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Plane sleeping compartments: Is this the cheaper option to lie-flat beds in business class?

HomeNews hubIndustry insightsPlane sleeping compartments: Is this the cheaper option to lie-flat beds in business class?

This article was originally published by Fairfax Media.

What's the one thing we all want on a long-haul flight? A bed, right?

Room to stretch out, get some quality downtime, arrive at your destination feeling almost human. The bed is right there, behind the curtain, in that gilded upland known as business class. But what if there was another, cheaper lie-down option?

At the 2018 Aircraft Interiors Expo held in mid-April in Hamburg, Airbus and seat manufacturer Zodiac Aerospace announced plans to develop a passenger sleeping module fitted inside the cargo hold of the Airbus A330 and A350 family aircraft. Zodiac is a leading designer of aircraft passenger seats, and one of the primary suppliers for Airbus and Boeing aircraft. According to Airbus, this could happen as early as 2020.

A mock-up of the sleeping module shows a central corridor with bunk-bed sleeping compartments on either side.   The publicity image also shows several stools, which suggest the possibility of makeup stations, adding a slight air of unreality to the concept. Nonetheless, anything that adds to passenger comfort on long-haul flight is worth exploring.

A passenger sleeping module would dovetail perfectly with Alan Joyce's recent expression of interest in an aircraft with sleepers for the non-stop Project Sunrise flights the Qantas CEO hopes to see happening from east coast Australia to London and New York, starting in 2022.

Qantas already operates the A330, and according to Airbus the sleeper module would be available as a retrofit, but it's likely the only aircraft that would really interest Qantas with this concept is the Airbus A350-900ULR, the world's longest-range aircraft. Airbus claims a range of 9700 nautical miles for the Airbus A350-900ULR. That's more than enough to make the distance from Sydney to London in a single bound, and Melbourne to London is slightly less while the non-stop flight to New York is shorter still. Both the range and the sleeper module would seem to make the A350-900ULR the logical choice for Qantas although the airline has no orders with Airbus for that particular aircraft.

Bunk-style sleepers in the air are far from new. Back in the 1950s, Boeing Stratocruisers and Douglas DC-6s operating on the trans-Atlantic route offered bunk-bed sleeping compartments based on the sleepers found aboard long-distance trains. The concept died when jet aircraft shrank the time it took to cross the Atlantic.

There is also a modern template for bunk-style sleepers in the crew rest compartments found aboard aircraft operating long-haul routes. While the steep staircases and narrow corridors typical of these crew rest compartments might not be a problem for agile flight crew, some flyers are probably going to require a little more navigating room.