Where Do Pilots Sleep On A Plane?

Where do pilots sleep onboard aircraft during long haul flights? Depending on the plane and the trip, pilots have access to a private bunk area near the cockpit, a private ‘cabin,’ or a sectioned off business class seat.

Where do the pilots’ onboard aircraft rest when in flight? Photo: Jetstar via Wikimedia Commons.

Why do pilots sleep on planes?

At first, it might seem a little alarming that a pilot would sleep on an aircraft; after all, their job is to fly the plane. But pilots are just like you and me and need to take breaks, or even sleep, depending on how long the flight is.

For a shorter flight, a pilot won’t leave the cockpit except for a bathroom break. But when the flight is over eight hours, pilots will swap with a relief counterpart and then hit the hay before landing – more on that below.

There are three different classes of rest area for cabin crew and pilots, depending on the length of the flight.

  • Class 3: A spare seat that can recline and has a footrest. Generally not used for pilots as they would just remain in the cockpit or not have a break for such a short flight.
  • Class 2: A lie-flat seat with a privacy curtain. Located in the business class cabin near the back.
  • Class 1: A separate cabin away from the passengers and isolated from cabin noise.

Most long haul flights are categorized as Class 1 and will require the aircraft to have a separate area away from the passengers for the pilots.

The crew rest area onboard the Qantas A380. Photo: Qantas Roo Tales

Where do pilots sleep onboard long haul aircraft?

Thus, most long haul aircraft have a special rest area for the pilots, behind a generic electronically locked door at the front of the plane.

The specific location varies between aircraft, but for most designs from Boeing (the Boeing 777 and 787), there is a special compartment accessed by a ladder above the first two rows of first-class that has room for the pilots. For Airbus aircraft, it is located next to the cockpit above first class like Boeing.

For the bigger Airbus A380, the pilot rest is located above the cockpit door on the lower deck, but before where the second level cabin begins.

Some pilot sleep areas come with private compartments (more significant than just the bunks provided to flight attendants), lights, first-class pillows and duvets, and even isolated temperature control. Depending on the aircraft (and fit-out by the airline), some rest areas have entertainment screens. Next time you fly, your relief pilot could be upstairs watching the same film as you!

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Whether or not pilots get enough rest during their journey is another question. Photo: Getty Images

When do pilots sleep on aircraft?

On a regular long-haul flight, say around 12 hours, there will be three to four pilots.

  • Pilot A will be selected as ‘Pilot Flying‘ and will perform takeoff and landings.
  • Pilot B will be selected as ‘Pilot Monitoring‘ and will need to be present during the takeoff and landings as the first officer.
  • Pilot C and additional pilots are selected as ‘Pilot Relief‘ and will step in during the flight to relieve any pilots moving to the rest area.

All pilots need to be in the cockpit for takeoffs and landings, and it is against FAA regulations to be in the rest areas during these times. In a 12 hour flight, approximately ten flying hours (time removed for takeoff and landing) will be split among the three or more pilots equally for rest.

What do you think? Do you want to sleep in the pilot rest area? Let us know in the comments.