The ‘secret’ compartments where cabin crew rest during a flight

From upstairs lofts to below-decks bunks, here is where pilots and cabin crew relax and sleep.

By David Flynn, August 1 2023
The ‘secret’ compartments where cabin crew rest during a flight

During a long flight on modern jetliners, passengers in business and first class enjoy relaxing in their cosy seats and suites.

But what about pilots and cabin crew – where do they go when it's time for some time out?

They head for one of several ‘secret’ crew rest areas which could well be directly above or below where you’re sitting.

Nestled away behind nondescript doors with digital locks, these private crew rest compartments are of course strictly off-limits to passengers – and they provide a welcome retreat between shifts for hard-working pilots and flight attendants.

These cosy crew rest bunks are usually found above or below the aircraft's main cabin.
These cosy crew rest bunks are usually found above or below the aircraft's main cabin.

These rest areas are equipped with beds: not seats which convert into beds but actual beds (well, a padded mattress) each in their own compartment, fitted with sound-dampening curtains for privacy along with creature comforts such as reading lights, AC/USB power outlets, a small mirror and hooks for hanging a small bag or loose items of clothing.

There’s also required safety equipment such as oxygen masks, seat-belt indicators and an intercom.

But having visited several airline’s crest rest areas during aircraft inspections and delivery flights, we can assure you that if you have even a hint of claustrophobia, these confined hangouts are not the place to be. 

They’re more like a Japanese capsule hotel – a cozy yet cramped and windowless space to stretch out, relax and sleep.

Here’s a look inside these hidden hideaways.

Crew rest areas on the Airbus A380

Airlines flying the A380 were able to specify the location of crew rest compartments, with the most common being a 12-berth module under the main deck, in the same area as the cargo hold, and shown here in an Airbus mock-up showing three views of the space.

These concepts for the Airbus A380's crew rest pods look more like a Japanese capsule hotel.
These concepts for the Airbus A380's crew rest pods look more like a Japanese capsule hotel.

The real A380 crew rest areas are decidedly less glam... here’s a show of Qantas’ superjumbo snooze zone for flight attendants.

The below-decks crew rest compartments of the Qantas Airbus A380.
The below-decks crew rest compartments of the Qantas Airbus A380.

This is reached through a steep, narrow stairwell behind a discreet door that only the crew can open – on the Qantas A380, that door and stairway is located halfway along the economy cabin next to the crew seats between rows 65 and 66.

Qantas A380 crew access their bunks through this hidden stairwell.
Qantas A380 crew access their bunks through this hidden stairwell.

Note also the missing seat at 70D – that’s because this part of the floor has a concealed ‘escape hatch' for off-shift crew to use in case of emergency or when they can’t exit via the normal door. 

Some crew will sleep during their four-hour break, others relax and listen by listening to music or a podcast, or even watching an inflight movie, as you can see in this Emirates A380 crew rest bunk.

An Emirates crew member relaxing in his A380 bunk.
An Emirates crew member relaxing in his A380 bunk.

Most A380 pilots have their own dedicated rest area located at the very front of the aircraft in the same secure area as the cockpit, with a seperate armchair and significantly more overhead space.

A380 pilots have their own dedicated rest area on the flight deck.
A380 pilots have their own dedicated rest area on the flight deck.

However, airlines can change the layout when they order the A380 – for example, Emirates reclaimed this space for passenger bathrooms, with the flight deck crew rest area relocated below decks in front of the cabin crew compartment. 

Crew rest areas on the Boeing 777

The Boeing 777’s secret crew rest compartment is upstairs, and reached via an unmarked but security-locked door at the very back of the plane.

The staircase to a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777's crew rest zone.
The staircase to a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777's crew rest zone.

A narrow set of stairs takes you up to a surprisingly large and long space which is something like an old railway sleeper carriage, with between eight and ten bunks on either side; each bunk is about two metres long and 75cm wide.

The 777 crew rest bunks look like something out of a railway sleeper carriage.
The 777 crew rest bunks look like something out of a railway sleeper carriage.

There’s also a shared wardrobe where all crew can stow their jackets and a temperature control to keep this self-contained cabin from getting too toasty or chilly.

