When Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) made a bed for himself out of uncomfortable chairs at JFK Airport in the 2004 film The Terminal, moviegoers laughed at his haphazard attempt to make the airport terminal his temporary home.
But it seems Navorski may have had the last laugh, as shoebox size sleeping pods – the airport’s equivalent of a temporary home in the secure terminal area – are catching on at airports.
Pay-by-the-hour cabins may not offer the full facilities of a transit hotel such as a spa or room service, but they are shaving off travel time at the airport by bringing beds near boarding gate areas.
Other standard fixtures and fittings inside sleeping pods – a fold-out table, TV, internet connection and power plug – aim to help travellers kill time a little more productively.
The downside is that unless staying in Yotel’s Japanese style cabins at Amsterdam Schiphol, Heathrow or Gatwick – which offer monsoon showers – travellers hiring sleeping pods on the airport concourse have to use the general toilets inside the terminal to freshen up.
But a Spanish firm, Dream & Fly hopes to change that by introducing a more elaborate version with space for an ‘ensuite’.
Living in a ‘bubble’
Dream & Fly has designed modular pods called “Bubbles” in three different sizes (three, five and 10 metres square) that aim to cater for singles, couples and families with different needs.
The five metre square pod “Simple Bubble” has no space for a bathroom, while the seven metre square pod, “Single Bubble” offers shower facilities and the largest pod room, “Family Bubble” provides a sofa bed, baby changing facilities, and a bathroom.
Additional features in every pod include Internet access, an I-pod docking station, air conditioning, radio, television and a fold-out table.
While still a concept design, the “Bubbles” pods are expected to go into production by the end of this year, according to Dream & Fly.
Alfred Sextl, the firm’s commercial manager would not publicly reveal which airports it is in negotiations with due to “confidentially” reasons, but told Terminal U over email: “We have already presented our [Bubbles] product to several airports on the Iberian Peninsula, in Central Europe and South America and we have also received first enquiries from airports in Asia.”
Dream & Fly has been trying to break into the airport market for a number of years, but says it is confident that its micro rooms will hit airports some time in 2013. It also has plans to introduce the pods in other public locations such as train stations.
In the US, another company, Minute Suites plans to open private nap rooms with bathrooms at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, in two locations (Terminals D and A), in 2012 and 2014.
What does the future hold for airport pods?
With transit hotels already offering travellers a place to escape to, how useful are sleeping pods to passengers at airports where transit hotels are already nearby? Can we expect to see sleeping pods invading airport concourses in future?
We put both questions to Raymond Kollau, founder of trend watching agency airlinetrends.com: “In theory several short-stay options could co-exist at the same airport, such as sleeping pods near the gates and a short-stay room further away from passenger traffic.
“The best solution also depends on the layout and available space at the airport. Some airports are quite compact so it takes less time to walk from a short stay room to the gate, while a lot of airports require passengers to travel quite a distance between terminals.”
He adds: “In my view, sleeping pods will remain a niche service, mainly available at airports where passengers transit to long-haul flights, but where [flight] frequencies are still relatively low, so transit times for passengers are longer.”