The race is on to build the world’s smallest hotels

Comfortably and safely take a nap at the airport, but only in Munich or Moscow. Photo: (Napcabs GmbH)

DOTHAN, AL, November 27, 2012 — German and Russian companies have come up with a better way for you to spend time at an airport as a result of a delayed or cancelled flight. For an hourly charge you can rent an enclosed booth to nap in between flights. Unfortunately you have to be either in Munich or Moscow to find one.

The holiday season is officially underway, and that means crowded airports and longer than usual travel times during December. Nearly 24 million people were expected to travel by air during the 2012 Thanksgiving weekend, and thanks to fair weather there were few delays across the country despite recent service cutbacks by airlines.

Carriers are running on paper-thin margins and report flat revenues during the past year as a result of a continuing slow economy. The number of advance tickets sold for travel this holiday is running a whopping 51% ahead of 2011, but higher fuel costs offset higher revenues so airlines have had to cut services to maintain a small profit of just 50-cents per passenger. Perhaps we should send some airline executives to Washington explain how to cut spending .

Things on the ground are a little different. Airports have more flexibility to increase revenues with value-added services like concierge parking and pay-by-the-hour luxury lounges that were once the exclusive domain of first-class and business travelers. Many of these lounges have soft seating, private work areas and even showers, but there is still nowhere to stretch out and take a nap on a flat surface. A German company called Napcabs is hoping to change that with a new product by the same name.

Similar in concept to Japanese capsule hotels, which offer tiny sleeping spaces not much larger than a casket, Napcabs are sleep cabins installed right in the waiting area of an airport. They can be used by the hour to nap in, watch a movie or work on a computer using an included internet service. Napcabs currently are installed at the airport in Munich and run about $40 for a minimum three-hour stay. You swipe a credit card to enter, and when you leave the door stays locked until a cleaning crew arrives to refresh the unit.

Not to be outdone, a group of Russian architects operating under the name Arch Group have designed a similar sleeping booth called the Sleepbox, now in use at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow.  Infused with the spirit of capitalism and motivated by a 20% business tax rate, the Russians are aggressively marketing their booths for use at any location with a waiting and have a second model for use in a hostel.

They also pitch to office buildings for employees who work overtime hours. It’s good to know that someone has jobs to work overtime at.    

Sleeping booths would make sense at American airports since about 25% of  the 3 billion or so flights that travelers take each year are delayed or cancelled, which can mean a long wait time on uncomfortable lounge chairs or on the floor. If they can’t get people into the air at least they can make them more comfortable on the ground, and for investors it might be similar to running a vending machine business. Estimated annual revenue is around $30,000 for a single unit.

Just for the record, one  place where the Napcab or the Sleepbox is not needed is Dillingham, Alaska, the only American airport with 100% on-time departures. Despite its remote location, Dillingham services nearly 43,000 passengers a year and averages 140 flights a day, though sometimes it can be hard to define exactly how long a day lasts in Alaska. 

(Get the backstory, plus author notes and more at Rick’s blog site:


(Be sure to get the Backstory and more at Rick’s blog site

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Rick Townley

Rick Townley was a bookseller before switching to electronic publishing with The New York Times, Reuters, Grolier and others. He is the author of a humor book, For Boomers Only – Exploring Life in the New Millennium, a supernatural novel, Stepping Out of Time, and numerous short stories. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, Rick is working on a fiction series called Stigma and resides in southern Alabama with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.


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