Where Do Crew Sleep During A Flight?

If a flight lasts longer than a few hours, its crew members will need a place to unwind at given intervals. Regulations vary from country to country, but all onboard crew members are entitled to certain legally-mandated rest periods. These ensure that they are well-rested and can perform their respective roles to the best of their ability.

Plane with sun at sunset
Long-haul aircraft feature dedicated rest areas for crew members to take their breaks in. Photo: Getty Images

In such a safety-critical working environment, this is vital. But where exactly can pilots and cabin crew take their rest periods? Let’s explore the world of crew rest areas.

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Why does the crew need rest?

Cabin crew and pilots are, in a sense, no different to people in any other job – over the course of a working day, they get tired. Of course, this is a perfectly natural phenomenon, with schedules designed to take this into account. With roles that require everything from serving passengers to ensuring a safe trip, it can be hard to be at 100% for an entire flight. This is particularly the case for long-haul flights that outlast the duration of a conventional working day.

Cabin Crew
Crew rest areas are often in parts of the aircraft that are invisible from the passenger cabin. Photo: Airbus

As such, these crew members require the ability to get shut-eye and take a step back from passengers or the flight controls. On larger planes, this can mean spending time in an area of the aircraft that passengers might never see.

Where is the rest area on planes?

Although one might think that it depends on the aircraft in question, the different rest areas that aircrew have access to actually depend on the length of the flight they are operating. This is because rules and regulations state what rest areas they are entitled to when operating a given flight duration, rather than on particular aircraft.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 Rest Area
Last month, during a tour of Virgin Atlantic’s last Boeing 747, I visited its rest area. It was comfortable but perhaps a little claustrophobic for my liking! Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying

Presently, widebody aircraft with separate rest areas operate most long-haul flights. However, with an increasing movement towards narrowbody long-haul operations, trends in rest areas may alter in years to come. There are three different ‘classes’ of rest areas for the crew defined by the FAA, depending on the flight length and number of crew. These are:

  • Class one  – For long-haul flights, the crew must have access to a rest area away from both the cockpit and the passenger cabin. It must contain a lie-flat bed rather than a seat, and feature curtains and noise cancellation.
  • Class two – For medium-haul flights, the crew needs access to lie-flat seats, such as designated empty spaces in business class. They are also entitled to a curtain in this seat to increase their privacy.
  • Class three – For short-haul flights, the crew has access to a seat with reclining features. This will generally be the last row of economy seats on a plane. As a result, airlines operating this system often do not put these seats on public sale.
Boeing 787 Crew Rest Area
The crew rest area onboard a Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner.’ Photo: Getty Images

These areas are in addition to any seats used by the crew for take-off, landings, and taxis. The FAA forbids crew from congregating in these areas during aircraft maneuvers.

Rest areas on Airbus widebodies

As we have established, all widebody aircraft have a separate ‘class one’ rest area onboard. But the location and configuration of these calm quarters can vary between different types of aircraft. Let’s first take a look at how they shape up on wide-bodied Airbus planes.

  • Airbus A330 and A340 – Both aircraft have the same setup, known as the Lower-Deck Mobile Crew Rest Area. This is located near door three in the middle of the plane, under the passenger deck. On shorter legs, airlines can remove it in favor of extra cargo storage. Otherwise, it can sleep up to six crew members at a time. Some versions also have a two-bunk pilot rest area in the place of a bathroom near the front of the aircraft.
The mammoth Airbus A380 requires a correspondingly large rest area to ensure its crew can take their legally-mandated breaks. Photo: Getty Images
  • Airbus A350 -The A350’s crew rest area is located towards the rear of the aircraft. It has six bunks in a circle around a staircase leading up from the passenger deck, and the cabin crew sleep above the rear of the economy cabin. Meanwhile, the pilots have two bunks at the front of the plane.
  • Airbus A380 – The world’s largest airliner also naturally has the largest crew. Correspondingly, it also needs the most rest space. Airlines can choose from various layouts to accommodate for this. Emirates features a nine-bunk rest area on the same deck as the economy cabin. Meanwhile, Qantas has 12 bunks below the economy deck on its A380s. Again, pilots sleep in their own rest area towards the front of the plane. Some airlines fit the bunks with entertainment screens to help the crew unwind.
Class One Rest Area
A typical ‘class one’ rest area. Photo: Artem Katranzhi via Wikimedia Commons

How do Boeing rest areas compare?

  • Boeing 747 – The pilots’ rest area is located on the upper level right behind the cockpit. Meanwhile, the cabin crew can access an eight-bunk cabin towards the rear of the plane.
  • Boeing 767 – Very few Boeing 767s have a separate rest area away from the passenger cabin. Correspondingly, few Boeing 767s are flying long-haul routes today. On these aircraft, the rest area is generally located at the forward part of the business class cabin.
Virgin Atlantic G-VROY Boeing 747-400 Cockpit
Pilots in a Boeing 747 cockpit, such as this one, don’t have to go far to reach their rest area. Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying
  • Boeing 777 and 787 – The last two widebodies on this list have two crew rest areas. One of these is situated at the front of the plane above business class. This area is for use by the aircraft’s pilots. The other, for use by cabin crew, is located at the very rear, near the economy class cabin. The area for the pilots features not only bunks, but also seats and a private bathroom.

As we can see, different aircraft have different provisions for ensuring that their crews remain alert and well-rested throughout the course of a flight. While these areas are not visible from the passenger cabin, they are a crucial piece of the larger puzzle that keeps passengers and crew safe at every stage of a flight.