Here’s how pilots on the world’s new longest flight will stay rested and alert for the 20 hours from New York to Sydney

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David Slotnick/Business Insider

  • Qantas just completed the first nonstop flight between New York and Sydney, designated “Project Sunrise,” and Business Insider was on board.
  • Qantas used the flight to study how pilots and flight attendants could stay rested, alert, and capable during ultra-long-haul flights.
  • Crews took turns resting in specialized, secret break areas on the plane. While passengers will usually never see these crew compartments, we had a chance to take a look during this unique research flight. Read on to see the inside of these crew quarters.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Last weekend, the Australian airline Qantas successfully completed its first test flight for its “Project Sunrise” initiative – a program to launch regular commercial service from Sydney to New York and Sydney to London.

The flights, at about 9,900 and 10,500 nautical miles, respectively, represent the farthest – and currently the longest, in terms of time – nonstop flights today.

The flight isn’t expected to launch regular commercial service until at least 2022 or 2023, but Qantas used this flight – and plans to do the same for the London route – to conduct research into how pilots, cabin crews, and passengers cope with the long flight time. In particular, data gathered from monitoring of the pilots and flight attendants will be used to help Qantas make a case to Australian aviation regulators that it’s safe to have crew work in shifts for flights approaching 20 hours.

The airline also tested a redesigned cabin service, meant to help passengers minimize the effects of jetlag as they cross 15 time zones and reduce the magnitude with which an ultra-long-haul flight can exacerbate those symptoms.

Read more: I flew on Qantas’ ‘Project Sunrise,’ a nonstop flight from New York to Sydney, which took almost 20 hours and covered nearly 10,000 miles – here’s what it was like

This flight also doubled as a delivery of a new Boeing 787-9, from Boeing’s Seattle plant. There were only 40 passengers and 10 crew members, including four on-duty pilots. Passengers included several Qantas frequent flyers participating in the research study, off-duty Qantas employees, researchers, and media, including this reporter.

Breaks and adequate rest periods during any long flight are crucial for helping pilots and flight attendants remain alert, and they become even more important when the flight lasts almost a full day.

To ensure crew members can get some shut-eye in a relatively private setting, long-haul planes are designed with specialized crew rest compartments – hidden areas of the plane with cots, or bunks, where crews can rest.

Most passengers will never see these hidden rest areas, but this Project Sunrise test was no ordinary flight; the crew was gracious enough to let us take a look at the whole plane while the bunks were unoccupied early in the flight.

Here are the secret parts of the airplane where pilots and flight attendants go to sleep.


Nearly 20 hours in the air can take a toll on the human body, but fortunately the four pilots who worked the Project Sunrise research flight were able to get some rest during the trip (also pictured, on the left, is Captain Lisa Norman, the pilot who took delivery of the plane from Boeing’s factory in Seattle).

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Similarly, the six flight attendants would need an opportunity to take breaks and sleep during the nearly daylong flight. Just like for the pilots, there’s a secret area of the plane where the cabin crew can go to rest.

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Behind an inconspicuous locked door just ahead of the rear galley, and up a narrow set of three or four steps, there’s the secret compartment where flight attendants can disappear during long-haul flights.

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David Slotnick/Business Insider

A 16- or 17-hour flight may seem brutal to you, but it’s flat-out unfeasible for the flight attendants who work such a flight to be on their feet that whole time.

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Most airline labor agreements — and, often, safety regulations — require crews to be given a certain amount of time to rest after a set number of hours.

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David Slotnick/Business Insider

On some smaller planes that fly medium- and long-haul, you might see a business-class seat cordoned off for a crew rest. But on bigger jets, there’s a dedicated compartment.

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David Slotnick/Business Insider

There are six narrow bunks in the cabin crew rest on Qantas’ 787-9, the plane that operates the “Project Sunrise” flight.

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Each bunk is separated by cushioned dividers and curtains, giving at least a small degree of privacy to each occupant. Less ideal than on the ground, maybe, but still useful considering it’s on board a plane.

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David Slotnick/Business Insider

Each bunk on this flight had a pillow, a sheet, and a blanket, plus a personal air vent, like the ones you might find near a passenger seat.

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It’s surprising and impressive that there’s room for as many bunks as there were, but even though it was a tight fit, there was enough room to get some much needed shut-eye while working the lengthy 10,000-mile flight.

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As you make your way down the stairs back into the main cabin, there’s a mirror, helping flight attendants maintain the indefatigable and professional image that you might recognize from your long-haul flights.

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At the front of the plane, just behind the cockpit, there’s another crew rest compartment — this one is for the pilots.

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David Slotnick/Business Insider

Just like the flight-attendant rest area, this is a part of the plane that few passengers will ever see.

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David Slotnick/Business Insider

It’s similar to the flight attendant’s compartment, but there are a couple of differences.

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Since the flight works with four pilots, a maximum of just two pilots will be on break at any given time, so there are only two cots.

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The beds are a bit wider, since there are only two of them. “Sometimes, I sleep better on the long-haul flights than I do at home,” Captain Sean Golding, the lead pilot on the research flight, told Business Insider.

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The four pilots split their workload to make sure that everyone got enough rest on this research flight. Golding described the shifts: “The whole crew will be on for the first hour and a half. Then, I’ll take a 2-1/2-hour break. I’ll work for the next 5 1/2 hours, sleep for the next 5 1/2, work the next 2 1/2, and we’ll all be on for the final approach and landing.”

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For shorter breaks, or in case there’s a fifth pilot who wants to relax, the compartment also has a folding jump seat with an in-flight entertainment screen that can swing out from the bulkhead.

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The plane’s business-class seats, which fold out into a bed, are comfortable, but there’s no question that the crew rest areas offer a more private space to relax and rest up.

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Even after 19 hours and 16 minutes in the air, doesn’t that look like a well-rested flight crew?

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David Slotnick/Business Insider