The Guardian, January 10, 2012
Few of us can afford to turn left on an aircraft. The most we get to see how the other half live, at least when it comes to flying, is a quick, envious glimpse of flat beds and smiling air stewards offering glasses of champagne, before accepting our lot and turning right into cattle class. But there is one aircraft where the pleasures of first and business class – flat beds, drinks on demand, good food – can be enjoyed at the cost of a night in an average mid-price chain hotel.
The catch? The plane isn't going anywhere. Jumbo Stay – the world's only 747 jet to be converted into a hostel – sits on a disused runway at Stockholm airport. Accessed via a 15-minute walk from the main terminal or via a five-minute shuttle bus, it's arguably the only way that most of us will ever enjoy a good night's sleep on a plane.
For Oscar Dios, the man who had the vision and, crucially, funds to make this dream a reality, the idea seemed blindingly obvious. Given the number of decommissioned planes lying around in various states of decay across the world, plus the lack of cheap, convenient hotel rooms in major cities, it's a wonder someone didn't do it sooner.
"I saw this plane and I instantly knew it would be perfect for a hotel," he says. "It had been in service for Pan Am, Singapore Airlines and many others. I knew I could give it a new lease of life."
As we stroll around the plane, shadowed by a film crew from Expedia.co.uk's People-Shaped Travel video series, which reveals unique experiences in cities around the world, Dios points out some elegant touches.
The renovation saw flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi access added to each room, with some spaces becoming multi-occupancy dorms and others, like the flight deck and the "black box" room at the back, transformed into en-suite double bedrooms.
The essential elements of aviation remain, though. From signs next to sinks advising users to wipe down the surfaces for the next passenger to warning notices around emergency exit hatches and, in the flight deck, the pilot's original controls (now inoperable, obviously), you'll find history in every corner.
Upstairs, the first class cabin has been converted into a funky 24-hour cafe and, says Dios, there is still potential for further expansion.
"The wings are the next project," he reveals. "We're going to put a glass shelter over them so people can sit out there and relax, even in the depths of winter."
Eventually, each engine will also house a capsule-style double bedroom. These will be dubbed, naturally, the Engine Rooms.
The whole place is a combination of the unique and the convenient. In practical terms, you can use it as an overnight stop before a flight, as the hotel is just a short walk from the airport. For visitor Pawel Witkiewicz and his sons Alek and Erik, though, Jumbo Stay is simply a brilliant theme hotel.
"My boys love aircraft," he laughs. "So this is like a dream come true."
And only the most serious of grown-ups will be able to suppress a child-like sense of glee at the quirkiness of the hostel.
"We had a couple of people pop in, just to take a look. They were supposed to be staying in a hotel nearby but once they saw what we had to offer they immediately cancelled their reservation and stayed here," says duty manager Sebastian Sandler.
Eco-friendly, unusual and, crucially, unabashed fun – the Jumbo Stay hostel is the only aircraft that offers a guaranteed turbulence-free first-class night's sleep, whatever your budget.
• Two nights' room-only at the Jumbo Stay hostel (jumbostay.com) from £189pp, based on two sharing a standard room. This includes return flights with Norwegian Air Shuttle from London Gatwick to Stockholm, departing on 6 February. The Jumbo Stay also offers a 24-hour business centre and shuttle service to the airport. For reservations, see expedia.co.uk or call 0330 123 1235