Monday, December 21, 2009

Sleeping Pods Make Appearance at U.S. Airports

America has taken a lesson from Asian travelers. Tiny sleeping rooms used to catch a few Zs in between flights are making an appearance in U.S. airports.

The Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world's largest airport, just opened five Minute Suites this month. Here, a few well-earned Zs can be had for $30 an hour.

The rooms, or cubicles — 7 feet by 8 feet — are “equipped with a daybed sofa, pillows (with disposable covers), fresh blankets, a small desk, Internet access and a flat-screen 32-inch monitor with DirecTV and flight information,” reports USA Today. They also have systems to mask noise.
San Francisco International plans to follow suit. It's hired a California company to design 14 rooms of about 90 square feet for its international terminal. The rooms will have similar amenities.

"We view amenities and services as the new frontier," says Cheryl Nashir, associate deputy director at San Francisco International.

It's a frontier long settled in Asia and parts of Europe. Tiny nap rooms bundled with shower, spa and other freshen-up services have been available for international travelers for years.
They haven't caught on in the USA until now because layovers are shorter and Americans view airports as a point of transit to hurry through.
U.S. airports think they'll work because domestic travelers are in airports longer because of tightened security, delays and missed connections.
But the sleeping rooms offer much more than a place to lay your head. They are designed for travelers who may not be a member of an airline club, parents with cranky children, and businessmen and women needing a quiet place to work. For an airport environment, it’s the ultimate privacy offering.

What they don't have are toilets and showers. Customers will have to use nearby public restrooms.

Providing services to sleep-deprived travelers have been tried in North America. Vancouver International has tried MetroNaps' sleeping pods — basically, a chaise with a large egg-shape cover — but discontinued them because of lack of demand. The Westin at Detroit Metro charges $99 for five hours. The two Hyatt hotels at Dallas/Fort Worth also offer discounted rates for short stays.

British-based Yotel modernized the mini-hotel concept in 2006 when it introduced its pod-hotels at London Gatwick with a modern, sleek design and tech-heavy amenities, such as iPod docking stations, HDTVs and adjustable mood lighting. Yotel, which sells rooms in four-hour blocks for about $50, has since opened two other locations at London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol.
Some companies see the U.S. market as now ready for similar rooms. Among them:

•Minute Suites. Its rooms at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta's B Concourse have drawn 160 customers in the first two weeks, exceeding expectations, says Daniel Solomon of Minute Suites. Customers who stay beyond the first hour pay $7.50 for each additional 15 minutes.

Solomon says Atlanta wants to possibly add more at its E Concourse, and the company has had discussions with Philadelphia, Denver, New York JFK and Dallas/Fort Worth.

•Unique Retreat. The company won the San Francisco International contract in October and is designing rooms that will open next year at the airport's International Terminal Boarding Area G. Its 14 rooms will have curved walls and no corners, "which gives you a sense of more space," say Ron Baltruzak of the company based in Irvine, Calif. Each room will be equipped with a day bed, desk, a 32-inch TV and Wi-Fi. The company will offer movie rentals and business center services. USA Today

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