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Goodbye Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Hello, Luxury Bus?


John Rosenberg found a last-minute flight for $200 last month from Washington, D.C., to Nashville to see Pearl Jam. But flights home were $600 and there was no easy solution to take the train.

Mr. Rosenberg began trying to find buses online. He discovered Napaway, an organization that promised premium overnight accommodations on an 18-passenger bus with seats that fold right into a flat bed and are available with a pillow and plush blanket.

The week before, Mr. Rosenberg and his friends had spent 18 hours at Midway Airport in Chicago after they were bounced off their connecting flight to Washington. He spent the night cold and slept a complete of 45 minutes within the airport chapel before security kicked him out.

The Napaway, Mr. Rosenberg reasoned, couldn’t be worse. And at the least he can be traveling, not waiting.

He booked the flight to Nashville and a ticket home on the Napaway for $125.

“My friends were all making fun of me,” Mr. Rosenberg, 47, said. “You’re going to spend 11 hours on a luxury bus?”

He was.

On a Sunday night, after spending the weekend in Nashville, Mr. Rosenberg joined five other passengers, including me, on the Napaway, which in June began taking travelers forwards and backwards from Washington to Nashville.

The corporate, and other premium bus corporations prefer it, are betting that Americans will abandon the image of the rumbling, cramped bus because the transport of last resort for the cash-strapped and embrace long-haul coach travel.

Giant sleeper buses have been a staple of travel in parts of Latin America and Asia for a long time. But in the US, the concept has never taken hold, despite our vast highway system. Around 2017, Cabin, a two-story bus with beds tucked into private pods, began taking passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco for overnight trips, but stopped in 2020. Gaetano Crupi, the founding father of Cabin, declined to comment on why the service ended.

More successful have been high-end coach services that supply shorter journeys, like Red Coach, Vonlane and the Jet, a 14-seat bus that ferries people from Metro Center in Washington to Hudson Yards in Manhattan.

They advertise seats that recline far back, high-speed Wi-Fi and a sense that regardless that you’re technically on an intercity bus, you’re on a refined, affordably priced journey, said Andisheh Ranjbari, an assistant professor of travel behavior at Penn State.

“You don’t see the word bus anywhere within the advertisements,” she said. “They are saying it’s a first-class luxury experience.”

Napaway is the one “fully flat” sleeper bus within the country, said Dan Aronov, the corporate’s founder and chief executive. He’s aware that many travelers could also be skeptical of taking a 10- to 11-hour bus ride when a flight from Washington to Nashville takes lower than two hours.

He responds by mentioning how miserable the airport experience may be. Flying is quicker, but a passenger will still spend several hours attending to the airport, going through security after which waiting on the gate. And that’s assuming a flight just isn’t delayed, Mr. Aronov said.

Contrast that have with traveling while lying on a memory foam mattress pad and snuggling under a blanket, he said.

“You were going to spend seven to eight hours asleep,” Mr. Aronov said. “Now you’re just doing it in motion.”

Paradoxically, it was corporations like Megabus and BoltBus, which offered $1 rides and curbside pickup within the early a part of the 2000s, that paved the way in which for premium coach travel, said Joseph Schwieterman, professor of public service at DePaul University in Chicago and director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, which studies intercity bus travel.

Those corporations renewed interest in intercity bus travel and spurred more innovation and investment, he said.

Now, as train service stays elusive in much of the South and air travel continues to frustrate travelers, it is feasible the “stars have aligned” for premium coach travel, Professor Schwieterman said.

Premium coach lines have significantly fewer overhead costs than rail and particularly airlines, which have much higher fuel costs and want a “small army” of employees to operate, he said.

Against this, a premium bus requires a crew of 1 to 2 drivers and maybe one attendant, which implies that even when an organization sells fewer than half of its seats on a visit, it could actually still cover its costs, as long as it doesn’t lower fares to compete with conventional bus lines, Professor Schwieterman said.

Mia Reed, a singer from Brooklyn who found trains too costly and airplanes inconvenient, said she was desperate to discover a luxury bus that may take her to go to her parents in Fredericksburg, Va., after having “nightmare” experiences on other bus rides.

Ms. Reed, 29, said she learned in regards to the Jet on Instagram and TikTok, where videos showed wide seats, powered by “motion-canceling technology.”

Booking online was easy, and the Jet was “beautiful” and “a bit of bit higher organized” than an peculiar bus, Ms. Reed said. An attendant got here by regularly throughout the four-hour trip to ascertain on passengers and pass out snacks, coffee, wine and soda.

“It’s meant to feel like a non-public jet experience,” said Chad Scarborough, the corporate’s founder and chief executive. “Hence the name the Jet.”

Still, buses have a difficult place within the American imagination. Weird Al Yankovic warned us of them in “One other One Rides the Bus,” his parody of Queen’s “One other One Bites the Dust.” In movies, as a rule, they’re used as settings to point out the protagonists at their most annoyed, imperiled or dead. After I told relatives that I can be riding an overnight bus to Nashville, one in every of them suggested I carry a pocketknife.

I arrived in Washington on Friday to catch the Napaway with my friend Theresa.

We found the bus at 9:30 p.m. on the designated meeting spot — a well-lit parking zone on L Street NE near the Wunder Garten, an out of doors beer garden where Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the united statesA.” blared from the speakers and the sound of laughter wafted over the fence.

