Airbus's new bunk beds might mean you could actually get some sleep during a flight.
If you've ever taken a long flight, especially an overnight "red-eye" flight, you know what you want most: To get as much sleep as you can. Unfortunately, that usually isn't much. Jammed into a seat with less and less legroom, unable to straighten your legs or rest your head on anything better than one of those inflatable neck pillows, it's almost impossible to drift off. And if you do, nearby conversations, screaming children, and seatmates who need to get up are sure to wake you in short order.
The French aircraft maker Airbus now has a fix that can help you get some actual shut-eye, and it was on display at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg: bunk beds, available to economy passengers, in the cargo area of the plane. Riding in the hold may sound like a new form of torture cooked up by an industry known for its sadism--and most pets who travel in cargo don't seem to like it much. But in fact, it's a much better idea than you might think. In fact, many airplanes already do have sleeping spaces in the cargo area, but only the crew are allowed to use them, usually to get some rest during long flights (and get away from us passengers).
The planned living areas are heated, fully enclosed spaces with furniture and carpeting that look much like the inside of a modern economy hotel. They come with a welcome area, where a receptionist will check you in, "flexible" areas offering work spaces, playrooms, meeting rooms, or all three, and sleeping rooms with bunk beds. Admittedly, a bunk bed doesn't give you much more room than an economy seat (and it won't make it easy to join the mile-high club). But as on old-fashioned trains, the bunks have sliding doors to give you some privacy. And you'll be able to stretch out into a more natural sleeping position.
Airlines, especially long-haul airlines are likely to take an interest in the new units since they will (of course) be able to charge economy passengers for the use of sleeping compartments, likely more than they can charge them for carrying luggage. And the living spaces come in large containers, the same size as the ones airlines use to carry luggage in the hold. That means they can easily switch between luggage space and sleeping space depending on the length of the flight and how much cargo they need to carry. Airbus believes these new cargo-area living spaces will be available on commercial flights as soon as 2020.
Passengers won't be able to spend the entire flight in bed--they'll still need to be in a regular seat for takeoff and landing. But still. I don't know about you, but the thought of stretching out in bed during a long flight has a lot of appeal. Yes, even enough to pay an extra fee.
Here's what it might look like: