment”.

Now 32, Marseille says making dreams reality, keeping a positive mindset, and having the support of her Dutch partner at home has made living an itinerant life a breeze. Her enthusiasm is reflected in her Instagram’s @flywitheva posts that she started more than a year ago, quickly attracting 30,000 followers after a short time. She now has about 100,000.

Marseille says she strives to “stay fit, healthy and focused” and reveals how she deals with high-pressure situations in the skies.

How does being a freighter pilot affect your circadian rhythm? Do you sleep at specific hours or for a specific time before a flight?

I only just started [long-haul fights] … I still have to figure out how to deal with that as I am bad at sleeping in the afternoon.

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In my previous job, I woke up a lot at night for flights at 3am or 3.30am. My first duty is to try to get to bed early, but I’m an evening person. So I try to go to bed … and then it’s 1am … sometimes I would go to work after only two hours sleep. That was short-haul.

In some Instagram photos, you are asleep in the plane cabin. Do you do that often?

On longer flights – which I haven’t done yet as I’m in training – if you are with an extra pilot, then one can have a few hours of sleep in the “bunk”.

What’s your fitness regimen?

For the past 3½ years, I’ve lived in Barcelona. There, I stepped up my sports activities … I found a personal trainer who I worked out with once or twice a week. He got me on the right track and established a baseline fitness level. I also did a few boot camps at the beach.

Here, I have gone to boot camp in a park. I tried yoga classes, hiking and surfing. I’m finding new things. In the next two weeks I’ll find a gym or trainer … to work with once a week.

The day Boeing’s 747 arrived in Hong Kong

Is it easy establishing a work-life balance while moving to a bustling city like Hong Kong?

There’s not a lot of balance, really. I enjoy change, so moving to Hong Kong was not stressful. I’ve moved a lot before, having lived in big cities like Rome and Barcelona, so it excites me to learn about a new place.

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How do you deal with high-pressure situations during a flight?

My thoughts become very clear. I’ve had a few situations where the captain or person I was flying with got worked up and stressed, then I became very calm because I realised we couldn’t both freak out.

I’ve been in a few scary situations. One example was on a flight aboard a Boeing 737 where there was a huge storm at an airfield we were going to, which was closed. We had plenty of fuel. But the captain just basically shut off, he wasn’t saying anything.

Later, on the ground, he said “Thank you, I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t flying with you.”

What is your preferred method of stress relief?

I credit my boyfriend who moved with me to Hong Kong for my job. Sometimes I come home after an intense flight and he listens. We talk about it; it interests him even though he has nothing to do with aviation. I don’t come home to an empty house, that helps a lot.

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Does positive thinking play a role?

I think so, as I meet a lot of negative people. In my previous airline, we didn’t have good terms and conditions, but I was so happy to have the job.

I enjoy my current job so much it doesn’t feel like work. I like to focus on the positive things. That’s what I try to be on my social media as well.

I showed that little bunk we had to sleep in, it’s not glamorous. I’m not trying to show this job as glamorous. But this smile is real because I love flying and going to all these destinations …

I hope that [perspective] stays.