For decades, a thunderstorm or missed connection meant you might have to sleep in the airport, leaving frustrated travellers with a truly tired dilemma: Is the boarding gate chair-curl worth a try, or is it better just to grab some floor? Some airports are considering a better way to accommodate unlucky passengers while making some money in the process. At least four companies are angling for space inside terminals for a new generation of sleeping spaces dubbed cabins, capsules, and even pods. One of them, Minute Suites LLC, has retail sleep locations at airports in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Philadelphia, with a Charlotte, N.C., location opening in December. Washington Dulles airport is exploring the concept as well, and aims to have a sleep amenity next year.
Meanwhile, a company dubbed izZzleep opened a sleep capsule warren in the Mexico City airport this summer, with rates from
$8 per hour to $34 per night. Yotel Ltd., the London-based mini-hotel operator, operates YotelAir in four European airports, with a Singapore Changi project coming in early 2019. Yotel also hopes to expand into US airports at some point, as does NapCity Americas, which has acquired US rights to Napcabs, a German-based sleep pod company that operates at the Munich airport.
As airports are growing and expanding, a lot of them are definitely exploring passenger amenities, said Stephen Rosenfeld, a Florida entrepreneur who formed NapCity Americas in 2014 to operate a version of the “napcabs” found sprinkled across Europe.
And they’re becoming more open to the idea. Yet “rest” as retail has been slow to migrate to airports, despite their decades-old role as host to exhausted air travellers whose plans were derailed by weather, missing flight crews, or malfunctions. Scour some of the world’s key hubs—New York City, Los Angeles, Madrid, Toronto, Zurich—and you’ll 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 sit-down restaurant, or McDonald’s will always bring in far more revenue at a busy terminal than an amenity such as a gym or napping pod—and airports generally command a cut of sales.
“One seat in an airport restaurant can generate $20,000 in revenue in a single year,” said Peter Chambers, co-founder of Sleepbox, a Boston-based startup that sells a 45-square-foot cabin for airports, offices etc. The retail sleep sellers also want to be located inside security checkpoints to help minimise customer hassle.
But there are obstacles to the blossoming of this new, personalised hotel industry. Historically, airports have had a symbiotic relationship with nearby lodging that supports crew layovers, convention business—and stranded passengers. Airports may be reluctant to be seen as competing with this ecosystem of accommodations both on the airport grounds and in surrounding areas, many of which have an airport shuttle too, said Scott Humphrey, deputy director of the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.
Most retail sleep operators would also want a longer-term lease commitment from airports to realise a proper return, said Jo Berrington, a vice president at Yotel, where the average YotelAir stay is about seven hours, with a starting price of around $42 for four hours.