A fairly good stay at the Fairfield Inn

I’m wary of chain hotels that push a warm cookie and bottle of water in my hands but then issue keys to a room with a nonfunctional toilet, wet carpet, and the air conditioning locked at 65 degrees.

So I expected the worst when I checked into one of those chain hotels while stuck at the airport overnight. It was a Fairfield Inn, a hotel owned by Marriott.

I shouldn’t have been worried. The JFK Fairfield Inn offered a flawless, pleasant and restful stay for a great value where every single thing in the room, and every hotel service, worked correctly and smoothly. Everything.

Maybe on some level it’s not so good news when the Good News Guy is excited about service being delivered as promised.

Maybe it is also a testimony to travelers’ expectations today that we get what we tolerate rather than what we pay for.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful to be able to travel safely and comfortably. But I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and occasionally to suck it up when I have to.

At a bare minimum, I expect the basic products I pay for as one would expect a new appliance to work right out of the box.

I’ve also checked into popular hotel chains that had no hot water, inoperable faucets and cable, and multiple burnt out light bulbs.

True story: I once had a badly sticking entrance door that literally required me to throw my entire body weight against it to open — with a loud boom heard throughout the hallway. Maintenance staff fixed it in five minutes.

But surely anyone preparing the room for the next guest noticed these things?

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I’ve wondered what the guest before me might have said — if anything?

Perhaps we are part of the problem? Everyone is reflexively asked today how things were at checkout. I actually answer that honestly, which seems to genuinely surprise the employee asking the question.

Honesty. Maybe we should try that.

And some things just don’t make sense — like the odd trend of cooling room temperatures into the 60s prior to arrival.

I wonder how much it costs for the hotel at a time when we are so cost- and energy-conscious. And how looney do I seem to the front desk when I ask how to temporarily turn the heat on to bring things back to normal? Well, maybe not that looney, according to a recent report.

Hotels also proclaim how environmentally sensitive they are by saving water and energy. We see their literature on beds and nightstands explaining how they recycle and encourage sheets and towels not be exchanged every day (which is actually a good idea in general).

Being thrifty and efficient is wonderful, but just be honest and say that. Saving the dolphins pictured on the information card on the end table in a hotel nowhere near ocean water can be the added benefit. And while you’re at it, pass the savings on to increase value and customer loyalty.

Is it asking too much to prioritize room comfort for guests (plumbing and climate controls) ahead of placing mints on the pillows? Traveling airline pilots tend to agree.

Effective business practice (and environmental stewardship) must be based on logic and science rather than emotions.

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Sometimes what looks and feels good doesn’t save money, increase customer convenience, or reduce environmental impact. Those water-saving shower heads that offer an excruciatingly ineffective misting generating a black market of Canadian shower heads in a famous Seinfeld episode may not be helping. When a quick and effective body cleansing is the goal, these devices require longer showers rather than less water when the guest wants to be efficient. In the end, it is a wash, literally and figuratively.

Then there are those things that may not be a big deal, but — let’s be honest — could be. The more I may look forward to some cable TV after a long workday, the greater the mathematical likelihood the premium channels are not functioning just for my room — but the hotel front desk sends its regrets.

Similarly for in-room wireless Internet, which is one of the reasons for choosing a hotel when on business. Again, they are sorry about that, too.

Maybe I can call the vendor’s tech support line? Maybe I can use the business center downstairs — but the mouse on that computer doesn’t work. And again, they are very sorry. Strange how wireless Internet works just fine when it’s included as another optional service for a fee.

But nothing went wrong at the Fairfield Inn New York JFK Airport while I stayed there. Ever. And everything worked.

Accessible by their free and reliable airport shuttle in a nondescript and unglamorous urban intersection, this hotel is teeming with hard-working staff who care. With little expectation of recognition, they make sure you are checked in comfortably and quickly with infectious smiles and sincere wishes to have a great day. Even their modest in-hotel eatery, although offering only a few items, was excellent.

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A cookie never tastes so good as when you know you’re unpacked for the evening with nothing more to worry about. And isn’t that what you ultimately want from a hotel?

To most other hotels thinking of innovative ways to save money while attracting more customers, I say just give me a 75-degree room, running water, working toilet, and cable and I will give you my credit card. Simple?

And to the JFK Fairfield Inn, don’t ever change. And keep the cookies coming.

Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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