Emirates has a very well-appointed 777 crew rest area, complete with little flat-screen video monitors.

The crew rest compartments on an Emirates 777.
The crew rest compartments on an Emirates 777.

As on the A380, the 777’s crew rest area has its own emergency exit: these photos from a Cathay Pacific 777 show how one of the crew bunks conceals an escape hatch under the mattress.

The emergency exit on this Cathay 777 takes crew straight into the economy cabin.
The emergency exit on this Cathay 777 takes crew straight into the economy cabin.

This drops down in the aisle next to seat 65G, through a fake overhead luggage compartment – note the missing latch on 65G’s overhead bin, compared to its neighbours.

Crew rest areas on the Boeing 787

In developing the 787 Dreamliner from scratch, Boeing took the opportunity to upgrade the pilot rest area at the front of the plane into a cool loft space directly behind the cockpit.

Each of the two pilot rest areas on the Boeing 787 includes cup holders, an intercom and fire extinguisher.
Each of the two pilot rest areas on the Boeing 787 includes cup holders, an intercom and fire extinguisher.

The crew’s snooze zone is at the rear, where a locked door marked ‘Crew only’ looks like a closet or storage compartment, but in fact leads upstairs to more bunks in a similar style.

Boeing's standard  crew rest area above the economy cabin of the 787.
Boeing's standard crew rest area above the economy cabin of the 787.

These nooks would no doubt be the envy of the economy passengers sitting just metres below!

Boeing's standard  crew rest area above the economy cabin of the 787.
Boeing's standard crew rest area above the economy cabin of the 787.

Passengers in the Boeing 787 don’t realise the crew who earlier in the flight helped them settle into their seats and served them meals and drinks are relaxing and sleeping right above them, but a tell-tale sign is that ‘fake’ overhead luggage bin.

On the Qantas Boeing 787, for example, these are above the first two rows of business class (the pilot rest area) and the last three rows of economy (the crew rest area).

If you know where to look on a Boeing 787, you can see where crew rest areas are located right above you.
If you know where to look on a Boeing 787, you can see where crew rest areas are located right above you.

Crew rest areas on the Airbus A350

Like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Airbus A350 has two upstairs loft spaces for pilots and cabin crew, each concealed behind a solid security door fitted with a combination lock.

The pilot rest compartment at the front of the A350.
The pilot rest compartment at the front of the A350.

Pilots duck into a two-berth space handily located at the front of the jet, while crew make their way to a six-bunk compartment at the rear of the plane.

The crew rest area of the Airbus A350.
The crew rest area of the Airbus A350.

These private close-quartered cubicles are the crew's off-duty haven.

The crew rest area of the Airbus A350.
The crew rest area of the Airbus A350.

Again, to get an idea of exactly where above you the A350's upstairs crew rest area is located, look for a lack of central overhead luggage bins.

Here’s an example on the Qatar Airways Airbus A350-900 – in the last four rows of economy, from 40 to 44, the overhead doors are replaced by solid panels.

Hard-working cabin crew are relaxing right above you...
Hard-working cabin crew are relaxing right above you...

The crew rest area is accessed via small staircase at the rear of the economy cabin. A sliding screen ordinarily hides this from passenger view.

The rest area access onboard Fiji Airways' A350.
The rest area access onboard Fiji Airways' A350.

Also read: Boeing’s groovy ‘Tiger Lounge’ in the belly of the 747

09 May 2016

Total posts 18

Always wondered what they looked like. well now I know. Thank you.

NPC
NPC

02 Aug 2023

Total posts 4

Great to see where the crew go to get some rest.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 412

Count me out. I feel claustrophobic when the seat converts to a bed and legs go into the "tunnel". Feel very restricted.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 57

Many years ago after a conversation with a crew member I was shown the rest area on a Qantas B747. It was accessed at the rear of the economy cabin via a closet-like door in the left-hand corner of the cabin. I recall you went up stairs and turned right into a flat rest area. On a South African Airways B747 I also saw a flight crew member in a cabin behind the flight deck, lying on his bunk reading a book with no apparent security. 


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