By 2019, Virgin America will no longer exist.
For those who have flown with the popular airline since it commenced operations in 2007, its upcoming merger with Alaska Airlines is bittersweet. Molly Choma, a flight attendant and photographer, is on a mission to preserve Virgin America before it disappears forever.
For the past nine years, Choma has worked for Virgin America. It was her first job out of college and throughout her 20s, as her life changed, she remained with the brand. A few years into her career as a flight attendant, Choma began bringing her camera with her to shifts and started “tinkering around” with photography while on reserve. Before long, Choma was pulled into Virgin America headquarters to photograph for the company.
She spent two years photographing and doing graphic design for Virgin America before returning to the cabin to continue her work as a flight attendant — but she never put down her camera.
Although Choma has been photographing life around the airplane cabin for years, it was after the airline announced its merger with Alaska Airlines that her work became more urgent.
“I just wanted to preserve it, not necessarily for the public, but for my friends and people like me who grew up with Virgin America,” Choma told Travel + Leisure. “Whether that’s people who were there since the start or only for the past six months, I wanted something to immortalize what we have.”
Choma’s photographs show the Virgin America crew “on our downtime, when it’s late, or when a flight is delayed,” she told T+L. The photographs, which Choma hashtags on Instagram with #TheSecretLifeOfVirgins, represent what Virgin America employees do while the passengers are not looking. They could be reviewing safety drills or even just prepping meals in the galley.
Many of Choma’s photographs are characterized by Virgin America’s unique cabin lighting — which, although iconic of the brand, can prove difficult for photography. “I’ve learned on our airplanes where to stand people and which lights work,” Choma said.
Over the years, she has learned resourceful techniques for bringing more light into her photographs, including using the tin foil off the first class in-flight meal trays to reflect light into her frame.
However, technique aside, Choma’s photographs are most remarkable because they show a side of an airline that most people will never see.
“The transition is not sad, it’s part of life,” Choma told T+L. “But Virgin America is very much a family. In the same way that people cherish their family portraits, I hope these people will have these photos to look back on in the future.”