x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Nap happy: sleeping pods at Abu Dhabi airport

The Life: Sleeping pods recently introduced at Abu Dhabi airport offer weary passengers the chance to catch 40 winks in privacy while awaiting connections.

A passenger sits in a Go Sleep pod at Abu Dhabi's airport. For now, the napping stations are free on a first-come, first-serve basis. Delores Johnson / The National
A passenger sits in a Go Sleep pod at Abu Dhabi's airport. For now, the napping stations are free on a first-come, first-serve basis. Delores Johnson / The National

A pair of tan Gucci loafers tucked under sleeping pod four is the only clue that an occupant lies slumbering within. Pink sandals are outside pod number seven.

When I first spy the eight Go Sleep pods next to gate 31 at Abu Dhabi airport, they are an arresting sight: futuristic and otherworldly. When their lids are down, it seems possible an alien creature might hatch out. But these are designed for weary travellers transiting through Abu Dhabi airport.

A Uni pod prototype, developed by a Swedish company, was unveiled at the Routes forum in Abu Dhabi last September. Copenhagen Airport signed a deal to be the first airport to house the pods but then Abu Dhabi Airport Company (Adac) swooped in and offered to collaborate on improving the design and helping the company market the idea globally.

For Adac, there is a business rationale for having the pods because 60 per cent of passengers travelling through the airport are in transit and likely to welcome the opportunity to nap during long layovers. While the airport currently has a hotel and business lounges, not everyone has access to these or wants to pay to use them.

The pods offer the opportunity for the economy traveller to catch some rest in comfort and privacy.

The eight pods, installed in terminal three on May 15 - there are two even swankier pods in the Al Dhabi business lounge - have proved quite a draw, with about 1,500 people using the service in the first month. They have been especially popular with passengers on their way to Toronto, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Jeddah - these being the flights with particularly lengthy connection times.

Each seat is used on average 8.5 hours a day - but that time is gradually increasing in length as more people become aware of the pods and more feel comfortable using them. Most passengers arrive in ones and twos and spend, on average, two to two-and-a-half hours inside. There have been inquiries as to whether there are any double pods available: the answer is a polite but firm "no". Mothers, though, have cuddled up with their babies.

I, however, was happy to snooze solo.

Shielded from the concourse by a gift shop, the pods are in a relatively quiet spot - although perhaps a little close to a children's play area. They are filled on first-come basis and during the trial phase they are free to use. Users will eventually be charged Dh45 for one hour, Dh80 for two and Dh110 for three.

The pods effectively contain a business class airline seat. You can pop your luggage in the cavity under the seat, acquire pillows and blankets from the attendant and settle in. The chair reclines to a flat position, and I pulled the hood over the chair so that I was enclosed inside. Vents allow air and a little light into the cocoon, and the feeling inside is more cosy than claustrophobic. I could set an alarm before dozing off to ensure I didn't miss my flight, but the attendant also asks for the boarding time so that there are no oversleeping disasters. After each passenger leaves, the slip covering the headrest is changed and the chair cleaned.

Conveniently, showers, toilets and prayer rooms are located directly under the pods on the floor below.

After the trial period, and after the pods' design is tweaked, Adac's goal is to install a further 50. The airport staff in charge of the project are discussing perhaps relocating the pods and screening them off, so others know it's a sleeping area.

Design tweaks will include a window in the pods' sides to enable the occupant to see out and a red light on the top that will flash and alert the assistant when the alarm goes off. There are also plans to make internet available and screens, to enable the streaming of films.

As a veteran traveller, I have often found myself feeling hobo-like as I've looked for a secluded spot to rest between flights, so these pods are a godsend. I'd just make sure I packed my Gucci loafers in the underseat cavity. Nothing spoils a catnap like waking up to find your shoes have been stolen.

 

lgutcher@thenational.ae