This short stay in Chicago confirmed my interest in this very interesting and pleasant city. It was also an opportunity to discover new airline and hotel products, with varying degrees of success, and to confirm the worrying deterioration in service in the United States.
The destination: Chicago
Chicago enchanted me on my first trip here, almost 20 years ago, and I wonder how I managed not to return sooner. Now I hope I won’t have to wait another 20 years to return.
Architecturally, it’s one of the most interesting cities in the United States, certainly in the top 3. What’s more, it’s easy to visit on foot, as the town center isn’t very large. The fact that it’s located on a lake and has a navigable river running through it makes it all the more attractive and interesting.
Finally, for those who don’t like the madness of big metropolises, it’s a city that I find rather calm and quiet compared to New York, for example. Here, you can stroll calmly in a soothing atmosphere.
From an artistic point of view, the Art Institute of Chicago is truly impressive. It also featured a superb temporary exhibition on Van Gogh. I was disappointed, however, by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
While the first alone justifies a visit to the city, as it is one of the finest museums in the country, the city still lags behind cities like New York and Washington.
As for the time of year, I was a bit worried about the heat in August, but in the end the climate was very pleasant.
The airline: congratulations SAS!
As far as I was concerned, my main curiosity was to finally fly SAS business class long-haul.
We are familiar with their medium-haul product, from which we don’t expect much, and which, without being bad, won’t make anyone dream. On the other hand, I’d heard great things about their long-haul product and was looking forward to testing it.
But I had to wait a little since my outbound flight was operated by Hifly. But if the aircraft and crew were chartered, we had SAS catering and the airline’s protocol was followed to the letter – so it was really very good, despite the slight disappointment of not having the full SAS experience.
On the other hand, the return flight, “full SAS”, was simply perfect, and I can’t remember ever having had such a high quality service in business class on a transatlantic flight. To Asia, yes (although this is sometimes debatable), but never on this type of route.
I refer you to the relevant article, but I was more than pleasantly surprised and, in future, will try to take over the Scandinavian airline whenever possible.
Hotels: some good, some not so good
I’ll split the subject into two parts: the American and Swedish parts of the trip.
As far as Sweden is concerned, there are no surprises and a constant impression: even at the top of the range, there remains a certain frugality in the product and service, even a certain casualness that always makes you cringe at this price level. It’s not all bad, but I find that the potential of the properties is never fully exploited, and that even when things are going well, there’s always going to be something that’s a little disappointing. Both the Avalon and the Scandic Rubinen in Gothenburg left me with a taste of unfinished.
As for the United States, it’s just confirmation of a trend we’ve already seen: a slow but sure fall with a very uneven overall level.
A recently opened property and therefore still running in, the St Regis Chicago where Olivier stayed did not disappoint, at least as far as the hard product is concerned., is a recently opened property that is still running in, but it didn’t disappoint, at least as far as the hard product is concerned. But we’re talking about a St Regis hotel, and that’s the minimum you can expect.
As for the W Chicago Lakeshore where I stayed, it was nothing like a W hotel, vaguely a Holiday Inn disguised as a W. A beautiful room, a superb view, but service not at all up to scratch and a hotel without any personality.
A special mention for the cities Olivier visited before joining me: the AC Hotel Portland (Maine) was very satisfactory, but at a price that was really dissuasive for this category of hotel.
In short, a slightly mixed impression, but above all the feeling that the price level is no longer at all in line with the service provided.
Restaurants: what’s happened to service?
As far as Chicago is concerned, all the restaurants where we ate offered food of quality, in keeping with the standing of the property.
On the other hand, I’ve seen how the service has deteriorated over the last ten years, sometimes reaching rock bottom. Overall mediocre to say the least, and catastrophic at Miru, which is still the St Regis restaurant. The fact that we ended up not tipping at all that night speaks for itself.
In the end, apart from the Signature Room, everything fell short of our expectations and the price we paid was unjustified.
On the Swedish side, however, there were no nasty surprises: Project and Carbon kept their promise with quality cuisine and friendly service. And these two gourmet restaurants (including one 1-star) cost me less than average Chicago restaurants. When you know the cost of living in Sweden, it’s was not something I was expecting.
A very pleasant stay overall, especially as it had been a long time since we had managed to get together at the same location with Olivier and his wife. If his adorable dog had been there, my happiness would have been total!
I really like Chicago, I was with friends and in the end that’s all that matters.
On the other hand, I’m very happy to have discovered and visited the United States in just about every way in the 90s. At the time, I often said to myself that there was a real culture of service, and that European and especially French properties should learn from it.
30 years later there’s nothing left of it. Prices have become mind-boggling, and the service basic, with a clear loss of professionalism. I told myself it was just the impression of a trip, but this opinion has since been confirmed by many of my friends. I sensed a slight drop in the 2000s, but this is a hard landing.
And there’s one thing that’s clear: never in the past have I said to myself that I was going to leave without leaving a tip. And indeed, the industry as a whole seems to be lamenting the disappearance of what used to be one of its pillars: the tipping culture. Young people are giving less and less, because they find everything too expensive for the service provided, and see no reason to pay more. I think this is justified, but knowing how much it means to the staff in terms of remuneration, I’m thinking that at some point things are going to have to change if they don’t want to hit a brick wall.
In recent years, I’ve focused mainly on Asia and the Middle East, and the difference is striking. As much as there are many cities I’d like to see again in the US, with such poor service, an increasingly degraded application of frequent flyer programs (we’ll talk about that another time) and such prohibitive prices, I think I’m going to start flying east again very soon. Sadly.
Incidentally, for those of you who have known the US for a long time, I’d like to know if you share this observation about the decline in service levels, especially in view of the prices charged.
All in all, it was a pleasant vacation, with a number of details that left us a little disappointed.
And don’t let that discourage you from visiting Chicago, which is as beautiful as it is pleasant. And ideally while flying on SAS…