The Park Lane is located near the Green Park tube station. It’s a close enough walk to some major tourist attractions, including the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery.
You can see evidence of the changes done once you step into the lobby- gone are the depressing Sheraton floors and decor, and instead you have a more stylish design that is clearly trying to evoke comparisons with a boutique hotel.
To get to the check-in area from the main entrance you need to cut through the lobby bar. Again, you can see the Great-Gatsby esque theme they were trying to go for here. Kind of like a shout out to the hotel’s 1920s roots.
The hotel check in area has also received a makeover, with fresh carpet and decorative bookshelves.
As a platinum, I got upgraded to an Art Deco suite, which as far as I can tell is a slightly larger room with more hipster furnishing
There was a digital alarm clock with two USB charging ports on the bedside.
And I’m glad to see these phones are appearing in more and more hotels. It makes sense for both sides- advertisers can hawk their wares to guests, and guests get free internet plus recommendations for restaurants and the like.
The work desk was large
There’s a Nespresso machine in the room as well, together with some complimentary water.
The bathroom had two sinks and plenty of counter space.
The shower and tub were in a separate room within the bathroom itself.
If Sheraton really wants to give its brand a boost they need to look into better quality toiletries. I’m sure many entry-level luxury brands would jump at the chance to partner with a chain that has the reach of Sheraton.
Breakfast is served in the club lounge and is complimentary for platinum members. I waltzed past the unattended desk..
Breakfast definitely leans towards the continental side of things
But there are still 3 hot items every day that rotate on a daily basis.
Where food quality is concerned, the breakfast isn’t anything to shout about. On the first day it was scrambled eggs, mushrooms and bangers.
On the second they replaced scrambled eggs with fried ones and the mushrooms with waffles.
There’s plenty of seating in the lounge and I never saw it completely filled. I didn’t see the happy hour offerings either, for that matter, as I was frequently out of the hotel. Come on, it’s London.
And for settling business, there are two computer terminals plus a printer
The internet in the hotel clonked out completely for half a day during the time I was there. This is the same thing that happened last time round, and the staff at the front desk were powerless to do anything other than ask for patience as the provider tried to fix it.
And that’s the thing about Sheratons. On the whole, the hotel was fine, it really was. But somehow I just felt it couldn’t shake off the Sheraton tag, no matter how hard it tried. Maybe it was the cheap toiletries, or the remnants of the marble floors in the lobby. Maybe it was the all-too-familiar Sheraton design on the keycards, or the fact that things break down once every so often. Marriott has realised that the Sheraton brand has major consumer perception problems, as there’s a handful of really bad properties that have created a stank around the entire brand. The Park Lane Sheraton is clearly one of the better Sheratons out there, but you can still sense shadows of the overall Sheraton brand lurking in the background.
That said, the Park Lane Sheraton was still light years ahead of the Westin Paris, where I was headed to next…
Given the bad press that a lot of American carriers get, it’s understandable if you don’t have high expectations going in. I mean, you half expect to get beaten up and dragged off, shouted at by some union-protected crew member or suffer permanent circulatory damage after being compressed by a seatmate of size. It’s grim, I know.
But US carriers are investing heavily in their hard products.
We’ve seen United’s new Polaris seat, which unfortunately won’t be mainstream for a very, very long time, and we’ve seen Delta’s new BusinessFirst suites, which beat everyone else to the title of “first business class seat with a door”
Whether or not that leads to a commensurate improvement in the quality of the soft product is up for debate, but if nothing else you’ll at least be able to get a good night’s sleep after the cabin crew make the pagro announcement that “we’re here primarily for your safety”.
American Airlines hasn’t been slacking off either, installing new full flat seats across their long-haul fleet. It can be a bit confusing knowing what you’ll get when you fly long haul AA because they offer several different types of seats in business class. But this article will hopefully set you straight.
