Then the TWA Flight Center first opened its doors in 1962, it was an immediate icon of the jet age, and a means to amplify the TWA brand at a time when each airline built their own terminal. Meant to evoke a bird in flight, the Flight Center was designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen and is reflective of the truly modern, and often futurist, work of his career. The building itself was designed to increase efficiency of the airline’s operations. The result was a technologically advanced thin-shell concrete structure and a fabulously branded extension of the TWA identity. While progressive visually, the terminal was designed for smaller aircraft, but this was the dawn of the jumbo jet, and the Flight Center failed to adjust to these large birds and the number of passengers that came with them. The terminal shut its doors in 2001.
In 2015, the conversation of turning the Flight Center into the head house of a hotel had begun. By 2016, construction was underway to introduce a new hotel to John F Kennedy Airport and once complete would be the only hotel located on airport.
For this stay, we booked directly with the hotel at www.twahotel.com reserving a Standard King Room at the flexible rate for $239 + taxes and fees. Given that the TWA Hotel is not a member of any major hotel network, our only opportunity for earning points was by booking with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, earning 3x points on travel, thus netting 865 Ultimate Rewards points valued at $13.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
My journey to the hotel begins with my inbound Delta Connection flight from Toronto, leaving me to navigate from Terminal 1 where our little CRJ-900 arrived. The commute was easy enough, though, by following the signs in the terminal to the JFK Airtrain. Arriving on the Airtrain at Terminal 5, the route to the TWA is clearly marked both overhead and on the ground. I quite liked the routing provided because as opposed to entering the terminal, and thus the hotel via inside, we made the trek to ground level and approached as if we were a passenger arriving for a flight back in the glory days of TWA. This allowed me to take in this architectural wonder in all its glory, after all, this was a huge reason I was here. However, for those arriving in inclement weather, I’d recommend the indoor route.
Entering past a stunning vintage car, I proceeded - full of nostalgia, wonder, and excitement - to what was once the TWA Ticket counter in the flight center. This space has been converted into a formal reception space with a seating area with period appropriate furniture and the self serve check-in kiosks. Check in to this hotel is entirely digital, done via a series of kiosks that have roaming staff members available to provide assistance. Although I arrived a bit before the stated 4PM Check-In time, I had no issues being assigned a room for no additional fee upon arrival, and even had a pleasant interaction with a staff member willing to help me with the process.
Now to the lobby, also known as the TWA Flight Center, WOW. It left me speechless. I’ll be honest, I was brought to tears. As an architect, this was a space that I’d always thought would be lost and that I’d never get to see; and as an aviation geek, this was an incredible teleportation back into the glory days of air travel: complete with roaming actors and actresses in period attire.
To paint a general picture of where things are located, one enters via the center doors with registration to the left, the food hall to the right, the Sunken Lounge straight ahead. Adjacent to the Sunken Lounge are the TWA Shop and the Reading Room and up above are the Museum and Paris Lounge. Let me tell you, the entire space is absolutely stunning, with the restoration completed exceedingly well. Flanking the Sunken Lounge are the two “flight tubes” which lead to the two wings of the hotel: the Saarinen Wing named after the architect of the flight center and the Hughes Wing named after the architect of the airline at the time of the building’s construction. The spatial experience is one that can barely be put into words, and you can immediately see how it translated to the excitement and sex appeal of then modern aviation - I can only imagine waiting in this space for a flight.
Guestroom / Suite
The Standard King Room assigned to me at Check-In was located near the end of an upper floor of the Saarinen Wing of the hotel. Via the flight tubes, guests arrive at a pair of keycard secured doors that bring you into the elevator lobby for the guest rooms - something crucial given that the Saarenin flight tube also continues on to connect to Terminal 5.
Once in the room, I was immediately taken by the view! I was fortunate to to be near the end of the building thus affording me both views of the Flight Center and the tarmac/runways in the distance - truly a perfect combination as seen through the floor to ceiling windows. Stepping back a bit, the first thing one sees from the entry is an iconic red Saarinen Womb Chair and side table with a rotary phone and branded notepad; in fact, all of the furniture in this room is either custom millwork or Saarinen designed.
