(CNN) – Wide-body aircraft have secret areas where pilots and flight attendants rest during long flights. Passengers cannot access them under any circumstances and they are well hidden from view.
These are called Crew Rest Compartments and their location on the aircraft can vary.
On newer aircraft such as the Boeing 787 or Airbus A350, they are located above the main cabin, at the top of the fuselage. But on older aircraft, they can also be in the cargo hold or just in the main cabin.
They come in pairs: one for pilots, which is usually located above the cockpit and often includes two berths and a reclining seat, and another for cabin crew, usually consisting of six or more berths, and located above the aft galley. the back of the aircraft, where food and drinks are prepared and stored.
Like a capsule hotel
Airlines have a say in the configuration of crew rest areas when purchasing an aircraft, but the key parameters are set by regulators such as the Federal Aviation Administration. For example, it mandates that crew rest areas be “in a location where intrusive noise, odors and vibration have minimal impact on sleep” and that they should be temperature controlled and allow the crew to adjust lighting.
The berths (“or other surface that allows sleeping on a flat surface”) must be 78 by 30 inches (198 by 76 centimeters) – beware tall people – and have at least 35 cubic feet or one cubic meter, or space around them . There must also be a common dressing, entry, and exit area that provides at least 65 cubic feet of space.
Recreation area for the crew of a Boeing 777 passenger aircraft.
The end result is somewhat similar to a Japanese capsule hotel: a cramped but cozy bed with no windows, plugs and lights, and all the necessary safety equipment, such as oxygen masks, seat belt lights and an intercom. among others.
“They can be quite comfortable,” says Suzanne Carr, a United Airlines flight attendant who works with Boeing aircraft including the 787, 777 and 767.
“They have a soft mattress, a vent to circulate the air, and temperature controls so you can make it cooler or warmer, and we are provided with linen usually similar to what is used in business class on our international flights. like them, but I’m only about 5’8″ so if you put a 6’4″ person in there, they can be a little tight,” she says.
But are they better than business or even first class seats?
“In some ways yes, in some ways no,” says Carr. “The berths can be wider than in first class, and for me personally, depending on the aircraft, I get more legroom. But it’s a bunk, so you won’t necessarily have full headroom in the cabin, and obviously you won’t.” There is no seclusion either. And if you’re claustrophobic, you’ll definitely feel like it’s an airplane there, so you don’t have much room to put things in. They certainly use every inch there.”
The pilots’ rest area is located next to the cockpit.
Crew rest areas are designed to not draw too much attention from passengers, no matter where they are: “A passenger passing by will probably think it’s a toilet,” Carr says.
“I won’t go into too much detail on how we access it — I will say it is secure. Sometimes we have people who think it’s a bathroom door and they try to open it, but instead we just show them the way to the real toilet. . “
Behind the door there is usually a small landing and stairs leading up, at least on the newest aircraft.
“The wings are either open at the side or at one end, so you can crawl inside—I sometimes jokingly call them ‘catacombs’,” Carr says.
On older aircraft such as the Airbus A330, the crew rest area may also be located in the cargo hold, so a ladder leads down instead. But on even older aircraft like the Boeing 767, seating areas are located in the main cabin and are just reclining seats with curtains around them.
“These are very heavy curtains, they block out light and a lot of sound, but not if there is a crowd of energetic people on the plane or an upset child. We’ve had passengers open the curtains looking for something or thinking they’ll go to the galley, so it’s not necessarily the best stay.”
Unsurprisingly, most flight attendants prefer overhead berths to curtained seats, but the upgrade also benefits airlines that don’t have to give up precious cabin space that can be used instead of passenger seats.
Order of precedence
Split image of Finnair A350 cabin crew lounge. To the right is the entrance, accessed from the bow kitchen.
Alexi Kusmanen / Finnair
Flight attendant members on long haul flights typically spend at least 10% of scheduled flight time in rest areas.
“On average, I’d say it’s about 1.5 hours for a long-haul flight,” says Carolina Oman, a Finnair flight attendant who works on Airbus A330 and A350 aircraft. This, however, may vary depending on the airline and the flight time – the rest time can increase up to several hours.
“Since we don’t have a separate area on the plane for lunch or coffee breaks, this rest period is extremely important and beneficial for us,” she says.
“This is the moment during the flight when we do not answer the calls of passengers and do not do other things, but only rest, and also let our feet and mind rest. the whole flight, so that if anything unforeseen happens, we are ready to take action.
However, not everyone sleeps once in a bunk.
“Usually on a flight from Helsinki, I use my break to listen to some audiobook or read a book, as I get back from home and have been well rested. But on a flight from your destination to Helsinki, there may be sleepless nights behind you. “For example, I have trouble sleeping in Asia, and then during holidays you usually fall asleep. Waking up from this dream can sometimes be very difficult if your brain has switched to sleep mode at night,” says Aman.
To get to the seating area on this A330 SAS aircraft, flight attendants descend a small flight of stairs.
Philippe Mascle / film masters / Airbus
“Jet lag can be a treacherous beast,” Carr says. “Sometimes I can relax and fall asleep, and sometimes my body is just not ready for sleep. phones so we can watch a movie or read a book on it.”
Rest areas are closed during taxi, takeoff, and landing, and are used depending on the shift being overseen by a flight attendant—or chief treasurer, in aviation jargon—a member of the flight attendant who is in charge of everyone else and oversees operations on board.
This person usually uses a special bunk that is located near the entrance to the rest areas and has access to an intercom to communicate with the pilots and other crew members.
“Everything in our industry is based on seniority, from the schedule you fly to the routes you can keep to your days off,” Carr explains. “The longer you are there, the better your perks, and one of those perks is choosing crew break times – we work by seniority, so the person who is the most senior on the flight can choose whether or not they prefer the first break. or a second break, and then you go through the list until everyone has a break.”
The pilot rest area, separate from the cabin crew rest area, is located next to the cockpit. Depending on the duration of the flight, up to four pilots can be on board, but there will always be two in the cockpit; therefore, the pilots’ rest area only has two bunks (or even one on older aircraft), but there is space, sometimes equipped with an in-flight entertainment system that flight attendants do not have. The rest of the compartments are very similar.
“I usually sleep well there,” says Aleksi Kuosmanen, Finnair’s deputy chief pilot.
Kuosmanen flies A330s and A350s and says he prefers the latter’s seating area, which is located above the bow galley, rather than in the main cabin. “It has really good curtains, you can regulate the temperature very well, great ventilation and better soundproofing. You don’t hear anything from what’s going on in the galley, it’s really quiet and comfortable here.”
On this Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the crew lounge is located at the rear of the aircraft.
Roslan Rahman / AFP / Getty Images
The next time you’re on a long-haul flight, you might want to look for an inconspicuous door at the front or back of the plane – if you see a pilot or flight attendant disappear into it, you could have a seating area.
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,” Carr says.
“You don’t necessarily want to know that your flight attendants are a little sleepy, but at the same time, you’ll be happy when we pop out after our little cat takes a nap, all fresh as a daisy.”
Top image: Pilot lounge located behind the cockpit of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Roslan Rahman / AFP / Getty Images