Sofitel Terminal Five – Update

by Continental Club on May 28, 2009

At the very moment that BA1337 was scheduled to touch-down from Newcastle, I’d already made it off the aircraft, through the baggage hall (hand luggage only), past Arrivals, along the link to the Sofitel, checked in, been upgraded and found my room. To quote the short-lived campaign that British Airways hoped to be able to run beyond their new terminal’s opening in 2008, I just flowed through. It’s a great shame, therefore, that the majority of the travelling public are still of the opinion that the building resembles a refugee camp of fractious passengers, an opinion that BA have done little to successfully change. Indeed, their one attempt – the curious T5 is Working effort – probably did more harm than good.

The late evening arrival, coupled with an early onward departure to Zurich the next morning, made the Sofitel once again and for the third time, the obvious overnight choice of accommodation. Nine months on from my first visit, it would be interesting to see if and how standards had been maintained.

The initial signs were good; a warm welcome at the end of the link from the terminal, followed by a friendly and efficient check-in. As that was happening, the ‘phone beeped with a slightly curious inbound message, which proved to be a Bluetoothed entreaty to shell out for pay-to-view films once checked in. Presumably, the hotel expects most guests to queue for attention at the desk, and this will not interrupt the check-in process. As it was, I ignored it until later, but I can see how it might annoy the staff in their attempt to expedite matters as quickly as possible. It wasn’t even very useful information – there are, I’m sure, far more helpful snippets that this technology could be employed to impart.

The upgrade to a Superior Room from the booked Classic Room was advised but the catalyst for it not really explained, so I have no idea if it was a loyalty reward or an operational necessity. The basic specifications of the room are identical to those of the entry-level accommodation, and very nice they are too. The only obvious difference is the addition of 2 square metres (13sqft) of floor space. Do, I beg of you, calm your excitement.

The beds and linens are supremely comfortable, as is the Stressless-style easy chair. The TV is large and has a slick user-interface but, and I don’t think I’d noticed this before, not one of the radio channel pre-sets is for any station broadcasting classical or relaxing music. Instead, every single option was for talk or some kind of pop – hardly the stuff to reflect the calm, zen-like style of the hotel as a whole. Odd.

The selection of magazines included British Airways’ in-flight publication HighLife, in a sensible bit of cross-promotion.

There were a couple of other things to note, relevant to the passing of time since opening and that first visit in August 2008. Firstly, the toiletries have been downgraded from the former Hermes selection, to the distinctly unspectacular Gilchrist annd Soames.

The bathroom was also showing slight signs of wear and tear which, given the great attention-to-detail shown in the initial design, such as low-level night-lighting, was disappointing.

Probably worst of the faults was that the air conditioning panel was inoperative, although the temperature of the room was itself perfectly fine. I mentioned it on checkout and was surprised that not even an apology was offered; merely a business-like acknowledgment.

The rate included breakfast but, unhelpfully, the restaurant doesn’t open until 6am. Contrast this with, say, the Crowne Plaza at Manchester Airport which kicks off at 4am. Room service is little better, with the earliest service at 5.30am. With an 07:10 take-off, room service was ordered in the hope that it would be prompt.

Which it was, and what a spread. In fact, it really was a crying shame that the hotel’s inability to serve it at a sensible time meant that I could do little but rush a rapid sampling of each of the components before dashing back towards the terminal building. Superb in both quality, quantity and presentation, though disappointing also that Sofitel loads on a further penal charge for taking the room service option that their lack of restaurant opening renders necessary.

Final result for the Sofitel Terminal 5: 8/10. It’s still a great airport hotel with super staff and an excellent room service breakfast, but cost-cutting and a lack of attention to detail in maintenance and housekeeping standards showed through. Recommended, but with slight reservations that didn’t exist 7 and 9 months ago.

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