At the entry to the room, is a beautiful walnut niche with two TWA branded robes - which I used to access the pool area - as well as a stunning minibar. Given the role of spirits in the TWA days, it’s no surprise that this becomes a centerpiece of the room. It’s not unusual to see the larger format bottles in a hotel, but when was the last time you saw glassware this beautiful, let alone specific to certain drinks in a room?! The minibar fridge was also stocked with a variety of beverages, including TAB, which were of typical hotel cost.
Across from the minibar was the bathroom, which features beautiful white terrazzo finishes that feel so period appropriate. It features a large vanity with plenty of counter space and quite a nice walk in shower, which was quite sizable and had a great rainfall head. Large scale amenities were featured and were nicely branded.
Entering the main room, a desk with minibar snacks and an area for recyclables occupies a tight space between the bed and bathroom walls, I’d imagine it would be a difficult space to get work done for more than an hour or so. On the other side of the desk area was an attractive tufted headboard with two integrated marble side tables, one with a wireless charger. On the opposite wall sat a wall-mounted tv. The focal point, as always, was the beautifully plush white King Bed. The sheets and pillows were truly fantastic, and I don’t know if it was travel fatigue, but I’d go so far as to say that the bed was even more comfortable than the Hyatt Grand Beds I’ve come to love. This combined with the triple laminated acoustic glazing made for an amazing night’s sleep.
These rooms were some of the best I’ve seen. The attention to detail and the overall architecture of the space are truly fabulous. I loved the feel of the Amish millwork and the subtle details, especially the walnut tambour that lives through the space. One particularly nice moment is how the tambour cladding the bathroom volume meets the side wall at a mirror - truly an architect’s move! It’s clear that the developer and design team went above and beyond here without cutting corners
Amenities & Features
When thinking of an airport hotel, one likely thinks of the bare essentials, but not the case here at the TWA Hotel; with so much history to share, there’s also amenities galore! On the ground level, there’s a fabulous TWA Shop that offers great memorabilia at fair prices; however, I chose to stock up in their online store as I was packing light. In addition to this, furniture maker Herman Miller and publisher Phaidon have set up a Reading Room on the opposing side of the main level. This space provides guests to interact with a line of period appropriate furniture and publications about works of the time, and - as a book lover - had I had more time I certainly would have spent hours in there perusing the collection.
Another fantastic feature of the hotel is an amazing collection of TWA Memorabilia and archives on display. In fact, the hotel has its own archivist and a partnership with the New York Historical Society who curates the fabulous displays at the hotel. One such exhibition can be found on the upper floor of the Flight Center. Here, guests and visitors can take in a marvelous display of 37 complete uniforms from throughout the years that are set up in chronological order and tell the stories of the airline’s flight attendants and flight crews. There are also immersive displays at each end of the Flight Tubes; the Saarinen Wing displays a recreation of the offices of the two men instrumental to the building. You can take a seat at the desk in the recreation of Howard Hughes’s Office, or flip through the floor plans on Eero Saarinen’s drafting table in the recreation of his studio. Conversely, at the end of the Hughes Wing, guests can step back in time into an authentic recreation of a 1960s living room to get a sense of the context in which the Flight Center was originally introduced.
While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge gym person, I often joke that I’m allergic to exercise as it makes me sweat, I must also admit that the TWA Hotel has one of the most impressive gyms that I have ever seen in all of my travels. It measures a full 10,000 Square Feet and features a full Peloton Studio, a Yoga Studio, and a massive array of strength and cardio equipment. The Fitness Center also features ample locker rooms stocked with amenities. Note that even if you’re not staying at the hotel, one can purchase a Day Pass for just $25 if on a long layover.
A seasonal addition to the hotel, located just adjacent to Connie (more on her in a bit) is the Runway Rink where guests can don a pair of skates and practice their skills after grabbing a hot chocolate. In addition, professional shows take place each evening.
The crown jewel of amenities at this hotel is, of course, the rooftop swimming pool. Located atop the Hughes Wing of the property, the infinity edge pool overlooks the ramp of both Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 as well as traffic on runways 4L/22R and 4R/22L - a truly captivating experience. At the elevator lobby atop the building, guests can grab towels from a dedicated security attendant and then head out to grab one of the many loungers. In the winter, as it was when I was there, the pool actually functions as a hot tub, and I absolutely LOVED spending some time in it in the evening watching international aircraft such as Virgin Atlantic, Singapore, and Emirates.
