(CNN) — There are secret areas on widebody aircraft, where pilots and cabin crew go to rest during long flights. Passengers cannot access them in any way and they are well hidden.
They are called crew rest compartments and their location in the aircraft varies.
On newer planes, such as the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A350, they are located above the main cabin, in the upper part of the fuselage. But on older planes they can also be in the cargo hold or just in the main cabin.
They come in pairs: one for pilots, which is usually above the cockpit and often includes two berths and a reclining seat, and another for cabin crew, usually containing six or more berths and placed above the rear galley, 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 they purchase an aircraft, but the main parameters are set by regulators such as the Federal Aviation Administration. It states, for example, that crew rest areas should be “in a location where intrusive noise, odors and vibrations have a minimal effect on sleep”, and that they should be temperature controlled and allow the crew to adjust the lighting.
Bunks (“or any other surface that allows for a flat sleeping position”) should be 78 by 30 inches (198 by 76 centimeters) – beware of tall people – and be at least 35 cubic feet or one meter cube, space around them. There must also be a common area for changing, entering, and exiting that provides at least 65 cubic feet of space.
The crew rest area of a Boeing 777.
The end result is somewhat similar to a Japanese capsule hotel: a cramped but comfortable windowless sleeping area with power outlets and a light – plus all required safety equipment such as oxygen masks, lamps seat belt and an intercom. , among others.
“They can be quite comfortable,” says Susannah Carr, a United Airlines flight attendant who works on Boeing planes, including 787s, 777s and 767s.
“They have a padded mattress, an air vent to keep air flowing, and temperature controls so you can keep it cooler or warmer, and we have linens, usually similar to those used in the classroom stuff on our international flights. I like them – but I’m only about 5ft 8in, so if you put a 6ft 4in in there they might be a little tight,” she says.
But are they better than a seat in business class or even first class?
“In a way yes, in a way no,” Carr says. “Berths can be wider than first class and for me personally, depending on the plane, I have more legroom. But it’s a sleeper, so you don’t necessarily have all the space for the head to be in the cabin and obviously you don’t have ‘ I don’t have privacy either. And if you’re claustrophobic you can definitely feel that over there it’s an airplane so you only have limited space to put things in. They certainly use every square inch up there.
The pilots’ rest area is close to the cockpit.
The crew rest areas are designed so as not to attract too much attention from passengers, regardless of where they are: “A passenger passing by would probably think it’s a closet”, explains Carr.
“I won’t go overboard with how we access it – it’s secure, I’ll say. Sometimes we have people who think it’s a bathroom door and they try to open it , but we’re just showing them the way to the real toilet instead.”
Behind the door there is usually a small landing and a ladder leading upstairs, at least on later planes.
“The berths are either open at the side or at one end, so you can crawl into them – I sometimes jokingly call them ‘the catacombs,'” Carr explains.
On slightly older aircraft, such as the Airbus A330, the crew rest compartment may also be in the cargo hold, so a staircase would lead up instead. But on even older planes like the Boeing 767, the rest areas are located in the main cabin and are just reclining seats surrounded by curtains.
“These are very heavy curtains, they block out light and a good amount of sound, but not if you have an energetic crowd on the plane or an upset child. We’ve had passengers who have opened the curtains, looking for something or thinking they’d go into the kitchen, so that’s not necessarily the best rest.”
Unsurprisingly, most flight attendants prefer upper berths to curtain seats, but the upgrade is also beneficial for airlines, who don’t have to give up valuable cabin space that can be used. for passenger seats instead.
Order of seniority
Split image of a Finnair A350 cabin crew rest area. On the right is the entrance, accessible from the front kitchen.
Aleksi Kousmanen / Finnair
Cabin crew members on long-haul flights typically spend at least 10% of scheduled flight time at rest areas.
“On average, I would say that means around 1.5 hours per long-haul flight,” says Karoliina Åman, a stewardess at Finnair who works on the Airbus A330 and A350. However, this may vary depending on the airline and the flight time – the rest time can last up to a few hours.
“Since we don’t have a private space on the plane for our lunches or coffee breaks, this rest period is extremely important and useful for us,” she says.
“This is the time during the flight when we do not answer calls from passengers or do any other task other than rest, and also let our feet and mind take a break. The purpose of this rest is to maintain a state alert and ready throughout the flight so that if something unexpected happens, we are ready to act.”
However, not everyone sleeps once in the bunk.
“Usually on an outbound flight from Helsinki, I use my rest to listen to an audiobook or read a book since I’m coming home and well rested. But on an inbound flight from the destination to Helsinki, it may have sleepless nights behind you — for example, I have trouble sleeping in Asia — and then during the rest you usually fall asleep Waking up from that sleep can sometimes be a very harsh experience if your brain went into night sleep mode,” says Åman.
To reach the rest area of this SAS A330 aircraft, the cabin crew descended a small staircase.
Philippe Masclet/master films/Airbus
“Jet lag can be a tricky beast,” Carr says, “Sometimes I can relax and I can sleep, other times my body just isn’t ready for a nap. But because we’re in break, we are allowed to use our phones, so we can watch a movie on it or read a book.”
Rest areas are closed during taxi, takeoff and landing, and they are used according to shifts supervised by the purser – or purser, in aviation jargon – the member of the cabin crew who is in charge of all others and oversees board operations.
This person usually uses a special berth located near 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 based on seniority, from the flight schedule to the routes you can fly to your days off,” Carr says. “The longer you’ve been there, the better the perks and one of those perks is choosing when your crew takes a break – we go in order of seniority, so whoever is the longest old on the flight can choose whether they prefer the first break or the second break, then you cycle through the list until everyone has breaks.”
The pilots’ rest area, separate from that dedicated to cabin crew, is located near 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’ rest area has only two berths (or even just one on older aircraft) but it includes a seat sometimes equipped with in-flight entertainment, which cabin crew do not have. Other than that, the compartments are quite similar.
“I usually sleep pretty well in there,” says Aleksi Kuosmanen, assistant chief fleet pilot at Finnair.
Kuosmanen flies A330s and A350s, and says he prefers the latter’s rest area, which is located above the forward galley rather than in the main cabin. “There are very good curtains, you can regulate the temperature very well, there is good ventilation and it’s more soundproof. You can’t hear anything going on in the kitchens, it’s really quiet and comfortable.”
On this Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the crew rest room is located at the rear of the aircraft.
Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images
Next time you’re on a long-haul flight, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for a discreet door in the front or rear of the plane – if you see a pilot or flight attendant disappearing in it, you might have spotted a rest area.
But keep in mind that crew members won’t 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,” Carr said.
“You don’t necessarily want to know that your stewardesses are getting a little sleep, but at the same time, you’ll be happy when we land after our little cat nap all fresh as a daisy.”
Top image: A pilot rest room, located behind the cockpit of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images
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