Today I was going with the Zodiac business class seats, found aboard select 777-200 aircraft and all 787-8s. As you can see from the Seatguru map above, they’re a bit odd in that you have one seat facing forward alternating with one seat facing backwards. I’m not clear on what benefits this design has- it’s presumably not to optimize privacy, since you will occasionally make eye contact with the person facing backwards especially during takeoff and landing when your seat isn’t reclined. Perhaps it’s then to maiximize the number of seats they can squeeze into the cabin? Again, that doesn’t sound right to me, given that each seat’s footprint is roughly the size of your standard reverse herringbone.
Whatever the case my first impressions of the seat were favorable. Occasional eye contact with the opposite-facing passenger aside, the ears around the seat gave it good privacy from the aisle. The seat is on the narrow side, but that’s not a problem for fun-sized Asians like us.
Here’s my seat, 3L
Note the potential for awkwardness with the person in the seat infront of you when you stand up.
Where seat controls are concerned, you can either adjust your seat from the side digital panel
Or from the side panel (see those two small buttons in the right hand corner with full upright and full flat icons on them)
On the side panel was also where you’d find the entertainment system controller and a reading light. I’m not the biggest fan of this type of control system because I normally find it prone to hanging, but it worked ok for me this time.
Each seat had a little storage nook with 2 USB ports and 2 power outlets.
American Airlines offers Cole Haan amenities kits in business class. These bags have a nicely woven texture to them at the base, which reminded me (slightly) of Bottega.
The contents- headphone covers, socks, CO Bigelow hand cream, a single-serve of (sadly non-alcohol free) mouthwash, facial tissues, a sleep mask, a dental kit and a $75 off a $250 or more purchase at Cole Haan. I can’t decide if that’s a good deal or not.
American also offers Bose QC-15 headphones in business class. That’s much better than what a lot of other airlines offer in first. I do hope airlines switch to QC-35s soon because wireless headphones would be a nice innovation for most carriers. No more wires to get tangled up in or knock over your drinks. And you could always hardwire them so they’d only work with IFE systems to dissuade theft. Or you could even collect them before landing. I normally get annoyed when that happens, but if it means wireless headphones…
Pre-departure drink orders were taken, and thankfully, served in proper glasses. I could be wrong, but I think American Airlines serves the same stuff on the ground (Nicolas Feuillatte) and in the air. If so, kudos for them for not going cheap (although that said, Nicolas Feuillatte isn’t what I’d call top tier)
Menus were distributed by the crew. I’ve come to notice that it’s Asian airlines that give out really thick, multi-page menus (where most of the length is contributed by the drinks list) in premium cabins. Western airlines, on the other hand, tend to give out slimmer, thinner menus. Gotta save fuel everywhere, I suppose.
I honestly wasn’t feeling any of the meal selections for dinner. It was only one week into my RTW trip and I was already missing Chinese food. It was going to be a long 5 more weeks…
A short breakfast would be served before landing, but I decided against it because of the American Airlines arrival lounge in LHR, which I was keen to explore.
(Side note: has anyone ever done a hierarchy of champagne? I tried searching online for one but can’t find anything. I know that within a champagne house you can have cheap and expensive offerings, but I’m curious if there’s a generalized ranking in the way you could potentially rank luxury watch houses. If there were, I think houses like Cattier, Nicolas Feuillatte, Duval Leroy, Canard-Duchene would be near the base of the pyramid. I say this purely based on their airline associations- you don’t see any of the 4.5/5 Star airlines serving these brands…)
I think this is where a lot of padding happens in SQ’s menu. I remember SQ having a few pages for teas, coffees, spirits, juices etc. American crams them on one page.
Straight after takeoff, the crew came around to take dinner orders and check if we wanted to be awoken for breakfast. They didn’t address any of the passengers by name, but it wasn’t because they were surly or anything. It was more of a folksy service, with plenty of “y’all”s to be heard.
While awaiting the festivities, I pawed through the IFE. There was a good selection of recent movies. Airplane time is my catch up with movie time.
The IFE system also lets you order food and drinks
Keep in mind that I was on a red-eye JFK-LHR flight. On these business-heavy routes, sleep is everything. I was very interested to see how fast the crew would finish meal service, and I wasn’t disappointed…
Within 20 minute after the seatbelt sign had been turned off, the crew came around with table cloths. American’s table cloths are a bit undersized, if you see what I mean.
