AvGeek dream come true? What it’s like sleeping in the cockpit of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet hotel
The Boeing 747, affectionately known as the "Queen of the Skies," remains one of the most iconic symbols of commercial aviation. While the current number of these jets is dwindling thanks to more fuel-efficient twin-engine birds like the 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350, the 747 was once a mainstay of international travel.
Related: 50 years of the Boeing 747 in 11 photos
I have fond memories of flying this elegant wonder of modern engineering on the likes of Qantas, Asiana, Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines throughout my life. The pandemic, unfortunately, accelerated the retirement of many 747s across the globe. For instance, British Airways, which in 2019 was the world’s largest operator of this aircraft type, retired its entire fleet of the iconic aircraft in 2020.
Related: The Queen of the Skies is fading away: My fond memories of the British Airways 747
If you have ever flown in or out of Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) you may have noticed a Boeing 747 parked just outside the airport’s perimeter. It’s an airport hotel of sorts, providing a unique place to rest your head between flights.
The best room at this inn? The cockpit, which you can book for a once-in-a-lifetime #AvGeek experience.
Before we say goodbye to the Queen of the Skies, here is my experience sleeping in the cockpit of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
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The aircraft used for this unique hotel has a long and interesting history of flying for some of the world’s most famous airlines.
The Boeing 747-212N jetliner was built for Singapore Airlines as aircraft registration number 9V-SQE all the way back in 1976. It was eventually sold to Pan American World Airways, and in later years it operated passenger services for Cathay Pacific and Garuda Indonesia. It ended up in Sweden thanks to its last air operator, a Swedish charter airline called Transjet, which ceased operations in 2002. The 747 has remained at Arlanda Airport ever since.
In 2008, the aircraft was moved just outside of the airport perimeter and stripped for parts. Then, almost every part of it was converted into accommodations — from the aircraft engine casings to the cockpit — including suites, single rooms and dorm-style rooms.
As there were no airbridges near the aircraft’s new home, a set of permanent metal stairs (and even a lift) were installed on the left side of the aircraft before the Jumbo Stay Arlanda opened in late 2008.
Related: Boeing just received the order for the last 747s it will ever make
Jumbo Stay Arlanda calls itself a "hotel" but this is misleading. It is much more of a hostel than a hotel, and the prices largely reflect that. Don’t expect room service or a fitness center here.
For most guests, it is simply a cheap and convenient place to lay your head in between flights. Most of the rooms are very bare-bones, with dormitory-style accommodations and shared bathrooms.
Prices start from $44.57 (450 Swedish krona) per night for a bed in a four-bedroom female dormitory.
Expect to pay $118.36 (1,195 Swedish krona) for a single private room with an en suite bathroom.
I purposely chose to stay a night here because of the very best room on the plane — the original cockpit with its own private, en suite bathroom. It cost $197.60 (1,995 Swedish krona) booked directly through the hotel’s website. For the standard of accommodation provided, this would be fairly expensive. However, for an aviation fan, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was well worth the investment. What AvGeek wouldn’t want to sleep in a 747 cockpit surrounded by the original controls?
This unique accommodation is easy to reach from Arlanda Airport with the free ALFA shuttle bus that departs the airport terminals (stop 3) every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. to midnight. The bus stops directly outside the property, and it’s impossible to miss this huge aircraft perched on the side of the road.
Related: Finnair set to launch transatlantic flights to US and Asia from Stockholm
If you are returning to the airport the next day, you can take the same free bus in the other direction. If you don’t have heavy luggage and the weather is pleasant, you can also walk to or from the terminals in about 25 minutes.
From a distance, the aircraft looks beautiful. However, upon close inspection, it has a well-worn exterior with peeling paint and a lack of general maintenance. I assume the combination of pandemic shutdowns and low-profit margins as a hostel meant investing in upkeep was not a priority.
Before checking in, I took the opportunity to explore the exterior of the aircraft.
It was awesome to be able to walk the entire way around and underneath the bird to get a sense of just how massive this feat of aviation was.
Each of the four engine casings has been turned into a bedroom. These are small, poorly insulated rooms nowhere near a bathroom, so they're best reserved for true aviation fans. As much as I love the idea of this hotel, I would rather have a room in the main body of the aircraft than one of these tiny, fairly exposed engine rooms.
When booking any rooms, make sure you provide your phone number and email address; reception is only staffed for around five hours each day, and you’ll need a security code to enter the plane and collect your room key outside these hours. Fortunately, when I checked in around 3 p.m. the staff members were still on site. They were friendly and enthusiastic about their unique accommodation offering, especially after I told them my specific reasons for booking their best room.
Don’t be afraid to geek out if you’re an aviation fan — the staff welcomes it.
I loved how you could walk right out on one of the wings, where cafe tables and chairs were set up. Again, unfortunately, these were not in great condition.
How close was I to an active runway? Here’s a KLM Boeing 737 aircraft shortly after landing from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS).
