The Bizarre World of Airline Crew Crashpads

Crew life

There is nothing so quintessentially “crew life” as a crashpad. They make our commuting life possible. You hear flight attendants and pilots say it a lot. “Flying is a lifestyle.” For better or worse, nothing exemplifies that like these voluntary barracks. What else do you call a place with full-grown adults sleeping in bunk beds?

I don’t know of any place as crashpad-y as New York City’s Crew Kew Gardens, a neighborhood located halfway between JFK and LGA. Drop yourself off at the intersection of Metro and Lefferts and you’ll see. You certainly wouldn’t want to play a drinking game that consisted of sitting at a bar with a view on the road, taking a drink for every rollaboard you spotted. You’d be slurring before you knew what hit you. Seriously, don’t play that game.

A crashpad is an apartment or house generally intended for sleeping between work trips. To be clear, the airlines don’t have any involvement with this, we do it privately. (If we want to commute, that’s our business, the airlines would say.) However, some airlines are good enough to offer shuttles for their employees from The Gardens. There’s also a cab service that caters to crew members which offers a half-hourly shuttle to either airport, between 4am-10pm.

These pied-a-terres might be used by commuters or lived in by New Hires stretching their meager paychecks. Whatever the reason, we pile in as many people as possible to keep the rent affordable. Modeling is the only other profession that I know of that spawns such living conditions, as most models are similarly too poor to live in New York/Paris/etc., but travel often. As a New Hire, I used to remind myself of that to make me feel better when crashpad life felt too unglamorous. I don’t think it helped.

You’ll find two main categories: “hot bed” or “cold bed” (some call it “hot/cold sheeting”). A cold bed is all yours. You can leave your sheets on it. No one else is going to mess with it. In this set-up, even with so many roommates, you’ll spend many nights alone in the apartment. This will run you $250-400 per month in New York.

A hot bed is first-come, first-serve. You either bring your linens or store them in a cubby/drawer when you’re not there, searching the bedroom for an unoccupied mattress by the light of your cellphone when you arrive.

There are degrees of hot-beddedness. It’s like the question of how madly an airline overbooks a flight. The formula just assumes some people won’t show up, and most of the time it works. It might be a place with 10 beds and 15 “roommates.” Only in cases of, say, severe weather shut downs do you usually run short of beds – in that case, you better get there first or hope there are several sofas.

At the other end of the spectrum, you get something almost like a crew hotel where you call and see if there’s a place available to reserve amongst all the absolute strangers. You’ll probably get little sleep and a sign-up sheet for 10-minute shower slots.

If you opt for a cold bed, you can find same-sex or co-ed arrangements, mixed pilots and flight attendants (or not), all one airline or not. I really like being with people from different airlines. It’s insightful to hear our different issues (always good to be reminded that no airline is perfect) and make more cross-connections.

Just like in an airplane cabin, you also get lots of different crashpad cultures, naturally determined by the person who runs the joint. Usually it’s a fellow crewmember who does it in exchange for some perk, be it a break on the rent or just a better bed choice. The only things that are consistent are condiment hoarding in the kitchen and some sociology adventures!

There’s so much more to say about crashpad life, but now you’ve got a good start. We’ll call this Crashpad 101, and – if you like – I’ll come back another time to dig into some of the gossi-, er, I mean, details.

Thanks for all of your questions, comments and stories. Keep sending them to @FATravelWrite or [email protected].

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Comments (Showing 8 of 8)

  • Palal at 2:27pm December 11, 2013

    First decent article I’ve read on this series of FT blogs. Keep writing.

  • flyerred at 1:02am December 12, 2013

    This is a great article- substantive and lifts the veil on a particularly unknown aspect of crew life illustrated with facts. I hope more articles written with equal thoughtfulness are published on FT. More gossi-…I mean details about crew crashpads please.

  • tanglin at 8:32am December 12, 2013

    Interesting – write more 🙂

  • Renaldo at 4:08pm December 12, 2013

    Nicely written, will wait for the details : )

  • Firewind at 5:11pm December 17, 2013

    >> What else do you call a place with full-grown adults sleeping in bunk beds?

    The military, esp. the Navy?

    >> Whatever the reason, we pile in as many people as possible to keep the rent affordable.

    I “joined” one, by invitation, in Paris. One of the best experiences of this traveler’s life. (Actually, the secretiveness added a considerable element of intrigue.) And before any crew looks at this askance: I was invited, it was very infrequent, that’s why it worked for “the leadership” as well as me. Why is this past tense? I’m in Paris less frequently.

    Thank you for this article.

  • Freebird at 6:01pm December 17, 2013

    Hope there will be more, great start.

  • zerolife at 6:17pm January 14, 2014

    Interesting. I always assumed that for flight delays/cancellation, airlines are always responsible for hotel arrangement for crews, even if it’s weather related. Is that not the case?

  • SSteegar at 3:26pm February 10, 2014

    Hi zerolife, Airlines are only responsible for hotels arrangements during layover. Any delay or cancellation affecting the start or end of a trip is the crew member’s problem. As far as the company is concerned, when we are in the base city, we are “home”.

    There used to be a couple of long S. America trips that left late at night, 11pm or so. If one of those was delayed it was usually delayed until the next morning. Since such a delay meant it way too late for even non-commutting crew members to get a full night sleep, they would usually get a choice – either a hotel OR 3 hrs credit for coming all the way into work. Thank goodness I haven’t seen that situation arise in a while.

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