Travel Changes Make Flight Crews Sleep In Airport


Post-pandemic travel trends have led to airline pilots sleeping in airports and even on the floor of their empty aircraft. Travel-starved Americans are flocking to wilderness destinations in the absence of international options and airlines have increased service to the secondary airports that serve those areas. Because of the limited services, both aeronautical and accommodation, at the small resort cities, when things go wrong the result can be uncomfortable for airline crews. 

The union representing American flight attendants recently complained that a crew had to sleep on cots at Glacier Park International Airport in Montana when their legal workday ended because there were no hotel rooms available within three hours of Kalispell (population 107,000). The summer tourist rush and a major music festival filled the area up. Last week, a Skywest crew reported they slept on their airplane because there was no other option when they ran out of crew day after a weather diversion to Hayden, Colorado. American Professional Flight Attendants Association President Julie Hedrick said her members need a proper place to rest. “Crew rest is being impacted,” she said. American said in a statement that the Montana incident was an anomaly and it’s working on avoiding a repeat.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I’m surprised the FAA is allowing the airlines to use crews who cannot get proper rest locations. Airport terminals and the floor of airplanes are not legal rest locations and those crew members should be refusing flights until they get proper rest areas. It’s up to those airlines to make sure their crews get proper rest locations and the FAA to get off their behinds and enforce this.

    • On the face of it, it does seem odd that the FAA is allowing what appears to be a violation of rest requirements and that the crew is ok with it. I suppose the airline might be working with the FAA to get an exemption that allows this. From the crew’s perspective, the available options are probably A) to refuse further flights and continue to sleep on the floor/airplane/cot until a sufficient number of proper hotel rooms open up, or B) to accept the reduced quality of rest and move forward under an approved exemption/waiver with appropriate assessment and whatever accompanying risk mitigation efforts might be required. I can understand the crew accepting option (B) in order to get out of the situation and get back home.

  2. This story reminds me of my Beech 18 freight days in the 70’s. I carried a sleeping bag in the back of the 18. I routinely slept in the back of the “Tilt’n Hilton”. Of course no cell phones, nor on-line computer reservations, nor Uber, nor Lyft to help a poor and tired freight-dog. Life was tough then, uphill both ways and always in a blizzard!

    God bless.

    • So many of us figured out how to get a few winks when circumstances require so. It’s odd that the people think you can only get ‘Rest’ in a hotel room… in the middle of the day… with kids running up and down the halls… sirens and traffic?

  3. While flying Part 135 several years ago during a very active fire year (even MORE active than this one so far) I ‘got to’ sleep in the FBO because there were NO motel rooms available anywhere in town. Sleep? Nope. It wasn’t a good night and, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have accepted the flight the next morning. Lesson learned. Aircrews need more than a cot or a couch to get reasonable rest.

  4. Jeff, were you flying for Stagecoach in the 70’s? I flew the Commander 500 and 680Fl for Comb’s out of Denver. My most interesting rest stop occurred after three ADF approaches to Wolf Point Montana. Each try getting a little lower but never seeing the runway lights and then heading for Havre MT. where the weather was just a little bit better. At 03:00 in the morning, winter conditions and not a soul in sight, I burrowed down into the green US Postal bags like a badger digging a hole and with one thin blanket over what remained exposed for breathing purposes went to sleep. As for airline rest stops, I would have gladly remained at the JFK crew room in a Big Boy chair than spend a night at the Milford Plaza hotel with a lady of the night entertaining her guest and the head board beating a steady rhythm on the wall. Since I wasn’t getting any sleep decided to fight fire with fire. I called her room several times telling her I was downstairs with the anchovy pizza she ordered. By the third call she no longer answered and I only had another hour till the van would arrive for our trip back to the airport.