Halloween is a metaphor-rich time to address the Sleepbox phenomenon coming alive in airports around the globe, for there have been times I've felt like the walking dead as I stalked across a strange concourse. While the analogy of a coffin to a Sleepbox is super easy, it's also, ah, super natural.
The first notice I took of these stylish pods was at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. Although the ones I viewed in the terminal are only demos at this point, I have no doubt business travelers will soon start seeing them in many more places — and not just at airports. The Sleepbox brand also is targeting railroad stations, city centers, shopping malls, and other public facilities.
As IT World explained about Sleepbox, "Sheets are changed robotically. Each pod provides personal work space, with a table for your laptop and electrical outlets. It also includes sound alerts, a ventilation system, TV, Wi-Fi, luggage space." The hostel version, such as the model unveiled in Moscow, adds a bunk bed and fold-up desk. These cousins to the micro-hotel are meant to be coin-operated, and should rent by the hour or in 30-minute cycles.
I can't be sure, but I seem to recall that earlier in-terminal iterations of the Japanese micro-hotel concept were piloted in other airports, albeit in a less bed-in-the-shed format. For example, NapCabs is another expression of this outbreak of pods, as is the Dream and Fly bubble. The big advantage to these napping boxes is that they are located at or near your boarding gate, rather than tucked out of sight somewhere else in some other terminal.
The clear industry antecedent to the terminal pod is Japan's "capsule hotel," a concept which has been freaking out Westerners like me for decades. Who knows? Time marches on and the Japanese have been ahead of the curve in many trends. We all used to think sushi was weird, too.
While the desire for a secure sleep space makes sense on several levels, actually paying to rent a Sleepbox might seem a tad over the top to those of us who have been vocalizing merely about the need for airports to establish an occasional oasis (palm tree optional) where road warriors might sit down, enjoy a wee respite from the auditory onslaught of the airport PA system, and plug in the computer or cellphone. If such a spot happened to be quiet enough for that business traveler to make a call where he or she could be heard without going deaf or placid enough for that traveler to clean up some of his or her email backlog, all the better. It is for the actual realization of such unexpected rapture that we business travelers persevere.
Lots of us would pay for that sort of thing, that is, a quiet nook designed with the business traveler in mind. In fact, many of us already do so when we settle into an airport lounge somewhere in the terminal, either with the patrician class from First Class or the hardened types who own a stone-cold membership. Recently I've been in two such lounges (at Washington Dulles and Amsterdam) when I could barely find a seat; so I'm sold on the idea that demand is real. Truth be told, with airlines reporting more than $30 billion in ancillary revenues (that's right: with a "b") they have the market position to expand their services to accommodate the growing need if they so choose.
But to circle back to those rectangles, those pods — yes, I agree a Sleepbox can do in a pinch, particularly when fliers find themselves truly worn out, which happens with alarming frequency. Chalk it up to those corporations that enforce ruthless, if not draconian travel policies requiring employees to fly ten or more hours shoehorned into steerage. To the econo-class zombies running short of sleep and in desperate need of a place — anyplace — to lie down for a moment and relieve their cabin-induced neck and back pain, the dimensions of these claustrophobic sleep cells might indeed appear cavernous when compared to the constraints of a middle seat.
Still, even with the tinny alarm clock on my cellphone, falling dead away inside a terminal seems the perfect storm for missing my flight.
Personally, I don't think I would ever use one of these boxes, because 99 percent of the time I can scam my way into a First Class lounge for one reason or another; and a lounge, in my view, is a far nicer place to stretch out if need be. One time I missed a connection in Madrid (before I lived here) and I got to recharge the batteries in the quiet room in the Sala VIP. Nice!
Finally, I shouldn't fail to cite the vampire in the room, which is that some parties might be tempted to, er, abuse a sleeping box, if you catch my drift. And I do not refer to anything you might have seen in a Bela Lugosi film. This Halloween week, or any other time, that image is quite enough to spook me.
Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com • Twitter: @tentofortysix