Although finding a place to catch forty winks might be the last thing on your mind when planning a trip to the airport, for transit passengers with a long lay-over, discovering somewhere quiet to simply relax and rest up is often crucial to a good airport experience.
And with long-haul travel on the rise and more transit passengers than ever before expected to pass through the world’s gateways over the next decade, arguably now is the time for airports to start thinking more about creating facilities and services for sleepy passengers.
Some already are, of course, either through the opening of transit hotels, the creation of ‘quiet zones’ with comfortable seating or introducing facilities such as sleep pods or cabins where passengers can separate themselves from the outside environment.
One such example of innovation in this area can be found at Tokyo Narita which has its own capsule hotel, called 9h nine hours, where travellers can sleep cheaply in air conditioned tube like spaces for around $40 a night.
Upon checking in, guests receive a key that provides access to a locker, a shower and their private capsule. They also receive a towel, a handful of toiletries and some loungewear.
All of the 129 capsules measure a metre high and two metres long and are stacked next to and on top of each other in gender-specific sections – 71 rooms being for men and 58 for women.
As check in time is 10am and guests paying $40 can stay until midday the following day, theoretically customers can stay up to 22 hours for their money.
Tokyo Narita explains that the facility – located within a two minute walk of Terminal 2 – is a first for an airport in Japan and is primarily targeted at passengers taking early morning flights.
The hotel might not be for everyone, but it has enjoyed over 60,000 guests in its first year, so there is definitely a market for such budget style accommodation in Tokyo.
Back in May 2013, Abu Dhabi International Airport unveiled the world’s first ‘GoSleep’ sleeping pods and today boasts 24 of them in a special lounge on the second floor of Terminal 3.
Inspired by airline business class seats, the pods are effectively chairs that convert into flat beds with an added roller-type blind at the top that can be partially or fully closed for privacy.
At the time of their launch, Abu Dhabi’s chief commercial officer, Mohammed Al Bulooki, enthused: “We continually strive to enhance the experience of our passengers and view the introduction of sleeping pods as another step towards exceeding customers expectations and delivering world-class levels of service.”
Abu Dhabi has since been joined as a GoSleep customer by Helsinki Airport in Europe and fellow UAE gateway Dubai (DXB), which last November introduced pods in Concourses A and B.
DXB has also invested in the Snoozecube, installing 10 sound-proofed units or micro-hotels as they describe themselves adjacent to Gate C22 in Terminal 1.
Each features a full-sized bed, touch screen television, a selection of entertainment and music and high-speed Internet access. They are connected to the airport’s flight information system to ensure that amid the rest and relaxation, passengers don’t miss their flights.
GoSleep says that it has taken a minimalist approach to design with an emphasis on function for its units, which can be used for a minimum of two hours, although one customer with visa problems ended up staying for five days!
Munich Airport has something similar, although its version is called the napcab, which are located in a recreation area closes to Gate H32 and G06 in Terminal 2.
Using touch screens with intuitive menus, passengers can reserve cabins directly and then spend up to 12 hours inside, and this without having to specify a time period in advance.
Munich’s eight cabins offer enough space to safely store hand luggage and are equipped with a bed, desk, customisable air conditioning unit, internet access and a multi-media touch screen as a central operation and entertainment module.
Indeed, according to napcabs, each cabin offers “everything travellers need to relax or work”, including access to the latest flight information, which is also used as an alarm function to wake up occupants ahead of their flights.
Meanwhile, Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport boasts the Sleepbox, which it says is designed to cater for passengers looking for somewhere comfortable to rest and relax.
Measuring 1.4 metres wide by two metres in length and 2.3 metres in height, Sleepbox’s star feature is a two metre long bed made of polymer foam and pulp tissue that changes bed linen automatically.
It also comes with luggage space, a ventilation system, Wi-Fi, electric sockets and an LCD TV.
The model unveiled in Moscow is a ‘hostel’ version of the Sleepbox, which includes an additional bunk bed and fold-up desk. The company’s goal is to eventually have installations at over 100 airports worldwide.
The ZZZ factor
According to the website SleepingInAirports.com, the most ‘sleep friendly’ airport in the world in 2014 was Singapore Changi followed by Incheon, Helsinki, Munich and Vancouver.
The top ten was completed by Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Tokyo Haneda, Amsterdam Schiphol and Zurich airports, with all being rated for not only their ‘sleep-ability’ or ‘ZZZ factor’ but also the services, amenities and features offered to layover passengers.
