Jumbo Stay: Sleeping on the runway

First thing I thought when booking my incoming 11PM flight into Arlanda Airport in Stockholm was how I wasn’t looking forward to a late-night long commute. Luckily, the feeling didn’t linger for long. Off I got from the aircraft, carry-on in tow, and on to the next. Not to fly, but sleep.

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Open since January 2009, Jumbo Stay at Arlanda Airport, “one of the world’s coolest stays,” as the website so merrily claims, comes at the rescue of weary travelers like myself. Landing close to midnight and with energy on the low, spending the night on-board a real jumbo jet gave me a much bigger kick than hauling myself all the way into town.

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If I had only pushed the button for my stop… I hurriedly get off the free ALFA transfer bus, a station too late, crisscrossing questionable lawns to make my way back to the previous stop. The alternative would have been to wait it out, comfortably seated touring all terminals, but not unlike what I wanted to avoid in the first place – thanks but no thanks. Finally, the inescapable creature loomed on the horizon. I had doubts all along of how cool this would actually be, but now that I was looking at it, it did look the part. A Boeing 747-212B converted into upmarket hostel, the gigantic airliner once hopelessly parked, and unused, in the airport parking lot, emerges daunting, dimly lit, stretching out into the twilight of the Swedish night.

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Already past midnight, I make my way up to the reception area. A minute after I realize the elevator only works with the button continuously pushed down, I reach the top and open the glass door. I check-in uneventfully, and release a sigh of relief. The free Wi-Fi included works perfectly.

Aside from the lounge, to the left of the reception desk, casual yet stylish, a hint of a Mad Men-ish vibe thanks to the bright orange stools arranged around white tables, complete with a TV, stocked refrigerators and a self-service coffee machine, the rest of the cabin feels rather sterile. Just a long hallway, mostly white, with rooms on each side of the aisle (33 rooms in total). Convenience is evident once again, coziness is not; it was envisioned as a budget-hotel alternative by owner Oscar Diös (at least for Scandinavian standards) for late night arrivals, like myself, or early morning departures. And indeed it was.

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The single room I spend the night in includes two twin bunk beds (with a ladder for the upper), neatly arranged. Don’t expect any drinks, side tables, storage space, because there aren’t any. Just imagine your otherwise economy seats pulled out and made into a sleeping quarter. This is still more spacious. There are towels provided, thankfully, as I didn’t bring any. There is also a lamp, which slightly blinds me at 1AM when I get to sleep, and a flat-screen TV high up on the wall. Orange curtains, in agreement to the lounge stools, provide the only splash of color, behind which four passenger windows reveal the exterior, finally dark.

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Excluding the no frills ambiance, I sleep well through the night. Besides the sound of the central air conditioning, no other noise disturbs me, certainly not one of airplanes coming and going. I did hear the neighboring passengers toss and turn, so do pack your earplugs, and eye mask for that matter, as in no time in this part of the world during summer, there will be light again. The bathroom is shared (a single bed ensuite will cost you some 475 Kroner more, that’s $55 more), but only partially. Forget the usual hostel bathroom, with few showers lined up, one next to each here. Here, you get your own shower cabin, toilet and sink, which for a non-hostel lover like myself, feels a-ok. You just have to walk down to the rear for it. I steered clear from the clunky common washbasin made of aluminum all the way in the back, uninviting, even intimidating.

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Of course, there are also few luxurious options at Jumbo Stay, if one can call them that. The Double Bed Black Box Ensuite is most design forward and comfort friendly, while the innovative Cockpit Suite is exactly that, innovative but nothing more. Besides the ample terrace available for this suite alone, and the unique views that come along with it, the double bed parked where the once pilots sat is rather unnerving, giving the impression of a locked-in space. From the terrace, two engine rooms with a private entrance can be seen, a unique thrill for the aviation geeks but otherwise a laudable exercise of claustrophobia.

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The next morning, I have breakfast in the same bar/café lounge with orange stools (equally uncomfortable), a surprisingly generous offering of cold cuts, eggs and few types of cereal and fruit, included for all private rooms (dormitory guests can purchase it for some $7). Aviation fans can revel in the memorabilia hanging on the wall – posters of the jumbo’s historical journey – from its first flight in 1976, delivered to Singapore Airlines, registered 9V-SQE, to Pan Am as N727PA Clipper Belle of the Sky in 1984, to Swedish Transjet Airways in 2002. Plenty more in between attests to its long, bumpy ride until opening as Jumbo Hostel in 2009.

These days, it’s the opposite of bumpy. It’s unique, convenient and true to its Swedishness. I see a Shoes Off sign as I finally make my way out and into town. A nice custom when entering a Swedish house – too bad it wasn’t more visible, or made vocal, for bleary-eyed late arrival occupants.

Monica Suma

Monica Suma is a Romanian-American freelance travel writer and blogger, always on the hunt for art, good food and all things Cuba. Through storytelling and an insatiable pursuit for whimsy, she contributes to a variety of publications such as Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Business Traveller and more. Follow her adventures live on Instagram and Twitter.

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