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On a recent long-haul flight I sat by the windows and was dreaming away staring into infinity out of the window. Then a thought came up, in Asia sleeping busses are very common. This made me think, why are there no dedicated sleeper planes? Especially for the long-haul 10 to 13 hours this would be ideal.

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    $\begingroup$ Related: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/21713/… $\endgroup$ – MJeffryes Feb 27 '18 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ I watched a video of Emirates first class an it got individual cabins with beds. (There's also a bathroom with showers for those can pay US$ 10k for a good ride) $\endgroup$ – jean Feb 27 '18 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the DC-3 started as the sleeper version of the DC-2. So there were sleeper planes, but the space requirement for beds made them uneconomical (except in first class). $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Feb 27 '18 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ @user1008090 BA runs an all business class service from London to JFK $\endgroup$ – MJeffryes Feb 27 '18 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf It's a lot more comfortable (and much less close proximity) than trying to sleep in a 3-4-3 economy configuration... $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 27 '18 at 22:25

10 Answers 10

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They just dont really fly them any more:

All things considered history has a big impact on this. 13 hours is by comparison fairly short when it comes to long distance flying historically speaking. Early aircraft that flew much slower than todays jets were built more like trains than the modern planes we have now. They had dining areas, berths, saloons, and powder rooms.

The Hindenburg had cabins for pretty much everyone aboard:

enter image description here

(source)

The Boeing Clipper had sizable sleeping berths that could accommodate many of the people aboard.

enter image description here

enter image description here

One of the big modern roadblocks on berths is the seatbelt regulations that accompany many modern regulating authorities. Classic berths would more than likely not pass modern safety regulations and certification tests.

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    $\begingroup$ Those berths have some awkward belts in them which could be implemented in regular passenger berths as they are now on some of the larger planes like the A380 etc. What we will never get back is the full size beds that we had on old dirigibles! $\endgroup$ – Dave Feb 27 '18 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling You still have enough seats for the crew, AFAIK $\endgroup$ – yo' Feb 27 '18 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling The crew isn't sleeping in their bunks during critical flight phases. They're required to be in a seat buckled up just like everyone else. They only occupy those bunks during cruise. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 27 '18 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab Good enough for me. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 27 '18 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ The middle illustration shows how far engine technology has developed - I did not know that they used to turn the propellers by hand during flight! $\endgroup$ – pipe Feb 28 '18 at 7:55
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There certainly are; it's called "Business Class" and you'll find such areas with seats that recline into what are essentially beds on most long-haul aircraft. However, you simply can't fit as many people on board when they use up so much room, so airlines have to charge much more for these to make it economically viable. It's often twice the price of a normal ticket or even more.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah I was exactly sitting there but it is space wise very inefficient while an Asian sleeper bus is very efficient configured with seats overlapping under and over $\endgroup$ – Brilsmurfffje Feb 27 '18 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Brilsmurfffje Good luck evacuating everyone from a widebody full of bunk beds in under 90 seconds. $\endgroup$ – MJeffryes Feb 27 '18 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Brilsmurfffje Unfortunately more space doesn't put more money in the airline's pockets. They're worried about fuel efficiency, and packing as many paying customers inside as possible. $\endgroup$ – Cooper Feb 27 '18 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @MJeffryes That's a very important point! This is not about volume of the seat/bed, but about safety standards. If these did not exist, RyanAir would really look like this: c1.staticflickr.com/1/23/28043469_e21fcfd265_z.jpg?zz=1 $\endgroup$ – yo' Feb 27 '18 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Trevor_G Most airlines' business-class seats actually do fold into fully-flat beds these days. British Airways has a notoriously crappy business-class product. There are some airlines that still use "angle-flat" seats in business, but these are thankfully becoming fewer and farther between. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 27 '18 at 17:12
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I have flown in sleeper class with British Airways flying overnight from Toronto to LHR.

enter image description here

It was an expensive luxury which started out great, but when fully reclined the bed is not exactly flat and, if you sleep on your side, there are definite pressure points on the hips and knees. That made it rather uncomfortable after a few hours. Rather than arriving refreshed and awake like I had imagined, I arrived sore, even more tired, and just a bit cranky about the waste of $$$.

The morning "aroma" in that cabin was also a bit ripe. Apparently nocturnal flatulence was not something the designers considered.

Personally, I would not fork over the extra for that again. I was much more comfortable on the return journey in an extra-wide business-class seat.

At the very least you should check to see what sleeping equipment they install. Based on the images on-line, some are apparently a lot better than others.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for making me feel much better about not being able to fly in business class. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 27 '18 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ I have to say, I fly Business on any long haul flight, and my experience is totally different to yours - I arrive refreshed, awake and relaxed. My British Airways seat was also completely flat on all flights I have had with them (both 747 and A380). $\endgroup$ – Moo Feb 28 '18 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ I know that Lufthansa has this: crankyflier.com/2011/03/17/… I have flown a fair bit in J but these lay flat seats are not the same as a mattress, some airlines provide you with one on request if they make the bed for you. My question was more related to sleeping for the masses. $\endgroup$ – Brilsmurfffje Feb 28 '18 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ Hey, Trevor, a colleague, a few days ago, had a similar unsatisfactory experience with this particular flight (on the way to southern Africa). High expectations were definitely not met. $\endgroup$ – Spehro Pefhany Mar 1 '18 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Qasim London : Heathrow $\endgroup$ – Trevor_G Mar 5 '18 at 15:14
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Not only is it expensive, as in less seats, the relatively high speed of current airliners mean that most flights aren't that long.

