Most of my flying is long haul (30 hours door-to-door with the longest leg being 11 hours – usually in a 747 which seats up to 670 passengers if it is a 747-8). Some ultra long haul flights last 18.5 hours, and in an A380 that means almost 1000 passengers to take care of.
Boarding usually starts at least one hour before the plane takes off, and the crew stay on the plane for a while after everyone has deplaned at the destination. The same plane will take off about 12 hours later and do the same trip in the opposite direction.
This is a lot of work so at any time there are some crew members on duty and some resting. But you never see them strapped in or sleeping, not even when it is an overnight flight and not many cabin attendants are necessary. Why?
Well, that is because there are actually crew quarters (called CRCs or Crew Rest Compartments) on long haul and ultra long haul flights.
CRCs are sometimes below (as in the old Airbus A350s), but usually above the passenger area and near the cockpit area, reached by an inconspicuous door near the cockpit which usually looks like a crew toilet. They can also be in a sealed off section of the main cabin or in what looks like an overhead bin. CRCs vary from very basic to quite luxurious, but generally they all offer proper beds, with actual bedding, privacy curtains (which also help dampen noise) and individual lights. Some have places to keep belongings and certain airlines even supply pyjamas!
Pilots have a separate area which has toilet facilities, business class seats, as well as bunks and other amenities.
The next time you are on a long flight, see if you can figure out where the CRC is. Read the notices on the doors/bins carefully and see if you can see staff going into what looks like a crew toilet.
The crew quarters look way more comfortable than those of the passengers (sheets! beds!) and I would rather be there than in a tiny seat, but apparently they are quite claustrophobic and scary during turbulence.
First, here is a video to start you off
Zodiac Aerospace have revealed their new designs for luxury sleeping quarters for cabin crew
I would love to explore a CRC but it must be very much against the rules.
I spent time in a 747 cockpit once though. It was in 2005 (even after security measures were tightened following 9/11) and I was allowed in because I happened to be sitting next to two young boys – one was about 16 and was travelling with his 6 year old brother who serious heart problems (he had been born with half a heart). The crew had to be notified and had special medical equipment for him. Because of this, the crew were omnipresent that flight and they thought I was his mother. So they invited all of us to the cockpit. It was such a wonderful experience for all of us! He was such a cute little chap too – he took a shine to me and I even got to meet his parents when we arrived, because I was on three consecutive flights with him.
If you are nosy about other things that happen behind the scenes, I can recommend Confessions of a Trolley Dolly by Dan Air, which is one of my go-to blogs.