Long Layover? Take Advantage of Airport Sleeping Facilities

A few years back, I booked an itinerary that involved a 14-hour flight from my home airport to a hub in Asia, leaving mid-afternoon and arriving at about 9 p.m. local time, with an overnight wait of 10 hours before my morning connection. After being awake for almost 24 hours, I wanted nothing more than a comfortable bed, but where?

I decided to book the hotel closest to the airport, but with baggage, waiting for the shuttles, and re-entering security, I was lucky to get about five hours of sack time. Although better than slumping all night in a seat in the terminal—an alternative approach many of my plane-mates took—it was far from ideal. My final take: "There's gotta be a better way."

Turns out, there is a better way: A few big airports around the world are adding short-term and overnight private minirooms with stretch-out beds on the airside of security. You can rent by the hour for quick naps or overnight for longer stretches:

  • Minute Suites operates installations at Atlanta and Philadelphia airports, presumably with plans for additional locations. Each suite includes a "daybed sofa," bedding, a TV, a desk and chair, and airport Wi-Fi or direct computer connection. The main difference between one of these suites and a conventional mini hotel room is that the suite provides no plumbing—you have to use the airport's facilities. Minute Suites are expensive: $30 for the first hour, then $7.50 for each additional 15 minutes, with 15 percent discounts for stays of four hours or more and 25 percent off stays of eight hours or more. That adds up to around $200 for an overnight, which is more than you might pay for a full-featured hotel room outside the airport, but you can't beat the location for a quick stop. You can book online thorough the website.
  • Yotel operates more full-featured "cabins" at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Even the smallest include a sink and shower, as well as the expected bed, desk, TV, and computer hookup. The cost is actually lower than the cost of Minute Suites, starting at €40 (about $52; check XE.com for current conversion rates) for a four-hour minimum. Yotel also operates at Heathrow and Gatwick, but outside security—a lot less useful.
  • Napcabs operates really small cubicles at Munich airport, including just bed and counter but no plumbing, with rates of €15 per hour during the day and €10 per hour overnight. And Sam's Snooze provides similar accommodations at the Delhi airport for $10 an hour.

If you just feel gritty after a long trip and don't need a lie-down bed, some big airlines operate premium facilities airside at their most important hubs that include shower facilities, clothes pressing, and other welcome services. Unfortunately, as far as I know, they're limited to business and first-class passengers. Many years back, I tried United Airlines' facility at Heathrow (after using a frequent-flyer upgrade) and found it the best way I know to start recovering from an overnight flight. Unfortunately, those facilities aren't available to the folks in economy class who really need them the most.

If you're willing to exit an airport's security areas, you have lots more options. Quite a few big airports have on-site hotels that are connected directly to a terminal by either a walkway or the airport's internal people-mover system. Many of these hotels rent rooms by the hour during the day for naps, showers, or just relaxation. And some airport-area hotels that aren't directly connected do the same. But having to leave and re-enter security can be a real deal-breaker, and I know of no inside-security facilities other than the ones described above.

Airside sleeping accommodations—even if minimal—can be a real benefit when you have a really early flight and want to be at the airport the night before, when you arrive really late and prefer to crash quickly, and especially if you have an extended connecting time. I'm surprised that such accommodations haven't caught on more quickly. Maybe you'll see more in the next few years ... let's hope.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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