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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Jumbo Airplane Hotel Allows Mile High Club Experience on the Ground

  • Back in 2006, Oscar Diös heard there was a dead Boeing 747-200 built in 1976 on one of the runways at Arlanda Airport, the largest international airport in Sweden, north of Stockholm. It was once owned by a Swedish company called Transjet, who used it to fly muslim pilgrims to Mecca, as well as doing charter flights around the world until it was grounded for "organizational problems" in 2002. The noble Jumbo was in a bad state, but Oscar saw the possibilities right away. Probably after way too many glasses of akvavit that day, Diös thought he had the perfect idea: to buy the 747 and convert it into a low-cost hotel.

I was getting ready to expand my hostel business in 2006 when I heard about an old wreck of an aircraft for sale at Arlanda. Since I had for a long time wanted to establish my business at Arlanda I didn’t hesitate for a second when this opportunity struck.

It may seem like a weird thought, but being a modest owner of the hostel Uppsala Vandrarhem och Hotell, in Uppsala, Oscar knew how expensive it is to actually find a terrain near a busy airport like Arlanda, and then actually build an entire hotel from scratch.

That's why, when he learnt about the dead Jumbo, Oscar only saw cheap space for rooms and decided it was time to continue his inexpensive hotel business right there. He thought that, being the busiest, largest international airport in his country, there was going to be a lot of clients looking for cheap accommodation.

However, at the end it wasn't that easy. There was a long way from buying the airplane to finally setting up the hostel. First he needed to get the OK from the authorities of Sigtuna, the town that controls the terrains in which the Arlanda Airport is based. He had the perfect pitch for them: it was going to be a unique landmark, he thought. He wanted to place it right at the entrance of the airport itself, on top of a concrete foundation with the landing gear tied to two steel cradles. The authorities heard the story and, surprisingly enough, they agreed to approve the plan and granted him the necessary permissions.

The hotel itself was also a challenge. It wasn't going to be as easy as to install a few beds, provide clean linens, and sell curry kyckling macka, small beer cans, lousy pot coffee, and peanut bags at the airplane's second level cafeteria. The Boeing 747-200 interior—with 450 seats—needed to be completely dismantled and sanitized. Then, it needed to be insulated, divided into 25 rooms (each of them 6 square meters, with 3 meters high ceilings), and completely rewired. It also needed new plumbing, bathrooms, sanitation, and a new climate control system, since the windows on planes are fixed and can't be opened. And to finish it all, the whole result had to adhere to the strict construction policies of Sweden.

At the end, and after a two year odyssey, he did it: the Jumbo Hostel—as Oscar called his creation—has been towed to its final destination this summer, and bookings will start in December. All in the name of inexpensive accommodation, pilots and stewardesses sex fantasies, and crazy Swedish landmarks. Pass the akvavit Oscar, next time I go to that part of the world, I'll be checking in.