May 8, 2013 at 9:03 AM ET
For those times when you have a few – or agonizingly many -- hours between flights and you just want the world to go away, one airport invites you to go to bed right there in the middle of the terminal.
Abu Dhabi International has just unveiled sleeping pods – chairs that convert into flat beds, complete with sliding shades that can fully enclose the slumbering travelers inside and isolate them from noise, light and curious fellow passengers.
Still in the launch phase, the pods will ultimately feature Internet access, storage for luggage and charging stations for electronic gadgets. All those creature comforts and amenities come at a price, of course. Fliers can rent the chairs for about $12 an hour using a credit card.
The airport says it’s the first in the world to use the Finnish-designed “GoSleep” pods.
“(It’s) the very latest passenger experience that embraces the latest technology,” said Mohammed Al Bulooki, chief commercial officer of the Abu Dhabi Airports Company, in a statement.
Ten pods are already in place in two of the airport’s terminals, with 35 more to be added later this year.
The concept is getting mixed reviews from frequent fliers.
“I think it would appeal to business travelers ... but it is very expensive when you start calculating how much it actually costs,” said Donna McSherry, a Toronto travel agent who runs The Guide to Sleeping in Airports, a website that offers advice to fliers who want to get some shut eye without leaving the terminal.
“It does seem very claustrophobic for me.”
But George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, predicted the pods would find lots of takers, especially as carriers become more reluctant to pay for hotels when something goes wrong.
“Airlines are notorious for not taking care of passengers,” Hobica told NBC News. “It would definitely be a plus for stranded passengers or even passengers who have a long connect time.”
Hobica knows a traveler who was stuck in Dubai’s airport for 65 hours while his airline refused to pay for a hotel. The man could not afford to book a room in the expensive city, so he slept in chairs. A sleeping pod, even at $12 an hour, would have been “a life saver,” Hobica noted.
But might a fairly inexpensive and private flat bed also attract amorous couples? The airport says that’s not likely to happen. The pods are designed for individual usage so it would be difficult for two people to use them at the same time, said Elham Bourani, a spokeswoman for the Abu Dhabi Airports Company. The pods are also placed in open public places so any unusual activity would be easily detected.
Most travelers would likely be too tired to misuse them, observers said.
“Looking at it, I think it would be a difficult adventure to attempt. I don’t think many people would be trying to do that,” McSherry said.
“They’re so small that you wouldn’t be able to do much, unless you’re an acrobat,” Hobica added.
It’s no surprise the pods are showing up at an airport in the Middle East, which along with Asia, has been far ahead of the U.S. in adding amenities to attract fliers, he said.
McSherry’s website ranks Singapore Changi, Seoul Incheon and Hong Kong International as some of the best airports in the world for sleeping in overnight or during a long transit.
She no longer ranks the world’s worst airports in this category because “people would get upset,” but she still breaks them down by region, with Los Angeles International, JFK International and Newark getting particularly bad grades in North America.