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A single room at the Pod Hotel.

Pods in the iconic Capsule Hotel Inn in Osaka, Japan.

If you trust Russian President Vladimir Putin (I know, I know, the Super Bowl ring, his old job, but just go with it for now), former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is reportedly in Moscow’s airport, kinda like how Tom Hanks was stranded in transit in the 2004 movie “The Terminal.”

Snowden believed to be seeking asylum in Ecuador. But it could be months before a decision is made and he’s able to leave. If you’re carrying several laptops packed with government secrets, you can’t exactly stretch out on a terminal bench to get some sleep. Luckily for Snowden, Moscow’s airport has a capsule hotel, where travelers can rent very, very tiny rooms for a few hours at a time. Or longer, as he may need.

The phrase capsule hotel conjures up the image of ridiculously tiny Japanese lodgings, where guests crawl into cubbyholes and sleep on thin mattresses. That’s not what’s on offer at the newer capsule hotels. They expand on the Japanese concept by adding private bathrooms, a modicum of floor space and often desks, phones and other (very modest) amenities.

This new breed of hotels -- which some proprietors refer to as European-style capsules to distinguish them from their wee Japanese forebears -- are popping up in airports around the world, offering flyers with long layovers a private place to sleep. They’re also in major cities, allowing budget travelers to get hotels in prime locations at relatively low prices, so long as they’re willing to cram into sometimes comically diminutive rooms. I checked out a new pod hotel in New York to see how Snowden may be snoozing.

The lobby of Pod 39 in midtown gives no hint it’s a capsule hotel. It looks sleek and modern, like a cool new boutique. The restaurant is packed with hipster bait: fancy tacos, complex cocktails, attractive young staff.

But take the elevator up to the room, and it’s clearly a capsule.

The hotel showed me pod with bunk beds, available for $195 on the day I visited, far cheaper than a typical Manhattan hotel. And far smaller also, at about 110 square feet. That’s practically palatial compared to the tiniest rooms there. They’re a mere 65 square feet and currently sold out.

Snowden would appreciate the amenities at Pod 39. A sturdy safe can fit several data-rich laptops. A shower will refresh after a sleepless night in a cold sweat. And there are plenty of pillows. Snowden lined his Hong Kong hotel door with pillows to foil eavesdroppers.

“We ration two pillows per person, but we always have more in case you need more pillows,” hotel general manager Scott Yo assures me.

There’s also free Wi-Fi, so Snowden could leak to his heart’s content.

But capsule hotels aren’t made for people to hole up in for long. Back in the lobby, guest Jim Vondracek shudders at the thought.

“There’s definitely a cell-like aspect, because the walls are very close to you,” he says.

Despite that and hitting his head a couple times as he negotiated the tight quarters, Vondracek says he enjoyed his three-night stay.

The hotel’s developers didn’t originally expect to attract many business travelers like him. But they’re finding execs and backpackers alike don’t mind the size tradeoff to get a good location and price.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

Pods in the iconic Capsule Hotel Inn in Osaka, Japan.

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