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

Courtesy Molly ChomaPhotographer Molly Choma captures candid shots of Virgin Airlines flight attendants.
  • 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.

Courtesy Molly ChomaA Virgin Airlines aeroplane.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaGoofing off in the cabin.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaTaking a break.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaFlight attendants find different ways to pass the time on long flights.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaVirgin Airlines flight attendants wait to board a flight.

TSA agents began recognising her as “the girl with the camera.”

Courtesy Molly ChomaInside a Virgin Airlines plane.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaA 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.

Courtesy Molly ChomaStriking a pose.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaSay ‘cheese.’

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaChatting in their free time.

Choma sticks to photographing Virgin Airlines staff and not passengers.

Courtesy Molly ChomaA 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.”

Courtesy Molly ChomaReading 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.”

Courtesy Molly ChomaPlanes aren’t built with photography in mind.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaA flight attendant retouches her lipstick.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaChoma 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.

Courtesy Molly ChomaIt’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.

Courtesy Molly ChomaFlight 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.

Courtesy Molly ChomaThe relationship between artist and subject is important to her.

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

“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.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaSaying goodbye.

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

Courtesy Molly ChomaLooking 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.

Courtesy Molly ChomaA good photo can do a lot for someone’s self-esteem.

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