What it’s like inside your plane’s hidden ‘crew rest,’ where pilots and flight attendants sleep

Nov 12, 2020

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The onboard experience on most long-haul flights follows a similar routine.

After settling in and taking off, flight attendants typically come through the aisles with a meal and drink service. Once the first service is complete, the overhead lights are typically dimmed. Passengers then either doze off, catch up on work or watch a movie or TV show.

But what exactly does the crew do when the lights are out?

Many long-haul flights are staffed with ten or more flight attendants, as well as extra relief pilots. While cruising at 35,000 feet with most passengers sleeping, the crew can — and must — take a break. On the longest flights, the crew works in shifts — only a portion of flight attendants are needed at any one time.

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This is required by the Federal Aviation Administration, the governing body that regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S., as well as government agencies abroad. This way, the crew will be well-rested in order to deliver proper service or assist during an emergency.

The same is true in the cockpit. Only two pilots are required to be on duty at a single time. The others rest up until it’s their turn to be at the controls.

So, where does the crew disappear to in the middle of the flight? It’s not like there are (typically) extra business-class seats for them to use…

Enter the crew rest.

Most twin-aisle jets have purpose-built rest areas for crew use. They’re strictly off-limits to passengers and are typically locked during the flight to prevent unauthorized access.

The coolest part? In most cases, they’re on a second level above the passenger seats — even on planes that don’t feature two floors.

I recently checked out American Airlines’ latest Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. This jet sports stylish and newly improved cabins, as well as some useful tech enhancements to the Wi-Fi and inflight entertainment system.

As part of the tour, I went into the crew rest. After all, a full TPG review wouldn’t be complete without checking out where the pilots and flight attendants sleep. Check out my Instagram video tour below (see more at my page), and continue reading for everything you wanted to know about the crew rest.

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There’s a nondescript door located all the way at the back next to the large coach galley. Some might think this leads to a closet or lavatory.

Instead, open the door and you’ll find a set of stairs leading up to the crew rest. But be careful, climb up too fast and you’ll hit your head — it’s a really tight squeeze.

Once upstairs, you’ll find six beds. Three are next to each other, and the other three are arranged in a horseshoe configuration.

Each bed has a seatbelt and a thick curtain for added privacy from the other crew members.

It’s amazing what you’ll find up here. There are smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, flashlights and portable oxygen containers for use in an emergency. There are also comfort items, such as power outlets, a small mirror, coat hooks and a phone to call the other flight attendant stations.

I briefly tested one of the beds and can confirm that you’ll definitely be better off sleeping in one of the brand-new business-class pods at the pointy end of the plane. At least the crew usually uses a set of Casper pillows and blankets to get comfortable upstairs.

But that’s not all.

There’s a second crew rest located at the front of the plane right behind the cockpit. This one is more intimate — there are just two beds that are usually reserved for the resting pilots.

The crew rest configuration varies by aircraft type. On some planes, you won’t find a dedicated, fully enclosed compartment for the crew.

For instance, on AA’s recently retired 767s, there were two pairs of old-school recliners near the galley that could be separated from passengers with a thick curtain.

This crew rest isn’t nearly as isolating as the ones on the Dreamliner. As such, it’s designated as a Class 2 rest facility by the FAA. (The Dreamliner’s crew rests are designated as a Class 1 facility — the top rating the FAA gives.)

So, the next time you hear snoring on a plane and you can’t figure out where it’s coming from, look up — it might just be the flight attendants catching up on some Z’s.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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