We were joined by three other passengers: Ammie Conner, an 80-year-old retiree who was visiting her grandson in Nashville; Guillerma Saltano, a shy, 50-year-old woman from the Dominican Republic; and Catherine Lee, a 50-year-old graduate student studying social work.

We gawked on the bus, an infinite black coach with a galaxy of stars painted on the side. Inside, there have been 36 seats, two for every passenger, that convert into flat, kind of S-shaped beds.

Ms. Conner, who sky-dived for the primary time at 70 and went zip lining at 80, said she booked the bus “for the novelty of it.”

She said when she told a friend in regards to the bus, the friend replied, “‘What an amazing idea for a bachelorette party.’” But rowdy partygoers run counter to the ethos of the Napaway, which asks passengers to refrain from loud talking or playing their devices out loud.

Nobody under 8 can ride the Napaway, said Mr. Aronov. The Jet, which charges fares starting at $99 for a one-way ticket, has an age minimum of 6.

“I’m very sympathetic to oldsters,” Mr. Aronov said. “But straight away, for the comfort of the opposite passengers, we’ve an age minimum.”

Mr. Aronov, 29, said he selected Nashville since it’s a busy urban hub popular with tourists in an area of the country with few public transit options.

Mr. Aronov, an Oxford University graduate who worked at Barclays Investment Bank and Loews Corp., said he began Napaway with the assistance of “individual” investors, not large institutions. He declined to say how much it cost to start out Napaway but said the corporate just isn’t breaking even yet.

“It’s a recent concept and it takes time for the word to get out,” Mr. Aronov said.

He’s hoping so as to add more routes — passengers have requested trips from Washington to Atlanta, Recent York and Boston. The bus has added stops in Knoxville on the Washington-Nashville route and in November will add Wednesday and Thursday to the weekly schedule.

Travelers have ranged in ages from 9 to 93, Mr. Aronov said.

Mr. Aronov joined us on my trip — he said he tries to ride the Napaway as much as possible. Because the bus pulled away, he described the right way to lower the seats and pull down the black privacy screen. Each passenger received a sleep mask, toothpaste and a small toothbrush, ear plugs, and a disposable towelette.

Ms. Saltano struggled along with her privacy screen and Mr. Aronov rushed to assist her. She burrowed under her blanket, checked out her phone for a couple of minutes, then quickly fell asleep.

I lowered my seats, laid the mattress down, curled into the fetal position and drifted off to sleep, wondering if someone over 6 feet tall can be as comfortable. (Mr. Aronov said the beds are long enough that anyone as much as 6 foot 4 inches tall should have the ability to lie flat without having to curve up their knees.)

I woke up briefly at 2 a.m. If anyone was snoring, I couldn’t hear it over the soft whirring of the engine and the rumbling wheels. The bus jostled, however the rocking motion was lulling. As I drifted back to sleep, I imagined this was how a baby nestled in a carriage feels.

I awoke at 7, surprised by how refreshed I felt.

The bus dropped us off in downtown Nashville, where my friend and I spent about 36 hours — loads of time to go to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and RCA Studio B, catch live music at Rudy’s Jazz Room, and overeat at Biscuit Love, Peg Leg Porker and Monnel’s.

I met Mr. Rosenberg, the Pearl Jam fan, on the ride back to Washington, where we were joined by Ms. Conner, Ms. Lee and Mr. Aronov.

The trip home was as peaceful because the trip down. An accident on Interstate 81 created a five-mile backup around 5 a.m., delaying our arrival by about an hour.

Nobody seemed annoyed.

“I might go anywhere on this bus,” Ms. Conner said, as she stretched and rose from her seat.

Mr. Rosenberg said he slept well — about 4 hours, a typical night’s sleep for him.

“This was incredible,” he told Mr. Aronov as he stepped off the bus and shook his hand. “Most comfortable I’ve ever been on a bus.”

I asked Mr. Rosenberg if he would ride the Napaway again.

Yes, he said, but provided that a one-way plane ticket cost greater than $300.

  • Tickets on the Napaway start at $125 each way. The Napaway travels from Washington to Nashville, with stops in Knoxville. It currently leaves only on Friday (with plans so as to add Wednesday and Thursday) at 10 p.m. from 180 L St NE in Washington and arrives in Nashville at 8 a.m. Central time the next day. The bus will drop you off at 421 Rep. John Lewis Way N, about half a mile from Broadway.

  • The Napaway leaves Nashville on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and, barring unexpected traffic, returns to Washington the next day at 7:30 a.m. If you may have time before meeting the bus and feel like spending $15 to $18 on a cocktail, stop for a drink at Skull’s Rainbow Room, a bar and restaurant with friendly, expert bartenders that may be a 7-minute walk from Napaway’s meeting spot.

  • There aren’t any snacks on the Napaway, though every passenger gets a bottle of water. The bus has free Wi-Fi fast enough to stream Netflix or Hulu on your personal device. Napaway offers a free online library of films like “The Joker” and “Ratatouille.”

  • There’s a toilet on board, however it is tiny, so wear clothes you’re comfortable sleeping in or use your privacy screen to get modified at your personal seat. The bus stops twice briefly, once for pickup and drop-off in Knoxville and for roadside rest stops. The hope, said Mr. Aronov, is you won’t notice because “you’ll be fast asleep.”

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