Saturday, October 29, 2016

Adventures in Flight: Crew Rest

Finally, the tie is off, pockets are emptied, and my feet are happy not to bound in shoes walking the aisles. The first service is complete and the plane is at altitude en route to a far away destination. It's time for a crew rest.

On long-haul flights, once the initial service is complete, it's time for crew breaks. Crew breaks are sacred. Services are seemingly done quickly mainly to allow maximum time for crew break; that's what many senior flight attendants would have you to believe. When I get juniored into a position I'm not very familiar with, such as first class galley, I can usually get out of it by saying, “OK, I don't really know this position, so I may be a bit slow and the breaks may be shorter...” Someone always steps up and takes the position from me before I can complete the sentence. Don't mess with crew rest!

Depending on the length of flight and how many breaks there are (two or three), crew can look forward to anywhere from an hour to more than 3, out of view from passengers for a rest. Each plane has a different crew rest set up. The best is the 777 aircraft with the crew rest bunks in the belly of the plane. Situated in the center of the plane, one can enjoy lying flat with limited movement felt in flight. While the crew bunks in the 747 are comfortable, they are located at the tail of the aircraft, above the passenger area, and as you may know, the tail experiences more movement as it gets buffeted by the winds in flight. The least bit of turbulence is exaggerated in these bunks. They do have seat belts, and I have feared actually falling out of an upper bunk during turbulence. Shake, rattle and roll!

View down below
 The worst crew rest is located in the passenger cabin, separated only by a thick curtain. The seats don't lie flat and noise is hardly muffled from the riff raff just outside the curtain. Such is the case on the 767, which I fly most on my trips to South America and the 777 that Mother Airline uses for flights to Hawaii, which don't have the bunks in the belly of the plane.

It's nice to get settled in, turn the air on full-blast because I'm still overheated from the service, just start falling asleep, and then the infant that is always boarded next to us starts to cry. Well, maybe nice isn't the word. Or the passenger behind us decides to open their shade every 5 minutes and the bright light in the dark cabin creeps through the cracks between the curtain and the cabin wall like a tiny sun has formed just behind my head. (I think I could actually hear the light, it was so intense.) Or a nearby passenger has an empty water bottle at their feet and every 10 minutes their foot finds it and makes a crackly-plastic bottle sound that in my sleepy state sounds as if it is right over my head.

When I first started flying international trips out of San Francisco in the early 2000s, I watched what the others did and would do the same thing- ear plugs in the ears, eye mask, strip down to the basic uniform and dive under a blanket with 2 pillows. I never could sleep. Maybe it was the thrill of going to a new foreign destination, which back then, was quite rare for me and my insignificant seniority. Or maybe it's as I learned later on, that I simply can't sleep with earplugs in my ears and an eye mask digging into my head. I don't sleep like that at home, why would I think I could sleep like that in a crew rest bunk shaking like a hula dancer at 35,000 feet?

Night time departure

These days, I feel much more like a pro when it comes to crew rest. I prefer the first break, because it's hard coming off of break and going right into the arrival service. With first break, I can get my rest and then get up, have my crew meal (also sacred) and not be a sleepy-head when the second service begins. I also don't wake up very gracefully.

There is one bunk on the 747 known for being colder than the others; I prefer this one. I prefer to be next to the window when we must rest in the cabin behind the curtain; people are always walking past the curtain and bumping into me.

What's fun and entertaining is how passengers always try to move into the empty crew rest seats. I recently encountered a man quite proud of having acquired one on a full flight, leaving his center seat for a crew seat. I stopped by, said hello, and asked where his seat was. He stated this was his seat. I said that it couldn't be, because this was a crew rest seat and asked again where his seat was, knowing full well... He was quite determined and didn't seem to understand, so I asked, “Are a crew member? Are you working this flight?” He looked at me, the gleam in his eyes obviously dimming, “No.” “Then, I'm sorry, but you'll have to return to your seat, crammed in between two very large men on a 10 hour flight. These seats are reserved for working crew.” Inside voice was asking me if I enjoyed crushing human spirits.

Crew rest is sacred, so if you happen to be on a plane seated next to the crew break area, please be considerate, quiet, keep your window shades closed, your baby in silent mode, and for the love of the gods, do not disturb!
Shadows from the skies

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