After 30 minutes, drinks were served along with warmed nuts
At the 40 minute mark, dinner was served. I opted for the prawns for dinner. The entire meal, starter, salad and main, came on one tray.
At first I thought “ah, lazy American service”. And then paused and thought about it a bit. On SQ’s supper flights, they’d serve drinks and nuts first, then the starter, then the main, then desert, then bring around the fruits and cheese. By the time you’re done with eating and waiting between courses, that’s easily 90+ min of rest gone. And on a red-eye, barely 7 hour flight, that’s not insignificant.
So the one tray concept makes sense. Serving everything on one tray just makes sense for late night flights. People get everything at once, the crew can focus on quickly clearing trays and getting desert out to those who want it.
Here’s the prawns- they’re breaded in something or other and came with a sweet sauce. I discarded the exterior and went for the goodness within.
The salad was a mixture of kalette (that’s a real thing now?) and saffron orzo. It had Kalamata olives, pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta. I did not partake.
The “small plate” was melon manchego carpaccio with lime.
I ate quickly, and the crew patrolled the aisles regularly to clear away anyone who finished quickly so that they could get to bed. I was done with my meal by the 50 minute mark but that’s because I didn’t really fancy it.
After my main plate was cleared, I was asked if I wanted desert. I said yes, and B&J’s strawberry cheesecake ice cream materialized.
Finished ice cream. Plate cleared. Barely 60 minutes on the clock since seatbelt sign switched off. I was impressed.
Last thing to do before lights out- check out the loo.
I quite like the sink that AA has installed on their aircraft. I wish SQ could have nice sinks too.
I think I’ve figured it out. Outie sinks- classy. Innie sinks- not classy. Look at SQ’s suites sink. Innie. Pffffttt.
The loo had nice wood finishings, but it looked like someone forgot to put the amenities inside.
I mean, there were facial tissues. But where’s the aftershave etc?
Keeping in line with what’s on the ground, CO Bigelow hand soap is the order of the day in the loo.
I turned my own bed down and got ready to rest.
And here’s my main problem with the seat- it rocks. Let me explain. AA’s new seats are paired, in the sense that seats are physically connected to each other. So 2A and 3A are paired, 1L and 2L are paired etc. It’s been documented elsewhere that the paired design of AA’s new business class seats mean that if your seat partner is the rocking sort, you’re going to feel it in your seat. And my seat partner in 4L was indeed a rocker. It boggles the mind that this problem wasn’t spotted in the testing phase. Won’t call it a deal breaker, but still…
Rocking aside, I slept very well and woke up just 30 minutes before landing. What I like about AA (as opposed to SQ) is that they’re serious about maximising rest. Those who wanted a light breakfast could get up really close to landing, unlike SQ which insists on turning on the cabin lights full blast at the 2 hour mark. Why, I don’t understand. Those who didn’t, weren’t disturbed until absolutely the last minute.
Before landing, immigration cards, an ad for the arrivals lounge and most importantly, a fast track immigration pass, were distributed (LHR immigration had crazy long lines when I landed).
Overall, AA’s new business class seat is a great product- not in the league of an SQ/ANA/EVA Air but definitely more than what I was expecting of a US airline. The seat rocking thing is really annoying, but it is what it is. And it could be a good way to meet chiobu.
I’m sorry you don’t get to see what breakfast offerings there were on the plane, but when you see what the arrivals lounge has to offer you might also decide against eating onboard…
I had a choice of flying directly from Boston to London via BA, but chose instead to take a 50 minute flight to JFK just so I could fly AA.
Why? Three reasons.
First, BA’s business class product is, well, bad. With high-density 2-4-2 seating it’s more akin to a dorm than a true business class product.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking forward to this arrangement, even if it’s only temporary during takeoff and landing. Five minutes of eye contact is plenty, thank you.
But don’t worry! British Airways is launching a new business class product...in 2019. BA is fortunate that its home base is the golden goose of air traffic. There’s no way it could survive having a product like this otherwise. In the meantime I’d give BA airline a wide berth. Unlike the squeezy 2-4-2 it gives its customers.
