Jul 24, 2008

World - Sleeping at Airports

Sleeping at an airport overnight, once almost a sport for the young and short of cash, has become a lot more common lately, affecting even older and professional travelers. And a big reason is that many airlines are no longer as generous with hotel vouchers as they once were.
Randy Petersen, editor of the online magazine InsideFlyer and the frequent-flier Web site FlyerTalk.com, attributes the change to "belt-tightening by airlines over the last 18 months, and more so this year."
"They have to look at everything they spend a penny on," Petersen said. And because flights are fuller, he added, "they're not just dealing with a few passengers."
Bob Harrell, founder of Harrell Associates, an airline consultant, agreed. "If they're charging for extra bags, food and water," he said, "then the flip side is the airlines are going to go out of their way to minimize expenses on one side, while maximizing on the other."
Sleeping overnight in an airport has become enough of a phenomenon that it has inspired one recent novel, "Dear American Airlines." The author, Jonathan Miles, said he had been spurred to write the book after an unscheduled overnight stay at O'Hare International Airport, in Chicago.
Under European Union rules that came into effect in 2005, delays of more than five hours entitle a passenger to a hotel room, if an overnight stay is required. Those rules are supposed to apply at any EU airport, regardless of the nationality of the airline.
However, there can still be exceptions. An unscheduled overnight stay at a German airport inspired one business traveler, Frank Giotto, the president of Fiber Instrument Sales in Oriskany, New York, to create the Mini Motel, a one-person tent complete with, air mattress, pillow, reading light, alarm clock and pillow, which he sells for $39.95.
Asked what airports would think of a tent city of his Mini Motels, Giotto expressed confidence.
"People sleeping in chairs don't seem to bother them," he said. "We could be forcing the airports to come up with a solution to respond to the tremendous need."
And there is even a Web site, the Budget Traveler's Guide to Sleeping in Airports at www.sleepinginairports.com, which lists the best and worst airports to spend the night.
For those who do get stuck, advice from seasoned travelers boils down to this: Bring or buy a snack and water before airport shops close, bring reading material or music and something soft to lie down on or rest your head against and keep hotel phone numbers or certain Web site addresses handy.
Ron Flavin, a business traveler, recalled a flight after meeting with a client in Detroit. He said he landed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, in Atlanta, at about 1:45 a.m. for a layover, after his flight was diverted by thunderstorms.
He was rebooked on a morning flight home to West Palm Beach, Florida, but Delta Air Lines offered no hotel or meal vouchers, he said. So he curled up under a phone booth behind a counter and slept on the floor with a pillow and blanket from his business-class seat, in the company of many other passengers.
"It wasn't worth investing the money, time and effort to make all the phone calls and get settled in a hotel," said Flavin, a partner in a marketing firm for beauty and health products. "I'm not a greedy guy, but there was no gesture of any kind or a sympathetic ear. I didn't even have a toothbrush or toothpaste."
Even though they were never required to - at least before the European rules took effect - airlines used to routinely give stranded passengers vouchers for rooms and meals if a flight was canceled or delayed as a result of mechanical problem or some other issue of an airline's own making, but not for weather-related delays.
Now, though, vouchers are becoming a thing of the past.
Joe Brancatelli, editor of JoeSentMe.com, a business travel Web site, disputes the idea that sleeping in the airport ever trumps a good cheap hotel, and says that arguing with airline employees for hotel vouchers is a waste of time and energy. "Take some responsibility, and don't wait for the airline to do for you," he said. "Do for yourself."
Another suggestion from Brancatelli: Keep the toll-free numbers of hotel chains handy and pay for a room.
"What is your time and productivity worth, and what price do you put on a bed, shower and couple hours of sleep," he asked, rhetorically.
Airports range widely in what they offer overnight guests. The top-ranked airport at the Guide to Sleeping in Airports' Web site for the past 10 years is Singapore Changi Airport. It has dimly lit napping areas, where comfortable leather chairs have leg rests and headrests, and some are even fitted with alarm clocks. There are also cheap sleeping cubicles available for travelers.

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