17 behind-the-scenes photos that reveal what it’s really like to be a flight attendant

Brian Finke's photos show the secret lives of flight attendants on and off duty.

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Brian Finke’s photos show the secret lives of flight attendants on and off duty.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

  • Brian Finke spent two years photographing flight attendants in the early 2000s.
  • He released a book called “Flight Attendants” showing them on and off duty.
  • It features photos of flight attendants in training, at home, running errands, and working on planes.

While magazine photographer Brian Finke traveled around the world for photoshoots in the early 2000s, he realized that he had a compelling subject for a photo series right in front of him.

Finke spent two years photographing flight attendants on a number of airlines including Air France, Icelandair, Air Asia, Thai Airlines, Delta Airlines, and the short-lived Hooters Air. He gained access to schools where they learn to put out fires and deploy emergency slides, as well as their homes and flight routes.

Here are 17 photos from his photo series that provide a glimpse into what the job is really like.


Finke had the idea for a flight attendant photo series while traveling for work as a magazine photographer.

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Flight attendants on Thai Airways walk towards a plane.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“I like having these book projects that I work on independently from assignment work,” he told INSIDER.


His first photo book focused on cheerleaders and football players, sparking his interest in flight attendant uniforms.

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Flight attendants disembark from a Tiger Airways flight.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

He released a photo book called “2.4.6.8: American Cheerleaders and Football Players.”


“I like photographing subcultures and telling stories,” he said.

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A “Hooters Girl” named Sarah on a Hooters Air flight.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

Hooters Air launched in 2003 and closed three years later.


He spent two years photographing flight attendants in the early 2000s and published his book “Flight Attendants” in 2008.

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Air France flight attendants mingle.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“I started photographing domestic flights and pretty quickly realized I needed to go overseas,” he said.


Finke secured permission from airlines to take pictures of flight attendants on and off duty.

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An Icelandair flight attendant applies makeup at home.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

He and his assistant would wait until the seat belt signs turned off and then jump up to begin snapping photos.


He visited schools where flight attendants train for the job.

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An Icelandair flight attendant school.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“It was just incredible to see the training and big fires getting put out on planes,” he said.


“We got to go down the slides also, which was really fun.”

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A flight attendant for Air Asia testing out a plane slide.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“It was hilarious,” he said. “It was like, ‘Of course we’re doing that!'”


He captured their movements serving refreshments to passengers.

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Lam and Viola of Cathay Pacific Airways serve food.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

With this photo, Finke said he was trying to capture the “feeling of being in a place, the movement of the arms and the expressions with the busyness here.”


And followed them around on errands off the clock.

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A Cathay Pacific Airways flight attendant picks up a few essentials in Cathay City.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“I like the everydayness of it,” he said of this photo of a Cathay Pacific Airways flight attendant shopping for a toothbrush.


He also photographed them in their homes.

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Harpa, a flight attendant on Icelandair, packs her suitcase at home.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“I love the experience of photographing,” Finke said. “I love being out in the world and where it takes me.”


Finke shot the photos on medium format film with a Quantum Qflash — a similar type of bulb to those used in the 1940s.

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Lily and Azriza of Air Asia play a game of pool.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“What’s nice about it is it has a crisp, very sharp quality of light, so it’s very easy to see all the details in an image,” he said.


He focused on small details like the way they held their hands and did their makeup.

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Kikuchi and Imada of Japan Airlines in their uniforms.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

Flight attendant uniform rules can be strict.


He also enjoyed taking photos that play with reality.

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A Cathay Pacific Airways flight attendant … or is it?
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

It’s actually a life-size cardboard cutout.


While none of the photos were staged, he did want the flight attendants to know he was taking their pictures.

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A flight attendant performing a safety demonstration.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“I like it when people know when I’m taking their picture,” he said. “I like being close to the people that I’m photographing. I like that intimacy that’s created in a picture.”


He experienced the camaraderie of a small flight crew working in close quarters.

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Roshayati indicating the exits on an Air Asia flight.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“It was a very fun, interesting bond getting to know someone, and then poof! Everyone goes in their different directions,” he said. “There was something kind of nice and simple about that very quick bond.”


He hopes that his photos help people see flying and flight attendants in a new way.

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A call button on Delta Airlines.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke

“It was a nice change from passive traveling to active looking and working and shooting,” he said of creating the series.


“Hopefully a potential takeaway is seeing something that is very familiar from a different perspective.”

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Icelandair flight attendants learn the ropes.
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Courtesy of Brian Finke