The idea of beds in the cargo hold has been floating around for years, but has never come to anything concrete. Now, with ultra-long-haul flights on the rise, could this stimulate the idea once again? And if it did, could we see economy passengers paying by the hour to rent a lie flat bed on long-haul flights?
Passengers in the cargo hold?
There have been a number of concepts in the past that have floated the idea of passengers occupying space in the cargo hold. Engineer Florian Barjot has been developing the EarthBay concept since 2017, Airbus entered the Crystal Cabin awards last year with its own Lower Deck Pax Experience Modules, and even Qantas was mulling ‘Cargo Class’ for its Project Sunrise flights.
However, to date no such ideas have been brought to market. Ideas have been kicked around, and Airbus even claimed to have some interest from airlines for its cargo hold beds concept, and proclaimed that we’d start seeing them on commercial jets as soon as next year. However, no real progress has been made since then, but that could be all about to change.
— Lonely Planet (@lonelyplanet) September 19, 2019
Speaking to Dr. Joe Leader, CEO of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) for our recent podcast, I raised the topic of cargo hold accommodation. Dr. Leader’s take on it is that its day is coming. He told me,
“Surprisingly, because of the new ultra-long-range flying we’re going to see, I think it’s more realistic than it might have otherwise been. What we have to do, we have to have a flexible fight bay. So for example, making it so if you have cargo you can use that space and it can be easily used, but making it also so that on an ultra-long-range aircraft, when it cannot go to the maximum cargo capacity, it can be used for passengers. It would be a great use of space.”
It’s an interesting thought, and one that bears thinking about with airlines like Qantas making preparations for the longest flights the world has ever seen. While Singapore Airlines operates the current world’s longest flight, it does so with a premium heavy Airbus A350 and minimal cargo capacity, so that the A350-900ULR can go the distance.
It’s likely Qantas will have to do something similar when it begins Sydney to London and New York nonstop flights, as the A350-1000 will need to be lightly loaded in order to make the trip. If a full cargo contingent is not possible, why wouldn’t it use the space for something else?
How would beds in the cargo hold work?
That raises the question of how airlines would therefore allocate and sell a sleeping space in the cargo hold. There clearly wouldn’t be enough space to allow every passenger to have a bed, so who would get priority? Dr. Leader had some great insight on this, telling me,
“I believe passengers will be willing to pay to pretty much rent additional sleeping space on an hourly basis. So, that’s probably the most fair way to do things.”
Taking a Project Sunrise flight as an example, this could mean that passengers book themselves into an affordable economy seat, but that the cargo beds are for sale as an added extra during the flight. When Airbus touted the idea of a cargo hold bed, it said this could cost from as little as $600 per flight.
Economy passengers want to sleep in-flight too. Would you pay $600 more to be able to access a full-flat experience for a few hours on long-haul? Airbus and Safran teamed on the lower deck modules concept, and it is now a finalist for a Crystal Cabin Award. #AIX19 #CCA19 #PaxEx pic.twitter.com/a6GCMX1dS3
— Runway Girl Network 🏳️🌈 (@RunwayGirl) April 1, 2019
Even if it was double that for the 20+ hour trip, by breaking it down into hourly bookings, Qantas could make it more attractive and affordable for many more passengers to have a go. After 13 or 14 hours sitting in an economy seat, even $100 an hour could seem like a very attractive prospect. Dr. Leader agreed with this, telling me,
“When passengers buy a ticket, they might want the lowest price economy, but if they’re on the flight and want to purchase and hour or two of lie-flat sleeping, I will tell you, that is the one time customers will open their wallets and say, you know what, that’s the best money I can spend today.”
The concept could be a win-win for everyone. The airline would get to monetize what is otherwise just empty space, and passengers could make a choice to get a couple of hours of decent rest if they wished.
Would you pay by the hour for a lie flat cargo hold bed? Let us know in the comments.