Sue Milne finds less is more in a room at Heathrow’s Yotel
BEAM me up, Scotty, I mutter under my breath as the door slides shut behind me and I step into a pool of purple light. At my back is the noise and chaos of Heathrow airport’s Terminal 4; ahead is a long, straight corridor. Apart from discreet doors leading off to the left and right, there is nothing (and nobody) to be seen. It is weird and, thanks mainly to the strange purple light that suffuses everything, quite unnerving.
After a few weeks wallowing in the gloriously bucolic English countryside at the height of summer, I am ripe for adventure so, clutching my suitcase in one hand and a Heathrow Yotel key card in the other, I set off to find my room in what must qualify as one of London’s most unusual hotels.
I find a number that matches my card and swing open the door to my standard room, although room doesn’t quite describe this space: capsule, perhaps, or berth, or even shoebox. It is tiny, with space for me or my suitcase, but probably not both. I struggle to lift the suitcase on to the bed and, letting go of the door, it slams shut behind me with a prison cell-like finality.
Momentary panic sets in: there is no mobile phone signal here and no phone connection to the outside world, only an intercom to the cheery chap at the checkin galley. I try the door and it opens. Panic over.
I have booked overnight accommodation on a friend’s recommendation, in the hope of a good night’s rest before catching an early morning flight to Australia. Shower, washbasin, toilet, bed, television and mirror: all the essentials for a short stay are here.
Suddenly the usual trappings of luxury hotels — a surfeit of pillows and cushions, signature toiletries, mood lighting, hectares of useless if tastefully carpeted floor space — seem superfluous. Adjusting to my surroundings, I manage to extract overnight essentials from my suitcase and wedge it upright between the shower screen and a tiny fold-down desk, which gives me a square metre of floor on which to stand.
I stretch out on the bed, which is rather like the berth on a yacht or a train. It is slightly wider than a conventional single and comfortable, with good-quality linen and pillows. On the wall at the foot of the bed is a flat-screen TV with a remote control. The remote, I discover, is the real key to a good time at Heathrow Yotel. Need a wake-up call, room service, internet access (a keyboard is provided), travel goods, one of 5000 tunes on a virtual jukebox or myriad television and radio stations? Just key in the appropriate code as explained in the welcome booklet. This does require some basic proficiency with a remote but most guests will manage. ( My mother, I fear, and others of her generation could find it all too difficult and quite possibly go hungry, or oversleep and miss their flight.)
It’s still early evening and I eschew the temptations of 24-hour room service (especially the Aberdeen Angus lasagne) and, feeling much braver now, boldly retrace my footsteps along the still-deserted corridor to the exit to emerge blinking from my purple-hued sanctuary into the real world.
Like most of Heathrow airport, Terminal 4 is undergoing refurbishment and the din of jackhammers resonates through the crowded halls, making pre-flight shopping in unexciting but handy stalwarts such as W. H. Smith and Boots not especially pleasurable.
Dining choices are limited; my only option for an inexpensive evening meal and a glass of wine is at Wetherspoons pub, on the mezzanine level adjacent to the Yotel. It’s an entirely forgettable meal and I am quite happy to retreat to my room.
Grappling with the remote, I program in a 6am wakeup call, slip between the sheets and turn off the light above the bed. But now there is a problem: the room is black as pitch. With no window to allow filtered light and no dimmer switch, the only choice is lights on or off. For claustrophobics, the Yotel experience could be pretty distressing. I turn off the light again, focus on a tiny green beam glowing on a fire alarm set in the ceiling and sleep wonderfully well.
Eight hours later, I’m showered, packed, checked-out and aboard the free shuttle train en route to Terminal 3 and a flight back to Sydney.
I feel rested, relaxed and I am only £80 ($200) poorer for my overnight stay, a snip compared with most airport hotels.
There are Yotels at Heathrow, Gatwick and Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Heathrow Yotel is on Terminal 4’s mezzanine level. Stay overnight or for a minimum of four hours, £25 ($62.30), between flights. Standard rooms at Heathrow are from about £80 for an overnight (12-hour) stay. Premium and twin rooms are also available. More: www.yotel.com.
Snug as a bug: A standard Yotel room at Heathrow