August 10, 2017

Travel Thursday: Cabin, A Boutique Hotel on Wheels

I know there are a lot of people who claim they “can’t sleep on planes.” But sometimes, it’s a necessity to learn how to do so.

I’m working in Florida these days, and seven out of the last eight weeks, my flight home on Thursdays has been delayed so I’m not getting home until well after 1am. Not good when I often start my Fridays with 6am meetings! As a result, I’ve gotten pretty adept at falling asleep as soon as my final leg from DFW to DEN pushes back from the gate, and using that 90 minute flight to catch some extra sleep that I’d otherwise be short on Thursday nights.

My routine: decaf coffee before pushback (the hot drink helps me relax), White Noise App on my headphones playing ocean waves to drown out anything else, contact lenses out (with glasses at the ready for when I wake up), and an eye mask on my face. I’m usually out like a light somewhere between takeoff and cruising altitude, and I wake up when our wheels touch down in Denver. That gives me about ten minutes while taxiing to fully wake up enough to drive home… and I’ve found that I’m surprisingly alert for the drive, but still able to get back to bed after.

As good as I’ve gotten at napping on that flight, I haven’t yet been able to apply it in the other direction. The DEN-FLL nonstop is only 3.5 hours, and I haven’t had the nerve to try splitting my Sunday night sleep up into 7pm-11pm and then 1am-4:30am (with a drive to the airport in between). That just sounds brutal! When I’ve needed to be in Florida on Monday morning for meetings, I’ve preferred to give up some of my weekend and fly on Sunday morning. It’s just not worth it to me to be out of it when I arrive At one point, I looked into flying to the furthest corner of the country and then taking a red eye from there on Sunday nights, so that my in-flight sleep would be longer. But with SEA-MIA clocking in at 5 hours and 44 minutes, that’s just barely long enough for a reasonable night’s sleep, and I’d still have to leave mid-afternoon in order to connect up to Seattle.

However, it seems I’m not alone in the idea of going a little bit out of my way in order to sleep more on the journey. Last month, Cabin began providing an overnight bus service from Los Angeles to San Francisco. But from early customer feedback, Cabin learned that people didn’t like departing at 11pm and arriving at 5am, so the buses now take roundabout back roads to make the trip in eight hours rather than the usual six. That allows passengers to get a full night’s sleep on board, contained in individual sleep pods complete with memory foam mattresses and luxury linens.

The pods look cozy, but still comfortable for one. (Cabin does not allow passengers to share compartments.)

Personally, I think this idea is brilliant. Back when I worked at JetBlue, we talked about having a red eye flight that sat on the tarmac at one end or the other, allowing people to get a full night’s sleep before having to deplane. Unfortunately, the main reason that airlines fly red eyes is to keep their planes in the air (where they’re profitable) rather than on the ground; that means the business case probably wouldn’t be there to have the planes sit while people sleep. A colleague and I joked about putting passengers in individual shipping pods that could be loaded and unloaded from the plane while occupants continue to slumber… but I’m not sure someone could really sleep through that kind of transportation 😉

Several years ago, Zodiac invented a seating concept called “Air Lair” that had passengers in pods… but no airline has moved forward with implementing this design.

Cabin, on the other hand, goes out of their way to be comfortable and sleep-friendly. Drivers take roads that have been chosen specifically for their smoothness and lack of potholes, and pods are outfitted with soundproof walls, blackout drapes, super soft sheets, and fluffy pillows. Customers who have tried it even seem to be pretty happy with the experience! The only downside? While Cabin has a spacious bathroom for guests to “wash up” upon arrival, it doesn’t have a shower – so you’ll need to find one of those at your destination to truly be ready for a new day. Cabin’s branding tries to position itself as a combination hotel and transportation company, but in my opinion, the lack of a shower makes it fall short of achieving that entirely. (PS – I’d love an onboard fitness center, too… but I suppose I could kill two birds with one stone by booking a studio class somewhere with showers just after arrival. I smell a potential partnership!)

While I haven’t yet tried Cabin, I think it’s a really fascinating concept – and it’s going to get even more interesting with the advent of autonomous vehicles. As I wrote about last winter, Budweiser successfully tested a self-driving truck, and 75% of cars on the road are expected to be self-driving by 2040. So turning the Cabin bus into a self-driving hotel doesn’t seem too far fetched. (Pilotless planes, on the other hand, sound like they’re a bit further out on the horizon – only 17% of travelers surveyed say they’d be willing to fly on a plane with no pilot.) We’ll ultimately all be able to have our own “cabins” when we have individual autonomous vehicles, but this seems like a great intermediary step in the next few decades while self-driving cars come down in price and become mainstream.

One huge advantage of this business model over that of the (struggling) airlines is that you don’t need an airport or other major infrastructure to start a bus service – see the rise of Megabus, BoltBus, and the various Chinatown buses). So with autonomous vehicles on the rise, and the relatively low costs of such an operation, I’ll be intrigued to see if Cabin is successful in rolling out in other markets, or if it’s copied by competitors who do so. Who knows? Maybe this will be the short-haul transportation model of the future.


2 thoughts on “Travel Thursday: Cabin, A Boutique Hotel on Wheels”

  1. This is an interesting concept. I don’t sleep well on flights either. I use the White noise app and a silk eye mask too.
    I know the overnight trains in Europe offer sleeper cabins.

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