|By Steve Dennis|
August 28, 2006
Steve Dennis brings us an in-depth look into the bizarre world of airline crews' sleeping arrangements, with the development that has been born of necessity: crash pads. Dennis tells us all about crash pads, how to find one, and even how to start one.
For many young aviators making the leap (of faith?) into professional aviation, it comes as a shock that their first many paychecks seem paltry compared to their bills. This reality, and the fact that most new pilots lack the seniority required to live in more desirable cities, have created an interesting phenomenon known as the “crash pad.” A crash pad can be a variety of things but in general consists of 3 or more pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, FAA officials or other flight crews that commute from their actual homes to a common domicile. They may or may not know each other, frequently assuming that their airline’s extensive background checks will weed out anyone that may have bodies hidden under their porch, or otherwise be an undesirable roommate. This group of aviators will then pool their funds and strain their patience in order to share a common address near the airport, at a fraction of what it would cost to pay for a hotel. (Because these crews choose to commute, the airlines are not responsible for paying for their accommodations).
A crash pad near MEM.
Since most pilots or flight attendants are only sleeping in this home-away-from-home for a few nights out of the month, crash pads frequently have several people staying in the same apartment, house or condo with the hopes that any given night will not attract more of the occupants than there are beds. To avoid “overbooking,” many pad owners limit the number of occupants to the number of beds, however futons, air mattresses and couches are frequently fair game as well. In most places a crew member can claim a bed as their own, although not always. For less money, some pad owners allow “hot bunking,” which means a renter may show up ready for some rest, only to climb into bed and realize that the sheets are still warm from the previous occupant! Pilots or Flight Attendants that are “on reserve” will typically pay more for a crash pad, since those crews only work when called by the company and will be around more days of the month.
A typical crash pad.
In reality, most crash pads are fairly mundane, consisting of an average apartment or house with an extra room or two, hosting a few professional travelers who are rarely there. Every rule has exceptions of course. In Denver there is a crash pad that consists of a Winnebago in the crew parking lot, with several people possessing a key. (In fact, one airline recently outlawed this practice due to the amount of electricity that was being drawn from exterior outlets to power multiple mobile homes in their parking lot!) There is a crash pad in Charlottesville, Virginia that consists of an air mattress in the crawl space of a small house; crashers have to climb a wooden ladder to get into the nook, and must be careful not to hit their heads on the water heater that is also housed in the space. There is one in the Baltimore area that has individual pods (picture a submarine bunk room), each complete with bed, television, reading lamp and privacy curtain! Still another in the Dallas Fort Worth Area is so popular that the door key is stored in a coded lock box, and crashers are issued a new combination each month.
Bunkbeds- not an uncommon sight!
Once in a while, a particular pad will gain so much notoriety that mainstreams media takes notice. The New York Times ran an article a few years ago about a crash pad known as “The Red Door” in New York. The place was so well known by crews and locals that cab drivers needed no instruction from weary crews other than “The Red Door, please.”
If you are considering starting up your own crash pad, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, remember that you are not renting to typical tenants—your guests will be transient and unpredictable. For your venture to be successful, you will have to make staying in your crash pad more affordable (and comfortable) than staying in a hotel. Cost varies with location of course, but in general flight crews are looking for $100 to $300 dollars per month depending on the conditions. Transportation options to and from the airport are also critical. If there isn’t a bus or train, find out what a cab ride costs so that you can pass that information along to crashers. Nearby hotels can also offer transportation assistance. Although it’s not the most honest method, some crews will use the complimentary shuttle service of a nearby hotel to get them within walking distance of a crash pad. Clearly the hotels frown on this practice, but a good tip for the shuttle drivers can make hotel policy fairly subjective.
A crash pad near CHO.
Because of their ever-changing needs, you probably won’t be able to get any crew members to sign a lease. Some sort of written agreement is fine if you want certain things to be clear, such as rent, occupancy, number of nights allowed, expectations for common areas, etc. Forget about getting anyone to autograph a six or twelve month lease; think of your new crash pad as a hotel. It’s best if you have a bed to offer renters, although it’s common for people to provide their own bedding. Access to a small amount of storage space is key, as is access to common amenities like the kitchen and laundry facilities. For payment, some sort of specific arrangement is a necessity. Typical methods include a lock box with a slot for checks, a separate mailing address, or you could even open a merchant account with a major credit card, and accept payments that way (credit card payments work great for crash pads that charge by the night). Once you have established your pad, attract crews by advertising. Posters in crew rooms are good, and you can post on the Internet for free with sites such a Craigslist, or FlightInfo.com. For more exposure, sites such as CrewCommute.com offer pictures, waiting lists, and contact forms so you don’t have to expose your email address to robots and spammers. However you decide to attract crashers, remember that a good reputation is the absolute best way to keep your new pad full.
A crash pad near BOS.
For flight crews about to embark on the commuting adventure, the first step is to find a place. This can frequently be accomplished by word of mouth, and most crew rooms will also have various crash pads posted on the bulletin boards. For the tech savvy, online resources are available in a variety of forms. Try entering “Pilot Crash Pads” or “Flight Attendant Crash Pads” into your favorite search engine, and you should end up with several options. Once you have found a place, there are some critical questions you need to ask before committing, and cost is just one of them. Be sure to ask how many people live there, and whether they are line holders or reserve. Ask if there is a mix of airlines or if the pad is company specific, since this could have some ramifications for your social life. Is there hot bunking or will you have your own bed? When is rent due? How much notice is required before moving out? (Remember, you’re probably not going to have a lease, so it’s important to have an understanding with your landlord!) Be sure to find out what transportation options are available to get to the airport, and if you’ll bring your own car, ask about parking. If there are several people living there, a good pad owner should have a cleaning service regularly visit the residence. After all, with a dozen people coming and going, there’s just no accountability for the mess! Look for a place that comes with good recommendations from other crews, as this will be your best indication of a pad’s quality.
A crash pad near PHX.
Finally, maintain a robust sense of humor. Commuting is a lifestyle, and the crash pad culture is part of the adventure. For example, a Captain I recently spoke with arranged his crash pad entirely over the Internet. He was mailed a key by the owner, and used mapquest to find the place. When he got there he didn’t need the key because the door was unlocked, despite a half dozen flight crew members racked out in bunk beds in the living room. He was nearly clubbed by a territorial flight attendant as he found his way to an empty bunk to get his required 8 hours of rest before hitting the wild blue the next morning. Like most things in life, and particularly the airline business, your attitude is everything. Good Luck!
Steve Dennis is a LearJet Captain for a national cargo carrier. He currently lives in Virginia, and crash pads in Des Moines Iowa. He can be contacted here: http://www.crewcommute.com/contact.php.