Passenger airplanes aren’t exactly known for being the most spacious way to travel, particularly when traveling coach, since the goal is to comfortably fit in as many people as humanly possible. But despite appearances, there are in fact some secret compartments on board that only the crew can access.
Long-haul flights, after all, can take upwards of 17 hours, so it’s no surprise that flight attendants need somewhere to take a load off. Indeed, as many passengers know, it can be incredibly difficult to fall asleep in the air, even for those in the more comfortable business and first class sections.
But have you ever wondered where the crew members get this well-earned rest during long-haul flights? And did you know that both the pilots and flight attendants are actually required by law to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep during long journeys?
Fortunately, newer airplane models, such as the Boeing 777 and 787, provide the crew with secret rooms known as Crew Rest Compartments (CRCs). These areas, which are accessible via hidden stairs and ladders, allow the pilots and flight attendants to get some valuable shut-eye during long flights.
Although different airliners naturally have many different designs, there is usually some free space above and below the passenger cabin, thanks to the fuselage’s cylindrical shape. It is this extra space that provides just enough room for CRCs.
The large majority of CRCs, therefore, are placed at the top of the airplane, just behind the cockpit. This avoids taking up valuable cargo space in the bottom of the plane, and it doesn’t result in any loss of passenger seats in the cabin area.
And if you’re wondering why you’ve never even noticed them, that’s because CRCs are hidden behind locked doors, which only crew members can access. Once inside, then, the crew can climb steps up above the first class passenger compartment into the rest area.
The typical CRC, then, resembles a large bedroom with a low ceiling, consisting of sectioned-off beds set up for as many as ten crew members. And while the mattresses certainly look cozy, they don’t quite make up for the cramped conditions.
But not all airplanes use the same CRC design. The Airbus A380, for example, replaces the large bedroom with bunk beds that provide a little more privacy.
Meanwhile, the Boeing 777-300ER’s crew resting area may make passengers a little jealous. Indeed, this airplane features an entire hidden aisle with eight separate beds on either side measuring 6 feet by 2.5 feet each.
What’s more, CRCs can include storage space for personal belongings, mirrors, adjustable lighting, power outlets and air conditioning. “It’s sort of like a small Japanese apartment,” said one enthusiastic Boeing pilot.
And although the main goal of these bunk rooms is to provide a quiet place for crew to recharge their batteries, some rooms have extra perks. These can include, for instance, small TVs and other sources of entertainment.
What’s even more interesting, however, is that pilots can have their own personal quarters as well. And much like first-class passengers get superior seats and service compared to passengers in coach, the pilots’ rooms are superior to the rest of the crew.
The Boeing 777 pilot resting area, for example, includes two beds and business class seats with plenty of room to spare. In some planes, meanwhile, the pilot area even contains its own lavatory.
But some flight attendants say CRCs are not as great as they look. The rooms are “very small and very cramped and yes can be very claustrophobic,” blogger Dan Air told MailOnline Travel.
Things can get especially uncomfortable when the airplane encounters turbulence; the tight space doesn’t leave much room for maneuvering. Indeed, CRCs on the 777 can make you feel “like you are in a coffin,” a British Airways crew member told MailOnline Travel.
But despite these criticisms, designated rest areas are still better than the alternative. Certainly, in older airplane models, such as the Boeing 757s and 767s, the crew are forced to use normal passenger seats for sleep.
And although they can make themselves more comfortable by shielding the seats with a heavy curtain, it doesn’t help much with pesky passengers. Indeed, it can be very difficult to fall asleep in these seats with passengers constantly brushing by and even leaning on the curtain, according to American flight attendant Sarah Steegar.
In fact, in the worst case scenario, some passengers have the gall to open the curtain and take a look – disturbing the sleep of the crew member in the process. Despite their tiny quarters, then, private CRCs with their peace and quiet provide a great advantage.
Indeed, CRCs are now so popular that the decision of who gets to go on a flight with one is decided by seniority. As Steegar said, the private crew quarters “may not have the Boeing Book Club ambience, but one thing is consistent: we’re intensely grateful for whatever we do get!”