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Published: Sunday, 12/25/2011

Resting through long layovers

Weary travelers at some airports can rent small rooms for a snooze

NEW YORK TIMES
Travelers sit while they wait for their flight Friday at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. Travelers sit while they wait for their flight Friday at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
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ATLANTA -- Picture the business traveler who has already passed through security only to discover a flight delay of several hours. At most airports, such a traveler has few options: wandering through the nearby shops and restaurants, waiting in a chair near the gate or, for a fee, waiting in an airline lounge.

This was the situation in which Rossana Magalhaes found herself recently when her flight was eight hours late leaving Atlanta.

"I walked and took naps sitting up, had about five cups of coffee," she said.

But at two airports in the United States and about a half-dozen overseas, travelers like Ms. Magalhaes have a new option: a little room for rent right in the terminal. The room has a desk and Internet access for work and a daybed for a nap.

Ms. Magalhaes booked a room for her next trip, when she knows she will have to change planes in Atlanta again.

At the moment, just one company, Minute Suites, is providing these rooms, which it calls suites, at two airports, Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta and Philadelphia International Airport. The suites are not the equivalent of a hotel room because there is no plumbing. And for short stays, the cost is usually lower than a hotel room -- $30 for the first hour and $7.50 for each 15 minutes thereafter, although there are discounts for stays longer than four hours.

Still, since the company opened the suites at the two airports this year, Dan Solomon, the chief executive of Minute Suites, said, 18,000 people have visited, and 24 percent of them have been repeat customers.

"It really does boil down to people having privacy in an otherwise stressful environment," Mr. Solomon said. "They shut the door, the airport disappears, and they have their privacy."

There are some hotels at airports in the United States and overseas -- Chicago, Dallas, Dubai, Bangkok, and Copenhagen among them -- and each has its own policies on room rentals for less than a day. But few airport hotels are accessible once travelers pass through security checkpoints.

So until now, the best option for travelers with long layovers was a membership in a premium-class lounge. But some users complain that the lounges have become more crowded as carriers, in search of more revenue, offer one-day memberships and give guest passes to airline credit card holders. The lounges have comfortable waiting rooms, computers, reading material, clean restrooms, and sometimes free food and cocktails.

By contrast, users of the Minute Suites must bring their own food and drink and use the terminal's restrooms.

Still, Harriet Baskas, an author of airport guides and a writer about airports and air travel, says she prefers the suite to the airline lounge. "I sat there one day listening to this man clearly making the first phone call to follow up on a matchmaker site," she said. "If you're a business traveler, I suppose you do those sorts of things on the road as well, but there's no privacy."

Ms. Baskas says female travelers may find privacy particularly valuable. "I've seen people sleeping in the business-class lounge, but I don't feel comfortable sleeping there. I'm not going to sit and drool across from that business guy. As a woman, if I'm going to take a nap at the airport, I better have a door I can close."

While Minute Suites is the only firm in the United States offering this kind of by-the-hour private accommodation in an airport terminal, several firms offer similar services at overseas airports. In 2007, the London-based Yotel opened podlike hotel rooms at Heathrow and Gatwick and followed up at Schiphol in Amsterdam a year later. More recently, Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow added Sleepboxes, Munich Airport installed Napcabs, and New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport added sleep boxes called Sam's Snooze.

Not every airport sees the need for this kind of amenity. Cheryl Marcell, a spokesman for Airport Council International, a trade association, said, "For those types of things to work, they are at the airports with a lot of connecting traffic, not an origin and destination airport."



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