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Announcing the Arrival of Skytel Inc. at LAX : Mini-Hotel Is a Departure From Regular Facilities

July 13, 1986|DAVE LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

How many hotels do you know of where you rent by the hour or by the shower?

Or, when it is time for a wake-up call, where the manager personally knocks on your door?

On the other hand, at how many hotels do you walk out the door and into a waiting jetliner?

Such has been the case for 10 months now in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

"We are averaging a combined total of about 70 rentals a day for our 13 rooms," said Jeffrey Panish, general manager of Skytel Inc. "Sometimes it's a traveler wanting a nap while waiting for a connecting flight, sometimes it's a pilot or stewardess wanting to freshen up with a shower before taking off."

First of Its Kind

The hotel is the first of its kind in the continental United States, according to Panish's father, Norman, who founded the company. "And we are in the black," he added. "The word is getting out, and we are seeing repeat users. People are coming over from the other eight terminals." (There are variations on Panish's theme at some other airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth, which has its emphasis on spa facilities. Honolulu, Copenhagen and areas of Japan also have unusual facilities for travelers and business people.)

Sometimes the travelers or flight crews are lined up in front of Skytel's desk next to the Air France counter--perhaps to pay for half an hour of a ground-type jet stream, or for an hour of shut-eye on a bed.

"During the baseball and football seasons, we have people who check in just to watch a color TV set in privacy, and catch the end of a game that was in progress while they were in the air," Jeffrey Panish said. "Some businessmen just want to work at a table in privacy."

Single Occupancy Only

To answer the obvious question, it is single occupancy only and no guests--strictly enforced. "The only exception is a parent with a child under 13," Jeffrey Panish said. "Otherwise, even if a couple happens to be carrying a marriage certificate, airport regulations require that they take separate rooms. If they choose, they can rent one room for an hour, and each use it for half that time."

Since the $500,000 mini-hotel hasn't yet been through the peak summer travel period, neither Department of Airports General Manager Clifton Moore nor the elder Panish was ready to predict yet whether the concept would be expanded to the other terminals at LAX. The present lease is five years.

"But I can tell you that we are already having discussions with officials of airport terminals in two other states regarding installing similar Skytels," Norman Panish said.

Just the Prescription

Grime and Panishment. It came about when a former pharmacist, traveling the world with his wife and observing weary wanderers in various airports, thought he might have just the prescription.

'Pretty Much Locked In'

"It was a scene we had been part of dozens of times," Norman Panish said. "A few years ago, Merle and I were returning here from Amsterdam, and we were supposed to have a one-hour layover in London Heathrow. But there were storms in New York, and the planes were late in getting in.

"Once you are inside customs, you are pretty much locked in. The layover became eight hours. People were dozing on the floors, or trying to be comfortable in seats, if you could find one."

By that year, he had already sold his four pharmacies in favor of a new career in real estate development. And at roughly the same time, the Department of Airports staff here had decided that its new international terminal was to include private space for sleeping and showering.

"An advertisement asking for proposals was placed in The Times, I was one of about 60 who responded, and I got the contract," the former pharmacist said.

And, lo, at the left entrance to the terminal on the upper departure level, behind a check-in counter, is what appears to be a futuristic, shiny aluminum railway car, doorways on either side of its neon-lit corridor leading to a pause that refreshes for weary travelers.

"Actually, the intended effect is more that of an airplane fuselage," Norman Panish explained. "Thus, passengers who are still carrying the feeling of being on a jetliner can adapt comfortably to their new surroundings.

"Also, the reason for the oval ceiling in each room is to create an illusion of spaciousness. A square room with level height would seem smaller."

Each of the 13 air-conditioned and soundproofed rooms (the last one is numbered 14) measures 6 by 13 1/2 feet.

Each rose-colored room contains a twin-size bed and bedding, a closet, a table hinged to the wall, an elevated 10-inch color TV set with remote control, an overhead reading light and smoke detector, an AM-FM clock radio, a telephone usable with credit cards (although card-less guests may reverse the charges through an outside operator), and a jack available for travelers carrying personal computers.

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