Here's Where Pilots and Flights Attendants Sleep on Long-haul Flights

We spoke to the experts to learn all about crew rest areas on airplanes.

<p>Rathke/Getty Images</p>

Rathke/Getty Images

With the world's longest flights topping 18 hours, it should come as no surprise that flight attendants sometimes need a break in the middle of their shifts. And when they do, they don't necessarily have to take it in a jump seat or the galley — there are designated rest areas on planes where flight attendants can enjoy some downtime or even take a nap.

Before we get into the specifics of crew rest areas, let's back up to how cabin crew breaks work. On most long-haul flights, flight attendants get rest periods in various shifts, ranging anywhere from an hour to several hours. "The cabin crew will be divided into groups by our cabin crew leader, then, taking into consideration what we need to do before the end of the flight, they will give us the duration of our rest period," French Bee flight attendant Matt Seynave tells Travel + Leisure.

Of course, not all flight attendants will go on break at the same time — there's always someone on hand to answer call bells, prep the next meal service, or refresh the lavatories. For that reason, airlines operating long-haul flights are subjected to augmented staffing requirements by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Related: 15 Longest Flights in the World

Simply put, that means that each of those flights will be staffed by more flight attendants than the minimum operating requirement for the specific aircraft. By the same token, pilots are also given breaks on long-haul flights, which is why those flights will have more than two pilots onboard — so the cockpit will always be crewed.

As for where they spend those breaks, that all depends on the aircraft. Long-range aircraft like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner typically have hidden bunk rooms called crew rest compartments for flight attendants, often in the rear of the plane, above or below the main cabin. In these rooms, mattress-laden bunks provide the crew with a fairly private place to sleep. They usually have thick curtains to block out light and sound — picture a pod hotel of sorts.

While some bunks may be fairly bare-bones and simply have a light for reading, a small storage space, and air vents for a touch of climate control, others might have amenities like an in-flight entertainment system. (Yes, flight attendants can watch movies onboard, too.) But in any case, the bunks are often fairly claustrophobia-inducing spaces with very little headroom — they've been likened to coffins by some, though others do find them cozy.

If a flight attendant can't get comfortable in such a space or simply can't sleep on demand in a short window of time, they might choose to spend some of their break elsewhere on the plane, whether in a jump seat or just hanging out in the galley.

Some older aircraft might not have bunks at all. Former United flight attendant Sue Fogwell tells T+L about her shifts on 767s — which didn't have crew compartments — to Europe and South America. "In this case, a section of seats in economy class is closed off for flight attendants to sleep. A curtain is closed around the seats for privacy," she says.

Related: Why Flight Attendants Dim the Lights During Takeoff and Landing

And in case you were wondering, pilots also have rest areas, and they're separate from the flight attendant rest areas. "It might be a bunk room above or below the main deck," says Patrick Smith of "Other times it’s just a cordoned-off seat in business class."

When flight attendants take their break in the crew rest compartments, they'll often change into a pair of crew pajamas (depending on the airline). These usually have the word "crew" written on them — if there's an emergency, and a flight attendant on break doesn't have time to get back into uniform, the crew pajamas clearly identify them as crew.

Everyone will have their own routine to get comfortable, whether that's filling a hot water bottle to keep warm (many flight attendants report that the bunks can be freezing!), creating a cozy nest with their own bedding, or simply donning an eye mask and conking out.

Ultimately, crew rest periods are mandatory on flights of a certain length to ensure flight attendants don't become fatigued — they need to perform all of their duties at peak performance levels. Then once the flight is over, there's another mandatory rest period before cabin crew can work another shift. Because flight attendants' number one job is to keep passengers safe, it's important that they're well-rested to be at the top of their game.

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