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The United States is not, historically, a bus-loving country. Its individualistic consumers love having their own cars, or at least their own ride-sharing account, ready to take them wherever they want to go, whenever they choose. In the U.S. national imagination, long-distance buses represent an unappealing form of transportation for people who have no other choice—those who are desperate, downtrodden, and living on the fringe.

But that hasn’t stopped several luxury bus lines from entering the market, determined to reshape the literal and figurative landscape.

One of them is Napaway, which runs overnight routes between Washington, D.C., and Nashville, Tenn. The buses, which hold 18 passengers, have seats that fold down into fully flat, 6.5-foot-long beds, each of which features foam mattresses, sheets, pillows, and blankets. Each passenger gets two seats—a window and an aisle—all to themselves. An attendant provides drinks and snacks. Passengers receive sleep masks, toothpaste, a toothbrush, ear plugs, and a disposable towelette. There’s working Wi-Fi.

The bathrooms (which might bring up trauma for anyone who has gone on a long-distance bus ride, forced to recall those dirty Porta Potties on wheels) not only have sinks with running water but fancy soap too. Passengers must be at least 8 years old, to ensure a calm and quiet environment. Prices start at $125 each way—not cheap, exactly, but less than most flights, plus eliminating consumers’ needs to deal with the headaches of airline delays, TSA, and crying babies.

Journalists writing for several major publications have waxed rhapsodic about trying out the Napaway bus ride. Writing for The New York Times, one reporter explained that, while drifting off to sleep, he “imagined this was how a baby nestled in a carriage feels.” When he woke around 7:00 a.m., he was “surprised by how refreshed I felt.” At the Washington Post, another Napaway venturer described her “delightful experience,” adding that “I hope more Americans get on board the trend.”

But just because these journalists chose Napaway as the inspiration for their article, that doesn’t mean it’s the only choice. The company has some competitors. Jet, which goes between New York City and Washington, D.C., bills itself as a “first-class travel experience that combines the luxury and personal space of a private jet with the affordability and convenience of a motorcoach.” Prices on Jet start at $99, for a much shorter ride. Red Coach, which has routes throughout Florida, is a little less luxurious but cheaper. Vonlane operates in Texas, along with initiating a new route between Nashville and Atlanta, and riders can get a Bloody Mary on board.

But of course the big question remains: Will these luxury buses succeed? Can they? Cabin, a luxury bus that ran between San Francisco and Los Angeles between 2017 and 2020, is out of business. It is not the most auspicious comparison, though for obvious reasons, 2020 could have been an unusually hard year to convince lots of people to cram into a tight space together, even one with comfortable seats that turn into beds.

According to Dan Aronov, the founder of Napaway, his company is not yet breaking even. But noting impending plans to expand Napaway’s routes, he also claims that profitability is coming, just down the road or along the bend. Ultimately, if all it takes to turn a profit is for customers to arrive at their destination on time, feeling well-rested and happy, then it seems like the luxury bus liners might be well on their way. At the end of the 11-hour drive, one Napaway passenger announced that she “would go anywhere on this bus.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can luxury bus lines succeed in the U.S. travel market? Why or why not?
  2. How would you market a luxury bus to U.S. consumers?
  3. What routes would you advise luxury bus companies to invest in, and why?

Sources: Maria Cramer, “Goodbye Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Hello, Luxury Bus?” The New York Times, October 19, 2022; Natalie B. Compton, “Don’t Like Flying? We Tried a Sleepover Bus from D.C. to Nashville.” Washington Post, October 16, 2022