Restricted Areas on Aircraft: Off-Limits Spaces for Passengers

Widebody aircraft have secret areas where pilots and cabin crew rest during long flights. These Crew Rest Compartments (CRCs) are off-limits to passengers and cleverly concealed. Their locations vary based on the aircraft model.

On newer aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, CRCs are located in the upper fuselage above the main cabin. Older aircraft may have these compartments in the cargo hold or within the main cabin itself.

CRCs come in two types: one for pilots, typically situated above the cockpit with two bunks and a recliner, and another for cabin crew, usually above the aft galley, containing six or more bunks.

Airlines can customize CRC configurations when purchasing an aircraft, but they must adhere to regulations from bodies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These regulations ensure CRCs are free from intrusive noise, odors, and vibrations, and are temperature-controlled with adjustable lighting. Each bunk must be 78 by 30 inches in size and surrounded by at least 35 cubic feet of space, with a communal area providing at least 65 cubic feet.

CRCs resemble Japanese capsule hotels: windowless, compact, but cozy sleeping spaces equipped with power outlets, lights, and necessary safety gear like oxygen masks and intercoms. United Airlines flight attendant Susannah Carr describes them as comfortable, with padded mattresses, air vents, temperature controls, and business class linens. However, taller individuals might find the space a bit tight.

While CRCs offer some advantages over business or first-class seats, such as wider bunks and more legroom, they also have drawbacks, like limited headroom and privacy. They are designed to blend in with the aircraft’s interior, often mistaken for closets by passengers. Access is secure and discreet, involving a small landing and ladder on newer aircraft, or a staircase to the cargo hold on older models.

During long-haul flights, cabin crew members typically spend at least 10% of flight time in CRCs. This rest period is crucial for maintaining alertness and readiness. Flight attendant Karoliina Åman of Finnair notes that rest time varies but can extend up to a few hours, allowing crew members to recuperate and stay prepared for any emergencies.

Not everyone sleeps during their rest period. Some listen to audiobooks, read, or watch movies. Rest areas are off-limits during taxi, takeoff, and landing, and usage is managed by the cabin manager, with seniority determining break schedules.

Pilot rest areas are separate and closer to the cockpit. They include two bunks and sometimes a seat with in-flight entertainment. Finnair’s deputy fleet chief pilot, Aleksi Kuosmanen, prefers the A350’s rest area above the forward galley for its soundproofing and comfort.

Next time you’re on a long-haul flight, look for an inconspicuous door at the front or back of the plane. If you see a crew member disappear into it, you’ve likely spotted a rest area. However, access is strictly prohibited for passengers. As flight attendant Carr humorously notes, “It’s a little bit like Disney – we keep the magic behind closed doors.”