It wasn't always that way. In the 1930's, the average speed of an airliner was 130-180mph. Due to the slow speed and lengthy flight times, sleeping berths were installed, especially in the case of the very long range ocean transports like the Shorts Empire, Boeing 314, and Martin M130 who could remain in the air for over 24 hours. At that time, airlines still derived most of their profit from mail delivery, and there weren't that many people who would use air travel (considered dangerous and uncomfortable), so the sleeper berths were a way to encourage people to use air travel, while there weren't enough passengers to fill conventional seats on those long flights.

One land transport that had a long range was the Douglas DC2, originally developed to compete with the Boeing 247, when Boeing would only sell the 247 to United Air Lines (which it owned). American Airlines requested that Douglas develop a version of this that had sleeping berths for transcontinental flights. Douglas widened the fuselage, lengthened the wings, and called the result the Douglas Sleeper Transport.

We know this legendary aircraft, the first that could turn a profit on passenger traffic alone, by it's later name... the DC3.

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  • $\begingroup$ "...the relatively high speed of current airliners mean that most flights aren't that long...." Probably the question asker would be happy if only the long distance flights which take more than 8 hours would be equipped with beds. There are quite a lot of them. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Feb 28 '18 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ There are, in some business and first class seating, but it's pricey. Intercontinental flights are the only ones that extend beyond a few hours, and international flights are a small percentage of overall flights. In 1935, a flight across the US could take 16-20 hours. Today, it's more like 3-4 hours. We don't see many sleeper berths on aircraft today because the flying time is much shorter than it once was. Time waiting to take off, on the other hand... $\endgroup$ – tj1000 Feb 28 '18 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ "... international flights are a small percentage of overall flights." That's true if measured in number of flights although the more relevant number might be revenue share where international flights with larger distances flown and higher number of passengers per flight might catch up a bit. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 1 '18 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ The DC2 can fly for 6.3 hours non-stop and the DC-3 for 7.4 hours, a 777LR can fly little over 22 hours non-stop. So I would think beds would be useful there $\endgroup$ – Brilsmurfffje Mar 6 '18 at 10:28
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Singapore Airlines have a few "Suites class" cabins on their A380 planes with actual full-sized beds. It looks like this:

Singapore Airlines Suites Class cabin full-size bed photo

Source: USA Today

A report from one lucky traveler who racked up enough miles to try it:

http://dereklow.co/what-its-like-to-fly-the-23000-singapore-airlines-suites-class/

From the report:

In the Suites, you don’t just lie on a seat that has gone flat. Instead, you step aside while the Singapore Airlines flight attendants transform your Suite into a bedroom, with a plush mattress on top of a full-sized bed. When the adjacent suite is empty, the dividing partition can be brought down to create a double bed.

Although it's not mentioned in this report, in most "normal" businesss-class "flat bed" style seats you still must have a seatbelt fastened over the blanket while sleeping (presumably due to safety requirements), so it's not quite the same experience as on a sleeper train, but can come pretty close.

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    $\begingroup$ I've often wondered if there's a seat belt system in the suites - beds? $\endgroup$ – Fattie Mar 4 '18 at 14:56
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Tu-114 (image source: Wikipedia)

There were sleeping berths in the upper-class cabin of the Tu-114 aircraft in the 1960es. In 1970es these planes were modified -- the sleeping compartments, as well as other "luxurious" design elements were replaced by standardized seats. The modified version could transport 224 passengers (versus 170 in the original design with sleeping compartments).

Sleeping compartment

Passage between sleeping compartments

Image source (Russian)

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    $\begingroup$ Given the noise of the NK-12 turboprops, I wonder how one could really sleep in a Tu-114. But it's interesting to see how a classless society traveled back then. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Mar 3 '18 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf: Probably quite easily - it's quite easy to sleep through loud noises as long as the noise doesn't change suddenly and isn't too high-pitched. $\endgroup$ – Sean May 30 '18 at 0:37
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I flew on a sleeper once, about sixty years ago. I think it was a Douglas DC-6 from Miami to Buenos Aires. I don't remember much, except that the bunks were a little like the ones on sleeper trains.

When airlines switched from piston power to jets, flying times were cut in half.

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I'm surprised at the answers:

mostly all wrong. Here we go (I used to work doing software internal layouts a airlines)

The answer is:

1) Utility, 2) Safety, 3) Upsell, and 4) Embark/Disembark speed.

Contrary to popular belief, It's not really a concern whatsoever about manipulating internal vehicular space. Airplanes displace a larger amount of internal volume than they require, and the residual space is mostly air, so so long as the bed weighed not more than the chair it replaced it could be done and zero MATERIAL cost to the airline.

