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Airport Suites Offer Travelers A Place To Nap On The Fly

Feb 13, 2013
Originally published on February 13, 2013 9:44 pm

When there's a big snowstorm or a plane has mechanical problems, airports often turn into uncomfortable holding pens, with people scrunched in chairs, lying on floors, filling up restaurants and otherwise trying to find something to do.

That's actually good news for one company. Minute Suites is building tiny airport retreats across the country. The suites are already operating in Atlanta and Philadelphia. Next up are Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

This idea — creating a respite for trapped travelers who don't want to leave the airport and repeat the hassle of going back through security again — actually began overseas. Some of those companies even include showers in their suites. Minute Suites co-founder Daniel Solomon says that may come later, but what most people want is a nap on the daybeds.

The suites are staffed by college students studying hospitality. Travelers using the rooms can snooze, work on their laptops or watch a movie.

Of course, not everyone thinks a tiny private room at the airport is where he'd like to spend his time. The setup is too claustrophobic, says traveler Bernie Kampf. "At least from what I've seen, it's like having an MRI done," he says. "It's like a tube."

It costs about $30 for the first hour of use, then a traveler is billed in 15-minute increments. An overnight stay is $120.

Paying by the hour raised the eyebrows of some Chicago aldermen, who had to approve the Minute Suites deal. Think "afternoon delight," or a "no-tell motel." But Chicago officials say only ticketed passengers can get to the rooms and there's plenty of security, too.

Minute Suites is likely to encounter plenty of demand in Chicago. Travel and Leisure magazine, using data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, ranked O'Hare International the No. 6 most delayed U.S. airport in 2012. Dallas-Fort Worth and Philadelphia International weighed in at Nos. 10 and 13, respectively.

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When there's a big snowstorm or a plane has mechanical problems, airports can turn into big uncomfortable holding pens. You might find stranded passengers scrunched in chairs, sleeping on the floor, or filling up restaurants, trying to find something to do.

It's the perfect business opportunity for one company that is building tiny airport retreats. Minute Suites already operate in Atlanta and Philadelphia. Next on their radar, Dallas and Chicago, as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: So today is a good day at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. The departure and arrival boards look pretty clear. Everything is on time. But when there's a delay, what do you do?

BERNIE KAMPF: You grin and bear it, you know? If we're connecting, we just find someplace, get a sandwich and chill out and hope they have free Wi-Fi.

CORLEY: So that's Bernie Kampf's(ph) solution. He was on his way to Dallas. Marlee Sman(ph), a former flight attendant, says she has a set routine for handling flight delays.

MARLEE SMAN: You go around. You talk to other passengers, and you make the best of it.

CORLEY: So right in O'Hare's terminal three, behind the security gates, there's a plan to help these travelers out. It's called Minute Suites.

DANIEL SOLOMON: Yeah, I think the initial strategy we're undertaking right now is to get us into the large hubbing airports.

CORLEY: Co-founder Daniel Solomon says his business partners, two Midwest ophthalmologists - that's right, ophthalmologists - came up with the idea, and then recruited investors. They began offering these tiny airport getaways, seven-by-eight-feet rooms about the size of a small office cubicle. The plan is to build 29 of them at O'Hare. This idea of creating a rest pit for trapped travelers who don't want to leave the airport and go through the hassle of going through security again actually began overseas. Some of those companies include showers. Solomon says that may come later, but what most people want is the nap.

SOLOMON: The best feature people wanted was that bed, a day bed sofa.

CORLEY: The suites are staffed by college students who are studying hospitality. Travelers can snooze, work on their laptops or watch a movie. For Steve Pietrzak(ph), who had just flown into O'Hare from New Jersey, it's an amenity whose time has come.

STEVE PIETRZAK: I think it's a great idea. Sign me up. I'll get the first one on the house, right?

(LAUGHTER)

CORLEY: Of course, not everyone thinks a tiny private room at the airport is where they'd like to spend their time. Bernie Kampf says it's just too claustrophobic.

KAMPF: At least from what I've seen, it's like having an MRI done. You know, it's like a tube.

(LAUGHTER)

CORLEY: But Astra Sparks(ph), a frequent flyer who lives in Houston, says the privacy of the rooms can offer is great. She's checked into the tiny hotel rooms of another company in London.

ASTRA SPARKS: Took a nap, took a shower, changed my clothes and was ready to go for the day. Chicago needs it. Bring it.

CORLEY: It cost about 30 bucks for the first hour, and then a traveler is billed in 15-minute increments. An overnight stay, $120, and no running back and forth to catch the flight. Paying by the hour raised the eyebrows of some Chicago aldermen who had to approve the Minute Suites deal. Think afternoon delight or maybe no-tell motel. But Chicago officials say only ticketed passengers can get to the rooms, and there's plenty of security too. So delayed travelers can easily enjoy just having a place to get out of the fray. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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