One check-in counter resembles another at the Los Angeles International Airport's international terminal, but the man behind one of them offers a novel service--a place to sleep, shower or work in privacy for a few hours or even minutes.
According to Norman Panish, a retired pharmacist now in real estate development, there is nothing in the world quite like the 13-room mini-hotel that he opened in late September after more than two years' planning and construction.
"For the business or pleasure traveler, there is no place like this anywhere," the 49-year-old president of Skytel Inc. said. "The only things we don't offer that a hotel does are a swimming pool and room service."
A guided tour of the $500,000 complex in a noisy corner of the Tom Bradley International Terminal did not last long. It occupies more than 1,600 square feet, with each room measuring 6-by-15 feet.
Every room has a private bath with shower and hair dryer, direct-dial telephone with computer jack, color television, radio, pull-down writing table and fold-out single bed. Fresh towels and linen, disposable shaving gear, toothbrush, toothpaste and other toiletries also are provided.
Walls are sound-proofed and air conditioning is controlled by guests, or as Panish calls them, "passengers."
"There are airports in the world that do have shower facilities, but most of those are like public showers. There are airports in the world that have a motel in the terminal, and you pay a day rate or half-day rate. There is nothing that pays by a shower usage or by an hourly rate," he said.
A shower lasting no more than 30 minutes costs $7.50. Longer stays are encouraged--one hour goes for $15, two for $20, four for $30 and eight for $45. The cheapest rate for a motel within a mile of the airport is about $50.
House rules include those barring guests and double-occupancy, even for a husband and wife. "This is a clean operation, and one of our biggest concerns is that these rooms aren't used for sexual encounters," Panish said.
The first two weeks of business were beyond his highest expectations, and he sees his company expanding to airports across the United States as travelers pass the word.
"We're already exceeding our break-even point. We're into profits, and we have not actively been promoting in the other terminals. It's all coming out of the international terminal," Panish said as his son, Jeff, talked with a computer repairman.
"We have some problems with our computer, which was designed for us so that you can be checked in and out in under a minute. We've had some problems, like any new business, but we think we've got them worked out," Panish said.
Mirrors, polished aluminum ceilings and pastel coloring give an illusion of spaciousness, and the computer monitors occupancy so that maids or porters do not disturb guests.
"This project cost us $500,000, and we didn't spare the expenses. We're looking at this as our flagship facility and we're looking to expand to other air terminals around the country," the San Diego native said.
"We designed it for the comfort of the passenger. We don't want the passenger coming in because we're the only show in town. We want that passenger to say, 'Hey, I just used Skytel and it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.' "