Sleep easy at airports...

London-based mini-hotel operator Yotel runs YotelAir (above) at four European airports, with a Singapore project coming in 2019.
London-based mini-hotel operator Yotel runs YotelAir (above) at four European airports, with a Singapore project coming in 2019.PHOTO: YOTELAIR/INSTAGRAM

Affordable, hourly sleeping spaces at terminals are gaining popularity with travellers

NEW YORK • Not many airports are designed to house amenities that travellers can use if their flights are grounded because of hurricanes or missed connections.

Enter a new breed of companies that aims to take flight to custom-design such services. At least four companies are angling for space in terminals for a new generation of sleeping spaces dubbed cabins, capsules and pods.

One of them, Minute Suites, has retail sleep locations at airports in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Philadelphia.

A company dubbed izZzleep opened a sleep capsule warren at the Mexico City airport in summer, with rates from US$8 (S$10.80) an hour to US$34 a night.

Yotel, the London-based mini-hotel operator, operates YotelAir at four European airports, with a Singapore project coming in 2019. It hopes to expand into airports in the United States as does NapCity Americas, which has acquired US rights to Napcabs, a German-based sleep pod company that operates at the Munich airport.

Scour some of the world's key hubs - New York City, Los Angeles, Madrid, Toronto and Zurich - and you will find nary a bed available by the hour. The reasons vary, but revenue considerations generally play a large role when it comes to space allotment at major airports.

A bar, restaurant or McDonald's outlet brings in far more revenue at a busy terminal than an amenity such as a gym - and airports generally command a cut of sales.

"One seat in an airport restaurant can generate US$20,000 in revenue in a single year," said Mr Peter Chambers, co-founder of Sleepbox, a Boston-based start-up that sells a 45 sq ft cabin designed for airports, offices and other locations.

But there are obstacles to the blossoming of this new hotel industry. Historically, airports have had a symbiotic relationship with nearby lodging that supports crew layovers, convention business and stranded passengers.

Most retail sleep operators would also want a longer- term lease commitment from airports to realise a proper return, said Ms Jo Berrington, a vice-president at Yotel, where the average YotelAir stay is about seven hours, with a starting price of about US$40 for four hours.

Minute Suites uses dynamic pricing to adjust for periods of low and high demand. Rates start at about US$30 an hour.

At Washington Dulles, the primary international airport for the nation's capital, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority issued a call for proposals recently for "a quiet and comfortable place within the airport to sleep, relax or work while waiting to board a flight" that could be almost 1,300 sq ft and available 24 hours a day.

Of course, the idea of tight quarters for a nap or short overnight snooze is hardly a new one, with Japan being the pioneer in the concept of sleep capsules aimed at densely packed urban areas and railway stations.

In many Asian versions, the sleep pod is the hotel stripped to its basic essential - a mattress and little else - with a design paradigm taken from the sarcophagus.

 

Most of the current designs being pitched to US airports are dramatically larger.

The general business model is one of high automation, with a vending-machine approach.

These pods are not just horizontal rubber rooms: They have television sets, Wi-Fi, mobile phone chargers and plugs. Minute Suites sells almost 150 items to go with your nap, such as toothbrushes - but many do not.

However the companies design their sleep facilities, travellers should now find unintended sleepovers in airports a breeze if a major storm blows up.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline 'Sleep easy at airports...'. Print Edition | Subscribe