But there are other costs: and much bigger concerns

Safety (and by that I mean financial liability in a litigious business space)

Beds aren't done mostly because people underestimate the impact of turbulence. In fact, it's well known, you can double your probability of not dying in a plane by simply wearing the lap belt and staying sitting down.

I.E. turbulence kills as many humans in planes as air plane crashes do: And it's the head hitting the roof that does it. However staff are less lucky in that they get such beds for use on long haul. In fact they are lovely.

While this may seem facile, it's not: in a 3 bunk bed layout the proximity to neighbour beds (above, above and roof) would ultimately cause you to have a MUCH higher incidence of human/airplane collisions while at rest but under turbulence, which while such impacts would not always mean your head got smashed, there'd be more impacts for both these reasons: lap belts would be unusable, your head would be nearer obstructions, and a much smaller turbulence jolt would cause collisions.

Similarly landing would be highly problematic and there would be much greater incidents of hospitalisation and death at landing.

Utility

in both senses: an airline can't swap the air frames to different legs as easily, and a passenger can't eat lying down

Upsell

you can't upsell business and first class sleeping pods so easily if economy has them, and airplanes usually lose money in economy and make money in business/first, so they never dis-incentivise upgrading.

Embark/Disembark speed

speed on off MASSIVELY affects profit margins for airlines, every second they are on the floor they LOSE money every second they are in the air they MAKE money. They designed the A380 to be able to on/off at much higher speeds because of this concern. If you have beds it takes ages to get embarked/disembarked.

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    $\begingroup$ "I'm surprised at the answers: mostly all wrong." Funny that they make the same points as yours then. $\endgroup$ – Transistor Mar 3 '18 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ If you can double your probablity of not dying by doing-and-so, that would imply that without doing so-and-so your probability of arriving alive can be at most 50%. I don't think flying is quite that risky, even if you spend the entire trip dancing in the aisle. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Mar 3 '18 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ Nicely done, @HenningMakholm. Halving the death rate does not double the survival rate. $\endgroup$ – TOOGAM Mar 3 '18 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ Your assesment about turbulence impact depends on the bunks. My guess is that contained, padded bunks would be as safe as seats. But then it would feel like being in a coffin. $\endgroup$ – Rolf Mar 5 '18 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ the issues just re-iterate that some vendors provide it.. @Transistor what was the OP's question it was "why are there no sleeper planes" and I actually answered it $\endgroup$ – Mr Heelis Mar 5 '18 at 9:59
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As others have stated, there are sleeping berths, but only for those who can afford the premium.

I myself have taken sleeper trains several times; I like them because I can arrive at my destination city in the morning, and still have the whole day to do things.

I can sleep quite well on a plane, in coach, by using a foam collar -- the kind they give to people with neck injuries. Whether by train, bus, or plane; I can't stand when I have to arrive in the late afternoon or evening, because then the day is shot -- I can't do anything except go to my hotel and get ready to go to bed. (Unfortunately, where I live, most night flights are banned because of noise restrictions.)

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    $\begingroup$ "...there are sleeping berths, but only for those who can afford the premium." Couldn't one make them a bit cheaper, like an economy version of them? Maybe stacking them up a bit. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Feb 28 '18 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Trilarion No, because the cost is directly related to the space they take up (if you want to take as much space as N economy passengers, you'll have to pay the airline roughly what those N passengers would pay in total), and you can't stack them because you need to be able to evacuate the plane quickly. Also, if there's another bunk above you, you'd need some kind of seat belt that would stop either of them hitting their heads on the low ceiling during turbulence. I'm not sure if it's also a requirement that passengers must be sitting for take-off and landing. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 28 '18 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Your comment seems to answer the question best so far. It's a mix of security concerns and current regulations (which would need to change in order to get low cost sleeper planes). If only it were an answer. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 1 '18 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Trilarion Cooper's answer covers the price aspect; Dave's covers safety. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 1 '18 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ One more thing: planes go fast enough that you have to take time zones and jet lag into consideration. Some people stay on the time zone of the city they took off from right until they walk off the plane, and some people change their time zone (and sleep patterns) as soon as possible after takeoff. (I'm in the latter group; and I almost never suffer from jet lag.) Sleeping arrangements would have to take both groups into account; some sleeping while others consider it to be daytime. $\endgroup$ – Jennifer Mar 1 '18 at 22:08
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The incredibly simple answer is that:

You have to be sitting upright in a chair, in a seat belt, for take off and landing.

It's that simple - an "all-bunk" configuration (like a sleeping-bus) is a non-starter.

That's all there is to it.

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    $\begingroup$ You have a source for that? $\endgroup$ – Brilsmurfffje Mar 4 '18 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ That does not preclude using a bed during the bulk of the flight. $\endgroup$ – Igor Skochinsky Mar 5 '18 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ hi @IgorSkochinsky, but obviously then you also need all the seats! 2x the space $\endgroup$ – Fattie Mar 5 '18 at 15:17

protected by Federico Mar 5 '18 at 9:44

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