South Africa is very far away from British Columbia. It’s an amazing destination and worth it once you get there, but there’s no way to get around the fact that getting there takes a major time commitment. Most flights connect in Europe, so you basically have to fly nine hours east, then eleven hours south with a long layover in between. We were able to use our airline points to upgrade to business class on the way to Johannesburg and this allowed us use of the British Airways executive lounge on the way in. But on the return trip we were cattle car all the way, so I was eager to find a way to make the trip a little less miserable.
I had seen articles about the Yotel chain before, and it seemed like an interesting idea. It is a modern take on the capsule hotel, located right inside Heathrow airport, with tiny rooms that were rentable for as little as four hours at a time. The website showed pictures of snug, modern little cabins and it seemed like it might be just the thing to make our eight hour layover in London a little more bearable. I booked a “standard” cabin for six hours and it came to $80 Cdn, which seemed like a reasonable indulgence on such a long trip.
Arriving at the Yotel was simple; we took the shuttle from terminal 5, where our flight arrived, to terminal 4. We probably saved a bit of time by going through customs after switching terminals since there was a huge backup at customs in terminal 5,but almost no one in line when we arrived at terminal 4. We took an escalator up one level and were right at the hotel desk where it only took a minute to check in. You could get free tea or coffee which you could pick up at reception or have delivered to your cabin which was nice after landing from a long flight.
I have to say, the room itself was tiny. The website has pictures and floorplans for each cabin type and they aren’t trying to mislead you on the room size, but it’s hard to really visualize how small it is until you’re there. When you walk in, there’s a space about two by four feet where you can stand. To one side is a bathroom that’s about two feet wide and six feet long with a glass wall and a shower curtain dividing it from the rest of the room. On the other side is a sort of portal with a twin bed, but it’s only half the height of the room. ours was a “bottom bunk” so I assume the one beside us was an “upper bunk”. Once you crawl in it’s very comfortable, maybe a few inches wider than a standard twin with a reading light and a television at the foot of the bed. The wifi is included and there’s a small desk that folds out of the wall, but this takes up pretty much all of the floor space in the room when it’s up.
We found that it suited our purposes quite well; we were able to freshen up, change and relax and enjoy some privacy. The bed was roomy enough for both of us to lounge and rest, although it would have been too tight for a restful night’s sleep. The cabin could have used a bit more soundproofing. We could hear the thumps of doors closing in the hallway and the pipes made quite a bit of noise. This wasn’t really an issue for just dozing during the day, but if I was trying to get a solid night’s sleep it would have been annoying. And finally, it is definitely not a good option for anyone with claustrophobia, or anyone who is, to put it as politely as possible, “plus sized”. The standard cabin was just big enough for two, but would really only work if those two people were a couple. Besides standard cabins, they also offer “premium” cabins, which are significantly larger and have a proper double bed, and “twin” cabins, which have two bunks and a little more floor space. These cabins are about 1.5 times the price of the standard. This could be well worth the money for people who want a little less “capsule” and a little more “hotel”.
And finally, I have to say that while Yotel Heathrow is a great option for singles and couples, it’s not really the most family friendly place. Maximum occupancy for all rooms is two and there are no connecting rooms. With young kids the only option would be to get two cabins and pair up with one child and one adult in each room, which wouldn’t be the most restful way to spend a layover. If I had a long wait at Heathrow with the kids I would be checking out the other, unfortunately more expensive, dayroom options.
So is it worth it? We felt that it was. And when I’m halfway through a 30 hour trip I’ll take any little comfort that I can.