Modern twin-aisle, widebody airliners routinely fly for 14 or more hours nonstop. They have hidden spaces – crew rest areas – where pilots and flight attendants enjoy required rest periods away from the hub bub and work demands of the cabin. These areas are similar to a capsule hotel. They have beds, individual temperature and lighting controls, and more privacy than any other area on the plane. I’ve heard about them but never seen one in person. A few hot-shot travel writers have had the privilege. I’m sharing some of their photos

Airlines staff each flight with enough pilots and flight attendants to allow some crew members to rest while others remain on duty to serve passengers and meet safety requirements.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets parameters for crew rest periods and rest areas on U.S. airlines. Rest areas must be in a location where intrusive noise, odors, and vibration have minimum effect on sleep. Sleeping areas must be temperature controlled, and crew members must be able to adjust the lighting. Beds have power outlets and seat belts and each area has an intercom for communication with other crew members.

Cabin crew rest area on a Boeing 777. Boeing photo.

Beds have to measure at least 78 by 30 inches (198 by 76 cm) and have at least 35 cubic feet (1 cubic meter) of space around them. There must be a communal space for entering, exiting and changing of 65 cubic feet (1.8 cubic meters) or greater.

When purchasing new aircraft, airlines are able to choose the configuration of crew rest areas. Many of the manufacturers that make airline seats also provide options for outfitting crew rest areas.

There are separate crew rest areas for pilots and cabin crew, and they are in different locations. The rest area for flight attendants is usually located at the back of the cabin near a galley. Access is through an entrance is that is hidden in plain sight.

Crew rest area access point on an Airbus A350-900 XWB aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Stairs to the crew rest area on an Airbus A350-900 XWB aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Insider

On some aircraft types the rest area is below the cabin.

Crew rest area on an SAS A330. Philippe Masclet/master films/Airbus

Rest area configurations vary widely but all of them meet the required standards. Privacy curtains are made of thick fabric to deaden sound. Crew rest areas are provided with the same pillows and blankets that are available in business class.

Flight attendants can use the time to sleep, read or use their phones for watching movies. Most airlines do not provide access to the onboard inflight entertainment (IFE) system in cabin crew rest areas.

Cabin crew rest area on a Singapore Airlines 777 Photo: Chris McGinnis photo

The pilot rest area is located near (usually above and behind) the flight deck. Pilot rest areas are even nicer because they come with reclining seats as well as beds. Plus pilots have access to IFE.

The pilot rest area on this Boeing 777 features two seats with two bunk-style beds behind. Boeing photo
Pilot rest area on a Lufthansa Airbus A380 – Photo: David Parker Brown

Access to the pilots crew rest area on a 747 was located at the front of the upper deck business class cabin. The times when I was lucky enough to have a seat up there, it was easy to spot the pilots entering their rest area.

Dleta 747 upper deck. The entrance to the pilot’s rest area is on the left opposite the lavatories.

Delta retired its 747s in 2017. I still rate the upper deck on those birds as the world’s best business class cabin. The pilots let me sit up front for a bit before takeoff. I should have asked to see the rest area, too.

Some aircraft have the crew rest areas in the cabin. I’ve seen such an arrangement on a 767.

Condor 767 pilots have a special resting place located in the standard business class section. There are thick curtains that separate them from the main cabin
Condor 767 pilots have a special resting place located in the standard business class section. There are thick curtains that separate them from the main cabin

Airlines are starting to use smaller narrowbody aircraft like A321XLR on transatlantic routes. Those planes aren’t big enough for the kind of rest areas found on widebody planes. Airlines will have to use seats like on the Condor 767 in the photo above for crew rest.

The absence of overhead luggage bins may be a tip off to the location of crew rest areas. People closing the bins might disturb anyone above who is resting. That’s purely an assumption on my part to explain the missing overhead bin storage at the front of the business class cabin on this Kenya Airways 787.

Final Thoughts

Next time you are on a transatlantic or transpacific flight and some of your crew disappear for a few hours, you’ll have an idea where they are. Did you know about crew rest areas or what they looked like? I think these areas are pretty nice.

In spite of the fact that I’ve been on dozens and dozens of such flights, I’ve never seen a cabin crew member enter or exit the crew rest area at the rear of the plane. Have you?