Where does the crew of an airplane rest?

(CNN) — On wide-body aircraft there are some secret areas where pilots and cabin crew go to rest during long flights. They cannot be accessed by passengers under any circumstances and are well hidden from view.

They are called Crew Rest Compartments and their location on the aircraft varies.

On newer aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 or Airbus A350, they are located above the main cabin in the upper fuselage. But on older planes, they can also be in the cargo hold or just the main cabin.

They come in pairs: one for the pilots, which is usually above the cockpit and often includes two bunks and a reclining seat, and one for the cabin crew, which usually contains six or more bunks and is located above the aft galley , the section at the rear of the aircraft where food and beverages are prepared and stored.

A hidden rest area for the crew.

Like a capsule hotel

Airlines have a say in the configuration of crew rest areas when they buy a plane, but the main parameters are set by regulators such as the Federal Aviation Administration. It mandates, for example, that crew rest areas be “in a location where intrusive noise, odors and vibrations have a minimal effect on sleep,” and that they be temperature controlled and allow the crew adjust lighting.

Bunk beds (“or other surface that allows a flat sleeping position”) must be 198 by 76 centimeters in size (tall people have to be careful) and have at least one cubic meter of space around it. There must also be a common area for changing, coming in and going out, providing at least 1.8 cubic meters of space.

hidden plane crew rest

The crew rest area on a Boeing 777. Credit: Boeing

The end result is something akin to a Japanese capsule hotel: a cramped but cozy windowless sleeping space with power outlets and a light, as well as all the necessary safety equipment such as oxygen masks, seatbelt lights security and an intercom, among others.

“They can be very comfortable,” says Susannah Carr, a United Airlines flight attendant who works on Boeing planes like the 787, 777 and 767.

“They have a soft mattress, a vent to circulate air and temperature controls to keep it cooler or warmer, and they provide us with bedding, usually similar to what is used in business class on our international flights. I like them, but I’m only 5’7″, so if you put a 6’1″ person in there, they can be a bit narrow,” he says.

But are they better than a business class or even first class seat?

“In some ways yes, in some ways no,” says Carr. “Bunk beds can be wider than first class and for me personally, depending on the plane, I have more legroom. But it’s a bunk, so You don’t necessarily have all the headroom like you would be in the cabin and obviously you don’t have the privacy either, and if you’re claustrophobic you can definitely feel that in there, at the end of the day it’s a plane so space is restricted. They certainly take advantage of every inch up there.”


hidden airplane rest area

The pilots’ rest area is close to the cockpit. Credit: Boeing

Crew rest areas are designed not to draw too much attention to passengers, regardless of their location: “A passing passenger would probably think it’s a locker,” says Carr.

“I’m not going to go into too much detail about how we access it, it’s safe, I’ll say it. Every once in a while people think it’s a bathroom door and try to open it, but instead we show them the way to the toilet” .

Behind the door there is usually a small landing and a staircase that leads to the upper deck, at least on the latest planes.

“The bunks are open on one side, so you can squat down; I sometimes jokingly refer to them as ‘the catacombs,'” says Carr.

On slightly older planes like the Airbus A330, the crew rest compartment may also be in the cargo hold, so they would use a ladder to get down. But on even older planes, like the Boeing 767, the seating areas are in the main cabin, and are simply reclining seats with curtains around them.

“These are very heavy curtains, they block out light and a fair amount of sound, but not if there’s an energetic crowd on the plane or an upset child. We’ve had passengers open the curtains looking for something or thinking they were going to go into the galley.” , so it’s not necessarily the best break.”

Not surprisingly, most flight attendants prefer upper bunks to curtained seats, but the upgrade is also beneficial to airlines, who don’t have to give up valuable cabin space that can instead be used for passenger seats.

seniority order

A split image of a Finnair A350 cabin crew rest area. To the right is the entrance, which is accessed from the front kitchen. Credit: Aleksi Kousmanen/Finnair

Cabin crew members on long-haul flights typically spend at least 10% of their scheduled flight time in rest areas.

“On average, I would say that means about 1.5 hours per long-haul flight,” says Karoliina Åman, a Finnair flight attendant who works on Airbus A330 and A350 aircraft. However, this can vary depending on the airline and the flight time: the rest time can last up to a few hours.

“Since we don’t have any private areas on the plane to eat or drink coffee, this rest period is very important and useful for us,” he says.

“It’s the time during the flight when we don’t answer passenger calls or do anything other than rest, and let our feet and mind have their rest as well. The purpose of this rest is to maintain a mindset alert and prepared throughout the flight, so that if something unexpected happens, we are prepared to act.

However, not everyone sleeps once in the bunk bed.

To reach this rest area, the A330 SAS crew must go down some stairs. Credit:
Philippe Masclet/master films/Airbus

“Normally, on a one-way flight from Helsinki, I use the break to listen to an audiobook or read a book, since I come from home and I am well rested. But on a one-way flight from the destination to Helsinki, there may be sleepless nights behind, for example, I have a hard time sleeping in Asia, and then during the break, you tend to fall asleep. Waking up from that dream can be a really hard experience sometimes if your brain has switched to night sleep mode,” says Åman .

“Jet lag can be tricky,” says Carr, “sometimes I can relax and sleep, other times my body isn’t ready for a nap. But since we’re on a break, we’re allowed to use our phones, so we can watch a movie, or read a book.

Rest areas are closed during taxiing, takeoff, and landing, and are used on a shift basis supervised by the chief flight attendant, or chief flight attendant, in aviation parlance, the cabin crew member who is on duty. charge of all the others and supervises the operations on board.

This person usually uses a special bunk that is near the entrance of the rest areas and has access to an intercom, to communicate with the pilots and the rest of the crew.

“Everything in our industry is based on seniority, from the hours you fly to the routes you can maintain to your days off,” explains Carr. “The longer you fly, the better the benefits, and one of them is choosing crew rest time: we go in order of seniority, so the longest-serving person on the flight can choose whether they prefer the first or second break, and then you go down the list until everyone has breaks.”

Advantages for pilots

The pilots’ rest area, which is separate from the one dedicated to the flight crew, is close to the cockpit. Depending on the duration of the flight, there may be up to four pilots on board, but two will always be in the cockpit; thus, the pilots’ lounge only has two berths (or even just one on older aircraft) but includes a seat sometimes equipped with in-flight entertainment, which cabin crew do not. Other than that, the compartments are pretty similar.

“I usually sleep pretty well in there,” says Aleksi Kuosmanen, Finnair’s deputy fleet chief pilot.

Kuosmanen flies A330 and A350 planes, and says he prefers the latter’s seating area, which is located above the forward galley rather than in the main cabin. “It has very good curtains, you can adjust the temperature very well, there is great ventilation and it is more insulated from noise. You can’t hear anything that happens in the galleys, it’s really quiet and comfortable.”

On the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the crew rest area is located at the rear of the aircraft. Credit:
Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

The next time you’re traveling on a long-haul flight, you might want to keep an eye out for an inconspicuous door at the front or rear of the plane: if you see a pilot or flight attendant disappear through it, you may have discovered an area Rest.

But keep in mind that crew members won’t necessarily be happy to show you around, as passenger access to seating areas is prohibited: “It’s a bit like Disney: we keep the magic behind closed doors,” he says. Carr.

“You don’t necessarily want to know that the flight attendants are getting some sleep, but at the same time you’ll be glad we show up after our little nap, fresh as a cucumber.”

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