The hidden areas of aircraft where the crew rests

Editor’s Note – Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that focuses on some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. In June, we take to the skies for a look at the latest developments in aircraft interiors, including the people who are working to change the way we fly.

(CNN) – There are some secret areas on widebody planes, where pilots and cabin crew rest during long flights. Passengers do not have access to them under any circumstances, and they are well hidden from view.

They are called Crew Rest Compartments and their location on the plane 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 aircraft, they can also be in the trunk or simply in the main cabin.

They come in pairs: one for the pilots, who usually sit above the cockpit and often include two berths and a recliner seat, and another for the cabin crew, usually with six berths or more and located above the stern, the section at the rear of the aircraft where food and drink 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 main parameters are set by regulators such as the Federal Aviation Administration. It requires, for example, that the crew’s rest areas be “in a place where disturbing noise, odors and vibrations have a minimal effect on sleep,” and that they must be temperature controlled and allow the crew to adjust the lighting.

The bunks (“or other surface that allows a flat sleeping position”) must be 78 x 30 inches (198 x 76 centimeters) in size – tall people beware – and have at least 35 cubic feet, or one cubic meter, of space around them. There must also be a common area for change, entry and exit that provides at least 65 cubic feet of space.

The crew’s resting place on a Boeing 777 passenger aircraft.

Boeing

The end result is a bit like a Japanese capsule hotel: a windowless, cramped but cozy sleeping area, with power outlets and lights – in addition to all the necessary safety equipment such as oxygen masks, seat belt lights and an intercom, among others.

“They can be quite comfortable,” said Susannah Carr, a United Airlines flight attendant who works on Boeing aircraft including the 787, 777 and 767.

“They have a padded mattress, an air vent to keep the air circulating and temperature controls so you can keep it cooler or warmer, and we are equipped with bedding, usually similar to those used in business class on our international flights. You like them – but I’m also only around 5 feet 8 inches, so if you put a 6 foot 4 inch person in there, they can be a little tight, “she says.

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

“In some ways yes, in some ways no,” Carr says. “The berths can be wider than first class, and for me personally, depending on the plane, I get more legroom. But it is a berth, so you do not necessarily have full headroom to be in the cabin, and of course you do not have privacy either. “And if you’re claustrophobic, you can definitely feel that there – it’s a plane, so you only have so much room to put things.

Hidden away

The rest area for the pilots is near the cockpit.

The rest area for the pilots is near the cockpit.

Boeing

The remaining seats for the crew are designed not to attract too much attention from passengers, regardless of where they are: “A passing passenger will probably think it is a locker,” says Carr.

“I do not want to go too far into how we access it – that’s for sure, I want to say it. Sometimes we have people who think it’s a bathroom door and they try to open it, but we just show them the way to the actual toilet instead. “.

Behind the door there is usually a small landing and a ladder leading up, at least on the latest planes.

The berths are either open at the side or at one end, so you can crawl in – sometimes I jokingly refer to them as the “catacombs,” says Carr.

On slightly older aircraft, such as the Airbus A330, the crew’s restroom can also be in the hold, so a staircase would lead down instead. But on even older aircraft such as the Boeing 767, the rest areas are located in the main cabin, and are only recliners with curtains around.

“They are very heavy curtains, they block light and a good amount of sound, but not if you have an energetic crowd on the plane or an upset child. We have had passengers who open the curtains, look for something or think they would go into the galley. , so it’s not necessarily the best rest. “

Not surprisingly, most flight attendants prefer the overhead berths over the curtain seats, but the upgrade is also beneficial for airlines, which do not have to give up precious cabin space that can be used for passenger seats instead.

Seniority order

A shared photo of a Finnair A350 resting place for cabin crew.  To the right is the entrance, which is accessible from the front galley.

A shared photo of a Finnair A350 resting place for cabin crew. To the right is the entrance, which is accessible from the front galley.

Aleksi Kousmanen / Finnair

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

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

“Since we do not have a private area on the plane for lunch or coffee breaks, this rest period is extremely important and useful for us,” she says.

“This is the moment during the flight when we do not answer the passengers’ calls or do any other task than rest, and also allow the feet and mind to rest. The purpose of this rest is to maintain an alert and clear mindset throughout the flight so that if anything unexpectedly happens, we are ready to take action. “

Not everyone sleeps once in the bunk.

“Usually on a trip from Helsinki I use the rest to listen to an audiobook or read a book since I come from home and am well rested. But on a trip from the destination to Helsinki there can be sleepless nights behind you – I have problems, for example. “Waking up in Asia – and then you usually fall asleep during the rest. Waking up from that sleep can sometimes be a very tough experience if your brain has switched to night sleep,” says Åman.

To reach the rest area on this A330 SAS aircraft, the cabin crew goes down a small flight of stairs.

To reach the rest area on this A330 SAS aircraft, the cabin crew goes down a small flight of stairs.

Philippe Masclet / master films / Airbus

“Jet lag can be a difficult beast,” says Carr, “sometimes I can relax and I can sleep, other times my body is just not ready for a nap. But because we are on break, we are allowed to use our phones so we could watch a movie on it or read a book. “

The rest areas are closed during taxi, takeoff and landing, and they are used based on shifts supervised by the cabin commander – or chief pursuer, in aviation language – the cabin crew member who is responsible for all the others and monitors operations on tables.

This person is usually allowed to use a special bunk bed that is close to the entrance to 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 seniority-based, from the schedule you fly to the routes you can keep, to your days off,” Carr explains. “The longer you’ve been there, the better the benefits, and one of those benefits is to choose the break time for your crew – we go on seniority order so that the person on the plane can choose whether they prefer the first break or the second break. and then you go through the list until everyone has breaks. “

Pilot benefits

The rest area for the pilots, which is separate from the one dedicated to the cabin 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; therefore, the pilots’ rest area has only two berths (or even just one on older aircraft), but it does include a seat sometimes equipped with on-board entertainment, which cabin crew do not get. Other than that, the rooms are pretty similar.

– I usually sleep quite well in there, says Aleksi Kuosmanen, deputy head of fleet manager at Finnair.

The Kuosman flies on A330 and A350 aircraft, and says he prefers the latter’s rest area, which is located above the front galley rather than in the main cabin. “It has very good curtains, you can adjust the temperature very well, there is good ventilation, and it is more soundproof. You hear nothing about what is happening in the galley, it is very quiet and comfortable.”

On this Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the restroom for crew members is located at the rear of the aircraft.

On this Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the restroom for crew members is located at the rear of the aircraft.

Roslan Rahman / AFP / Getty Images

The next time you are on a long-haul flight, you may want to keep your eyes open for an invisible door in the front or back of the plane – if you see a pilot or flight attendant disappear into it, you may have discovered a rest area.

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

“You do not necessarily want to know that your flight attendants get a little bit of shuteye, but at the same time you will be happy when we show up after our little cat watch, fresh as a daisy.”

Top picture: A rest room for pilots, located behind the cockpit of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Roslan Rahman / AFP / Getty Images