Second, JFK-LHR is one of the most lucrative business routes in the world, which means (BA aside) you’ll always find the latest airline cabins and products on these routes. And why not. It connects two of the world’s most important cities with a high volume of commercial and leisure travel. AA has a 1-2-1 configured full flat business class 777 aircraft plying this route.
Third, and probably related to the second, AA has just opened its spanking new Flagship lounge at JFK. I know, I know. Lounges in the US are normally the very definition of average. My domestic lounge experience so far has been fruit, water/juice dispensers, biscuits, cheese and more fruit. And a paid bar.
Check-in at JFK Terminal 8 was a disaster. There were a grand total of 3 counter positions open for First and Business Class passengers, and a very long line. 2 of the 3 counter positions were having long, drawn out discussions with passengers who had missed their flights. The lady at the third counter disappeared to resolve something or other. Therefore, the priority line didn’t move at all for close to 40 minutes.
People around me were cursing, complaining and grumbling aloud. More than a few missed their flights. Common sense was in short supply amongst the counter staff- was it really worth it to make so many people miss their flights so they could re accommodate two? In fact, one member of the staff was just waiting on hold on the phone, talking to AA customer service. It was surreal. The situation wasn’t made any better by people trying to join the lines around the side to cut into the queue.
Unfortunately, common sense was also in short supply amongst us, the passengers. For 40 minutes, no one thought of going to fetch the area manager (at least I can claim Asian shyness). Finally, someone did, and the manager pretty much said there was nothing he could do about it.
I arrived at the priority queue 3 hours ahead of time, and finally got attended to at the 2 hour mark. A subsequent complaint email to AA yielded this response.
We are disappointed to learn about the unsatisfactory level of service provided at our ticket counter in JFK as you checked in for your flight with us. Meeting the highest expectations of our customers is our primary goal and we are sorry we failed to deliver the level of service you expect and certainly deserve from us.
In an effort to enhance the service levels and to expedite the check-in process for our passengers, strict adherence to staffing levels and a more equitable allocation of personnel is indeed essential. Your observations with regard to the lines and shortage of agents available for assistance with check in at the counter have been reviewed with the Passenger Service Managers responsible for this area of our operation.
We value your opinion of our service and appreciate your business. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to address your valid concerns and to correct the service issues you mentioned. We look forward to serving you again soon.
In other words-
But enough of that- the new AA Flagship lounge awaited! The lounge is just after security, and confusingly is still labelled “Admirals Club”. FYI, Admirals Club is a different kind of AA lounge that is more akin to a domestic lounge in terms of experience quality. The whole reason AA came up with the Flagship Lounge concept was to try and create a differentiated ground product.
I made it up the lift to reception, where the lady on duty scanned my boarding pass. I asked her if the new flagship lounge had officially opened yet and she said no, but she’d give me a one-time exception and send me there instead of the Admirals lounge.
This confused me- it was well within my access rights to enter the Flagship lounge, as an international business class passenger on AA. I mean, if I were flying business class on a Oneworld partner carrier, or economy with a Oneworld Emerald/Sapphire card then maybe…but I thought my case was as clear cut as they come. So I just nodded and said thanks, but I’m 100% convinced she was wrong about that.
Turning left after reception sends you down a long passageway towards the Flagship lounge.
The official opening definitely hasn’t happened yet, as you can see from the presence of construction tape and cones within the lounge (why would you need cones? Is there heavy vehicular traffic in the corridors?)
That said, completed or not, the lounge is simply stunning. Lots of bright, natural light, full length glass windows giving a great view of the tarmac, classy furniture. Was this really an American airline lounge?
There were also numerous TV watching areas
There are several private work cubbyholes, some with computers and some without. All with powerpoints and USB outlets.
If you can’t snag one of those, don’t worry because there are plenty more individual seats where people can get work done.
If you fancy taking a nap, I believe I stumbled upon the nap room as well. It’s strange because all the lights were off at first, but when I opened the door and stepped inside the motion sensors turned on all the lights. Do you really want that happening in a nap room?