Food & Beverage
At the TWA Hotel, you certainly won’t go hungry, or thirsty for that matter, as there are several food and beverage outlets. I did my best to make it through them all, but was unable to try only two: the Food Hall, which was closed while I was there and only had two unappealing options; and the Paris Cafe, the hotel’s signature restaurant which priced itself out of my budget for this trip.
When initially arriving at the hotel, I knew what my first stop was: a drink and some planespotting at the Pool Bar, which in the winter season has been playfully converted into the Runway Chalet. The theming was excellent and complete with faux fur throws, a working fireplace, winter wall graphics and knick knacks that set the mood. It was really impressive! Upon nestling up to a seat at the bar, I was immediately helped by a friendly bartender and handed a menu. I ordered one of the specialty cocktails which was a warm apple cider with spiced rum; it was quite delicious, but a bit pricey for its size and potency. At some point while plane spotting, a shift change occured, and with it the friendly attentive service disappeared. While trying to order a snack, I struggled to get the attention of any staff who seemed primarily interested in chatting instead of attending to guests. Although I did eventually manage to grab a large german style soft pretzel that filled me up quite a bit!
After spending some time spotting planes, and with nightfall setting, I decided to descend to the ramp and grab a drink in Connie: the 1958 Lockheed Constellation that sits just outside the Flight Center and serves as a cocktail lounge. First off, let me say how amazingly cool it is, I was completely nerding out - from checking out the vintage flight deck to walking down the aisle to my seat - it is truly a great creation. Make no mistake though, Connie is TIGHT on space. This is a small aircraft by modern standards and even tighter by the flurry of activity and staff working the space, but it made for an exciting lively atmosphere. The space is laid out with a combination of standard airline seats as well as parallel lounge type seating where recreations of original TWA murals are recreated on the walls. In my time at Connie, I enjoyed chatting with folks from all over, all the while enjoying a particularly excellent Old Fashioned! The service was slow and there was no bathroom, but it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s mood, nor did it mine.
The final visit of the evening was to check out the Sunken Lounge where I had intended to grab an evening snack and a nightcap; however, this proved to be quite difficult. I strolled in and took a seat with a great display of the departure board and awaited a staff member to stop by, but after approximately 15 minutes I sat down I was wondering if one needed to be seated somehow for service, so I wandered up to an area where a few waitresses were chatting to inquire. I was rudely told to take a seat, handed a menu and advised I’d be helped shortly; 10 minutes later after being passed by several staff, I finally gave up. Luckily, the lounge is flanked by two circular bars, so I strolled up to the nearest one and ordered a vodka soda and an order of the Chicken Empanadas - which were absolutely delicious!
I’m still in awe of this stay, it was incredible to see the combination of my three favorite things: architecture, aviation and hospitality. The attention to detail taken in the architectural restoration is second to none, the quality of the new spaces is truly fantastic, and the meticulousness with which the history of TWA, Saarinen and Aviation are intertwined is truly spectacular. You can tell a labor of love went into bringing this into fruition.
You also can’t beat the convenience. I stayed overnight before catching my jetBlue Mint flight the next morning, but several options for Day Stays are also available which can be ideal for travelers arriving from near and far who have extra time to kill on a layover. Closer to home, I think it was incredible the number of locals I met who were just genuinely interested in seeing what the place was all about, I think that’s part of what makes this stand apart from a normal hotel: it’s a local treasure.
While the hard product is truly fabulous, the soft product needs a lot of work. This is shiny and new, but I’d imagine that as the hotel progresses it will need to up the ante on its service. Most of my interactions with staff were not necessarily bad, but all were cold with some bordering on unpleasant - there was an apparent lack of hospitality in this hotel, which seems very odd to say. That being said, I think this is something that can and will change as the hotel settles itself in, and I for one can’t wait for my next visit. I’d even recommend going out of your way to give it a try on your next trip to New York, I know I will!