I was a little disappointed to find there were no food, drinks or even staff available in the evenings given the fairly remote location. Fortunately, the Radisson Blu hotel directly across the road offers good quality food that is not outrageously priced (surprising because the restaurant has a captive audience and is located in notoriously expensive Scandinavia).
Breakfast the next morning is a basic help-yourself buffet in the nose of the aircraft on the main deck.
It’s nothing gourmet, with some muesli, cold cuts, coffee and bread available. Remember despite its name, this is very much a hostel and not a hotel. The retro dining space was really cool though, and I enjoyed viewing the memorabilia and reading about the history of the aircraft with a coffee in hand.
Related: A magical AvGeek experience: Flying on the Lufthansa Boeing 747-8’s upper deck
The basic hostel-style common areas and reduced service didn’t bother me at all, as I was there for the cockpit.
Upon checking in I learned I had the entire top deck to myself. The staff members told me I should keep the "no entry" sign and rope in place at the bottom of the spiral staircase on the main deck in place to ensure no other guests encroached on my private space.
Turning an aircraft into a hotel does create some unique problems, though. The first is that you will need to carry your own luggage into your room with you — it won’t be checked in and stored in the cargo hold below. The lift up to the main entrance was not working, so I had to lug my large suitcase up several flights to the entrance. The iconic spiral staircase up to the top deck is fun to pop up and down, but not fun when you have to carry a large suitcase up or down.
A post-retirement addition to the aircraft was plenty of heavy doors, including at the top of the spiral staircase and at the entrance of each accommodation room. This aircraft was built for curtains rather than heavy doors separating spaces so be aware that some open a little awkwardly.
On the top deck my room — the Cockpit Suite — sat to the right, and a seating area, which would have previously been a business- or first-class cabin when it was a working aircraft, was located on the left. I believe this area is often used by the hotel staff. However, with no staff on-site for most of the day, this space is open to Cockpit Suite guests (although this particular feature isn’t mentioned on the hotel’s website).
It was a fun trip down memory plane since my very first international business class flight was on the top deck of a Thai Airways Boeing 747. It was fun to try out some of these very retro — and still very plush and comfortable — first-class seats as I lounged about my own VIP top deck. I could even still see the seat rows written above the windows on each side of the cabin.
On to the main event.
All of the interior furniture and walls were removed from the cockpit of this 747 to allow space for a queen bed just behind the cockpit controls (with separate duvets, as is common in Northern Europe).
Fortunately, most of the controls in the cockpit have remained in place, including the two throttles which still move back and forth and side to side.
Related: These are the last Boeing 747s you can fly in the world
While the cockpit seats have been removed to maximize sleeping space, you can still sit on the edge of the mattress and live out your pilot fantasy. I’m not afraid to admit I spent a good 30 minutes in the captain’s seat flicking switches, turning things on and giving instructions to my imaginary co-pilot, crew and passengers.
I had no idea what I was doing, but it sure was fun.
There’s an orange curtain that can be pulled around most of the cockpit windows (another post-retirement installation, as you’d certainly hope pilots wouldn't close the curtains midflight to get some rest). Keep in mind that the sun rises very early and sets very late in Stockholm in the summer months, and the curtains don’t fit perfectly. If you're a light sleeper, you may be woken by the sun in the morning even with the curtains drawn.
Also, the windows on the aircraft don't open and there are no fans or air conditioning, so there isn’t much airflow throughout. It was only about 68 degrees on the day I checked in, but the cockpit was already quite warm by mid-afternoon. During Sweden’s colder months this won’t be a problem, but if you are staying in summer, you're in for a warm sleep. There’s also a weird television strapped over your head that doesn’t work. I don’t know why this hasn’t been removed as it provides more opportunities to bang your head than it does entertainment.
While the original pilots of this Boeing 747 did not have the luxury of an onboard, en suite bathroom with a shower (they were reserved for the A380), I did. At the rear of the cockpit is a decent-sized bathroom with a wet-room-style shower. This felt positively luxurious given I was in the cockpit of an aircraft and staying at a hostel.
Related: The man who put showers on the Airbus A380 is stepping down from Emirates
I slept well, and after a shower and breakfast the next morning, I was ready to head back to the terminal for my flight to Helsinki.
Related: Long-haul with no recline: A review of Finnair’s new business class on the A350-900 from Helsinki to Singapore
This was one of the most memorable nights of my life, and I absolutely loved this unique way to sleep. I wouldn’t want to stay there for a week because of the lack of amenities and space, not to mention that in the peak summer season it would be pretty hot up in the cockpit. However, it was an incredible experience for any aviation fan.
I miss the Queen of the Skies, and I am unlikely to ever fly it again given the rapidly dwindling numbers of 747 passenger aircraft still operating. If you do find yourself in Stockholm and want an entire top deck of a Boeing 747 to live out whatever aviation fantasy you might have, I highly recommend the Jumbo Stay Hotel Arlanda.