Again, no shortage of outlets. There were outlets in every arm rest, every wall. It was two cars in every garage stuff.
I also noticed a blocked off area that I presume will become the First Class dining room when the Flagship lounge officially opens. I think it’ll sort of be like TPR in Singapore, with a separate reception that only ticketed First Class passengers can get past.
Other more reputable bloggers have already been invited to review the new AA First Class dining experience, and you can read some reports on that here and here.
The common dining area has a combination of high chairs and communal tables
As well as regular chairs and private tables
And something I will just call the long bar (table).
I love the central display they have at the heart of the lounge with the wine and champagne selections. Because that’s where champagne should be. At the center of everything.
Even better, I like that they didn’t go for some cheap “California Champagne” Korbel or even a prosecco. They went with proper champagne. I think Bollinger is a very solid choice for a business class lounge, much more so for a US airline.
There was an assortment of other whites and reds too.
Elsewhere you could find a wide range of hard liquors
And a special make your own cocktail section with instructions on how to do an Old Fashioned.
There was a fancy coffee machine with a digital display.
And a soda dispenser with a digital display. Never has loading your body with sugar been more fun. I’m sure you could, with the right tools, hack that sucker to start playing Doom.
The fridge had beer, juice and soda. You know what told me AA didn’t go cheap on drinks? The fact that the water was in Aqua Panna and San Pellegrino glass bottles, and that they had cans of San Pellegrino sparkling orange and lemon. No Dasani nonsense here. This was the life.
And to wrap it all up, someone had thrown a pile of veggies into water and called it healthy.
The food selection was just as impressive, with an extensive selection of hot and cold items.
There were two bread baskets and two soups available, one oriental and one western.
A selection of cold noodles, roast beef and other cold cuts.
A platter of grilled veggies plus these interesting little prawn cocktail shooters and lightly seasoned crabmeat with microgreens. Yes, microgreens are a thing now.
For the mains, there was baked salmon and chicken
Mashed potatoes and greens
What impressed me the most wasn’t just the quantity of food, but the quality too. The chicken and salmon were both cooked perfectly, unlike the usual dry chicken and salmon you’d expect from a mass cooked production line style buffet.
Yes, I tried to take Instagram worthy photos. That’s a much better picture of the prawn cocktail shooter and the crabmeat salad with microgreens.
The only fly in the ointment was the unadorned desert section. It looks like the deserts just weren’t ready for prime time. Protip for AA: when in doubt, serve ice cream.
Wifi speeds in the lounge were excellent. It could be because the lounge wasn’t particularly crowded when I visited though. The lounge has very solid work credentials, what with the abundance of power outlets, fast wifi and free flow of champagne.
Afterwards I wanted to check out the bathroom facilities. The lounge has a total of 8 showers, hidden behind a very ordinary-looking door.
I was surprised to see there was no receptionist at the shower area. Normally you’d expect there’d be a person there to assign cubicles, radio the cleaners to come when someone was done and manage a waitlist if needed. Just as well all 8 units were free so I had my pick of the proverbial litter.
I helped myself to cubicle 8. Because I’m crap at photography, I’m going to steal one of Ben’s photos from his Flagship Lounge review.
I was surprised to see the toilet wasn’t…complete. If you know what I mean. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Does anyone need lumbar support when on the can the way I do?
On the plus side ,the hairdryer had a cool glowing Tron-like light.
The shower amenities are CO Bigelow branded. C.O. Bigelow was founded in 1838 in New York’s Greenwich Village and is the oldest surviving apothecary–pharmacy in the U.S.A, as per their website.
The shower was decent enough, but the water pressure wasn’t as strong as I was used to. Maybe they were still sorting out plumbing issues.
I was genuinely impressed by what was on offer at the new Flagship lounge. It’s certainly above what I’ve come to expect from airlines in the US. Even if you’re not flying with AA, you can access the lounge when you fly with CX, as it has relocated to T8.
Here’s one last vanity photo, which I call harsh backlighting, random woman in corner of shot and rule of thirds impeccably observed.