Even for the most enthusiastic air travel aficionados, the idea of an overnight layover probably sounds awful.
Airports, after all, are an awkward place to spend the night. Hotels by the terminal can be overpriced and uninspiring. Getting into the city isn’t always a realistic option. Transit lounges aren’t always open 24/7, and even if they are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find a cozy spot to hunker down.
For these reasons and more, overnight layovers are anathema for the business traveler elite. But for flyers looking for dirt-cheap tickets, they are sometimes a necessary evil.
But hey, we AvGeeks are an adventurous bunch, right? I figured there must be at least a tolerable way to make it from sunset to sunrise without leaving the airport. And with summer travel plans that would place me overnight at Tokyo Haneda for not just one night, but three, I had the chance to put that guess to the test.
Could there be such a thing as a good overnight layover? Join me for my three nights at Haneda – each spent very differently – to find out.
Off we go!
A look towards downtown San Francisco on the departure to Tokyo – Video: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Night One: Camping Out in the Concourse
For my first night’s stay, I wanted to set a baseline for how bare-bones an overnight layover could be. No lounges. No hotels. Just some quality time with a concourse seat.
And you know what? It wasn’t comfortable, but it was nowhere near as bad as I feared it might be.
To be fair, Haneda has a lot of things going for it that other airports don’t. The bench-style seats without handrails allowed me to lie down and stretch out comfortably enough. Security guards regularly patrolled the space, so I felt safe enough sleeping with my suitcase next to me. The concourse lighting is also dimmed during the late night hours.
Haneda’s flight operations shut down overnight, but the international terminal stays open 24/7. This means that the concourse is pin-drop-quiet for the night, at least until the early morning flights start departing. It was surreal to have an entire international airport almost to myself. And in case you haven’t been there, Haneda’s new international terminal is gorgeous.
Sure, the night had its rough moments. There was no privacy, no morning shower, and no bedding or pillow. I got woken up by some construction noise at one point and had to move down the concourse. But I still got a couple hours of sleep, and boarded my flight the next morning somewhat rested. In a pinch, it’ll do.
Night Two: A Lounge For the Rest of Us
Okay, enough bumming around. For my second night, I decided to do things in a bit more style.
For many travelers, that would mean an airline lounge. The problem was, I had recently lost the airline alliance status that used to get me in to lounges for free. At most airports, I would have faced a choice between a $50-$60 lounge buy-in (no thanks) and sticking it out in the general concourse. But TIAT, Haneda’s operating authority, offers an innovative à la carte lounge model with an entry fee of just ¥1,030 ($10).
What sort of place does $10 buy you? A pretty solid one, it turns out, provided you go in with the right expectations.
The TIAT Sky Lounge Annex was inviting and well maintained, with modern furniture and a variety of seating areas. Though the sun had set by the time I arrived, I could tell that there would have been a great view of the tarmac and active runways during the day.
Non-alcoholic drinks, including sodas, hot drinks, and juices were available for free. As part of the à la carte model, snacks, larger meals, and alcoholic drinks could all be ordered for an additional price. Shower facilities were also available for a fee.
Overall, I thought that the TIAT Sky Lounges are an amazing value for a traveler looking to kill some time. The main (non-annex) lounge is open 24 hours a day, so it’s workable for even a longer overnight layover – provided you’re okay foregoing sleep, as there are no beds.
The pay-for-what-you-use model isn’t a hit everywhere in the aviation world (I’m looking at you, Spirit), but it worked great here.
Night Three: Snagging a Cabin, and Getting Into Hot Water
What do you do if you want to get some sleep on a real bed but don’t want to shell out for a hotel room? At many airports you would be out of luck. But once again Haneda had me covered.
First Cabin Haneda is a cross between a traditional hotel and the capsule-style hotels that Japan is famous for. It is located in Domestic Terminal 1, pre-security at the center of the terminal. For ¥5,000 to ¥6,000 ($50 to $60) a night, you get a tiny space just large enough for a bed, separated from the hallway by a sliding screen. The limited space and lack of a door might be jarring for anyone used to hotel rooms, but it’s perfect for those with simple tastes or tight budgets.
There is a nice communal space available if you need a place to work, or if your capsule cabin has you feeling claustrophobic.
The communal sinks and showers were immaculately maintained.
But the real fun was the Japanese onsen, or traditional bathhouse. The experience is all-communal – not to mention all-nude. It begins with a sit-down rinse.
Then, you take a soak in a scalding hot bath.
Fortunately for clueless first-timers like me, First Cabin provided a sheet with instructions.
It was probably the most unusual experience I’ve had within the four walls of an airport. Onsen baths are built around the concept of “Hadaka no Tsukiai,” which translates loosely to “friendship or communion through nakedness.” It’s an intriguing idea, but I’m still glad I ended up getting the bath to myself.
First Cabin Haneda is an excellent value for the simple traveler who just needs a bed and a shower (or hot bath) without extra bells, whistles, or cost. Because it is over in domestic Terminal 1, it’s best for people with international-to-domestic transfers (or vice versa). If you just need a pit stop, First Cabin offers short stays for $8 to $10 an hour during the day.
Of course, you could always try out a real capsule hotel in the city. At three-feet wide, three-feet high, six-feet long, and stacked one on top of the other, the capsules make the First Cabin Haneda rooms look palatial.
Sunrise, and the Final Verdict
I set out in search of an tolerable and affordable way to spend a night at the airport. Did I find one?
I think the answer is a definite yes. First Cabin Haneda had everything I needed in a space-efficient package, plus a unique dash of Japanese style. The TIAT Sky Lounge provided a great place to pass the time, and welcomed me even though I had fallen off premier airline status wagon. And while I wouldn’t be excited about another night on a transit lounge bench, that first night still beat my expectations.
Do you have stories about great (or awful) nights at airports? Or any pro tips on how to best handle overnight layovers? Tell us your stories and share your advice in the comments section below.