24 photos that show what flight attendants do when passengers aren't looking

Flight attendants virgin molly chomaCourtesy Molly ChomaPhotographer Molly Choma captures candid shots of Virgin Airlines flight attendants.

The INSIDER Summary:

  • Molly Choma is a Virgin Airlines flight attendant and photographer.
  • She takes pictures of her fellow flight attendants in their downtime for a series called “The Secret Life of Virgins.”
  • Photography can be difficult in a plane’s small spaces and low lighting.
  • She hopes her photos instill confidence in her subjects.

When Virgin Airlines flight attendant Molly Choma finds herself with a free moment on flights, she grabs her camera.

Her photo series, “The Secret Life of Virgins,” shows a side of flight attendants that passengers don’t usually see, highlighting their camaraderie, humour, and how they spend their downtime.

INSIDER spoke to Choma about how she combines flying and photography.

Molly Choma's mum was a flight attendant and always kept a camera around, which Choma would tinker with growing up.

A Virgin Airlines aeroplane.

She studied graphic design and graduated college with an art degree in 2008.

Goofing off in the cabin.

When she had difficulty finding a job after school, her mum suggested becoming a flight attendant.

Taking a break.

For the first few months of the job, she was on 'reserve,' waiting at the airport to be assigned to a flight.

Flight attendants find different ways to pass the time on long flights.

She began taking photos at the airport to pass the time.

Virgin Airlines flight attendants wait to board a flight.

TSA agents began recognising her as 'the girl with the camera.'

Inside a Virgin Airlines plane.

As her passion for photography grew, she wanted to find models to build her portfolio.

A flight attendant adjusts her shoe.

'I was thinking 'Where can I find a bunch of really attractive people that won't charge me to take photos of them?'' she said.

Striking a pose.

Then it hit her: she could photograph her fellow Virgin Airlines flight attendants.

Say 'cheese.'

'It turned into this fun thing to do that wasn't serving drinks,' she said of their impromptu photoshoots.

Chatting in their free time.

Choma sticks to photographing Virgin Airlines staff and not passengers.

A flight attendant prepares refreshments.

'The highest priority is doing our jobs and making sure people are safe and happy and secure,' she said. 'But there can be a lot of downtime.'

Reading material.

Some snapshots of her colleagues are posed, but her favourites capture candid moments.

'The posed ones are sort of a way to start the candid process, to warm them up to a camera being in their face,' she said. 'Because it's literally in their face, there's not a lot of space.'

Planes aren't built with photography in mind.

Aside from limited space, the lighting on planes isn't always ideal for photography.

A flight attendant retouches her lipstick.

Choma isn't above using tin foil from first class trays to reflect light on people's faces.

Choma had to get crafty.

'And when you're shooting in low light, your shutter is open for longer, so turbulence is the worst,' she said.

It's hard to hold the camera still in the air.

Choma flies about 70 to 100 hours a month and works with different teams of flight attendants for three days at a time.

Flight attendants prepare drinks for passengers.

'I have three days with each group of people to build that trust and build their confidence, and make it more of a fun positive memory of their job, too. Not just something for me to have, but also for them to have, and for their kids to have,' she said.

The relationship between artist and subject is important to her.

She enjoys the wide range of people that she encounters on the job.

Taking notes.

'There's such a spectrum of people who you work with, and getting to know people's personalities, and how they react to having a camera around inspires me as a photographer,' she said.

Refuelling.

Virgin Airlines was recently bought out by Alaska Airlines, so her series also preserves the culture of Virgin's planes and people for posterity.

Saying goodbye.

Her ultimate goal, though, is for her photos to help people see themselves in a new way.

Looking out the window.

'Learning how to take a photo of someone in a way that builds their confidence in themselves ... that's the biggest motivation for me,' she said.

A good photo can do a lot for someone's self-esteem.

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