The website’s annual survey asks travellers to consider the four C’s of airport travel: comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
Comfort, it says, encompasses the availability of plush chairs, armrest free areas, quiet zones, reclining options, etc.
Conveniences include free Wi-Fi, 24-hour food options, showers, pay lounges and other things to do at the airport while awaiting a flight.
Cleanliness, according to its rules, centres around clean floors, maintained bathrooms and tidy foodcourts.
While Customer Service, it states, means smiling faces and friendly attitudes, along with considerate and helpful workers who go that extra mile by doing things such as offering blankets and pillows to stranded passengers.
Singapore Changi has topped its annual poll for 18 years, leading to
SleepingInAirports.com issuing the following ZZZ factor: “Travellers most appreciate the dedicated rest and relaxation zones.
“There are currently six areas set up with reclining lounge style seating. Often busy and sometimes noisy, these areas are appreciated by those travellers who don’t like to stretch out on the armrest free seats at the gate.”
It notes that travellers praised the airport for its overall soothing ambiance, its intuitive layout and friendly staff.
Adding: “The sheer volume of activities and amenities left some transit travellers wondering if they has just landed at a shopping mall or resort rather than an airport.
“With its themed gardens, cultural activities, world-class shopping, spas, swimming pool, gym, lounges, four-storey slide, movie theatres, TV lounges, and free Singapore city tour, a layover here is not likely to be boring.
“Travellers can enjoy free Wi-Fi and recharge all their gadgets at one of over 800 mobile charging points. In July 2014 the airport opened the Wellness Oasis spa in Terminal 1. The unique feature here is the fish spa that exfoliates your feet and legs.”
Second placed Incheon International Airport also draws high praise from SleepingInAirports.com, which quotes one passengers as saying that if Incheon Airport provided blankets for travellers who stayed overnight, it would be “heaven in the world”.
It remarks: “Seoul Incheon Airport is a favourite as a result of its impeccable cleanliness, its superior customer service and the volume of comfortable sitting and nap locations.
“Amenity-wise, the terminals truly are going above and beyond. You will find indoor gardens, a spa and small shopping extravaganzas located throughout. Unique features here include the Korean Cultural Street – complete with local cuisine and dance performances – and the indoor ice rink.
“Unlimited free Wi-Fi, showers and uber-luxurious private lounges further delight those who spend multiple hours here. It almost gets to the point where you’d think the airport wants you to stay forever – but then, you realise they also run free guided city tours for transit passengers as well. They really do it all!”
Helsinki International Airport is the top placed European airport in its passenger poll, and is commended for being innovative and transit-friendly.
SleepingInAirports.com remarks: “Helsinki excels in terms of comfort, convenience, cleanliness and customer service. Favourite unique features here include the book exchange, relaxation areas, electronic passport kiosks (that virtually eliminate lines), an art gallery and, perhaps most importantly, the ergonomic and publicly accessible Kainuu lounge.
“What really sets Helsinki apart this year was the TravelLab series – an airport-led initiative designed to improve the travel experience. Last winter and spring, the airport collected feedback from travellers as to services they’d like to see offered. They then piloted the best ideas over the course of the summer.
“Highlights included free yoga and pilates classes, pop-up Finnish restaurants and a ‘selfie-wall’ that featured famous national landmarks.”
Talking about fourth placed Munich International Airport, the website says: “It perhaps comes as no surprise that Germany’s Munich International Airport is well reviewed for its efficiency and ease of navigation.
“The airport offers up a number of entertaining activities for transit passengers, which range from tours of the airport brewery to mini golf to the Fit & Fly Spa.
“This year, they even had a temporary in-airport stationary surf station, complete with a grand stand and an artificial palm-fringed beach! Extravagances aside, what really delighted voters this year were the relaxation zones and sleep pods in Terminal 2.”
Fifth placed Vancouver International Airport is described as “beautiful, comfortable, clean and friendly”.
It goes on: “Art exhibits, an aquarium, self-guided tours, great food options, rest zones, and ample aboriginal cultural influences make this airport an interesting airport to be stuck for a while.
“Couple that with a few pay lounges complete with resting rooms and showers, and a spa and gym at the adjoining Fairmont Hotel, and you’re looking at a pretty comfortable layover!
“What more – luggage storage and a super-convenient public transit system make the heart of Vancouver accessible to travellers with extensive layovers.”
Without doubt these airports are the pioneers in terms of their ‘sleep friendly’ facilities and services. It will be interesting to see who joins them over the next few years.
Now, who’s ready for a quick nap?