Air Transport World

Long-haul comfort zone: airlines are inching toward rail sleeping-car-style cabins to attract high-yield passengers.

Airlines are inching toward rail sleeping-car-style cabins to attract high-yield passengers

Airlines are beginning to make some dramatic changes in their passenger cabins, to individualize their high-yield product and make first-class and business-class services more enticing. The emphasis in first class is improved sleeping accommodations and more "private" configurations. In business, it is additional room as well as increased possibilities for sleep.

Cabin designers and equipment manufacturers report that the intensified efforts are designed for what are becoming increasingly long-haul markets, especially across the Pacific from the U.S., and between Europe and the Pacific Rim nations. Because of the rising demand for travel on these segments, which can range up to 16 hr. in duration, the emphasis is on systems with more "creature comforts."

As a result, for the first time in many years, airlines actually are going beyond installing larger seats and offering more involved and varied meal and entertainment options.

There is considerable precedent for providing sleeping accommodations. Other forms of transportation, even the lighter-than-air ships of the 1930s, provided space for beds.

Even railroads offered beds, though they had more of a challenge. That challenge is even greater for airlines.

The fact that airlines are seeking to "individualize" their services is ironic. That is what railroads did more than 60 years ago, emphasizing the private-room approach over section sleepers.

Airlines had a fling with sleeper accommodations very early in their development. The first Douglas DC-3s offered sleeping accommodations when they went into service with American Airlines between New York and Chicago. Designated DSTs for Douglas Sleeper Transports, they could seat 21 passengers or provide for 14 in a sleeping configuration. This was in the mid-1930s, when most long-haul travel was by rail, so the airlines were trying to match the railroads' service. Even before this, Boeing called its Model 80A trimotor biplane the Pioneer Pullman of the Air, with reference to the Pullman Standard Co., which built, owned and wet-leased the rail sleepers, complete with attendants, called porters, in Europe and South America as well as the U. …

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