https://www.flywinglets.com/single-post/2020/07/26/Taking-Wings-AgainA report by Martyn Cartledge.
On May 28, 1962 TWA opened their new Terminal at the then named New York Idlewild airport to great media attention. Nearly 57 years to the day the very same building opened its doors as a hotel.
If you have even a passing interest in architecture the you will find the Eero Saarinen designed building that was once the TWA Flight Centre a most interesting sight. If, however, you have an interest in aviation as well then it becomes a bucket list destination.
Getting to the hotel (the only on airport hotel at JFK) is really easy. All the terminals at JFK are linked by the free to use Airtrain. Directions are printed on the platform at the Terminal 5 station. If you are arriving on a jetBlue flight then all you need to do is take the elevator which has rather novel floor designations. Rather than 1, 2 etc it has ‘1960s TWA Hotel’ and ‘Present day jetBlue’ as your options.
If you have never seen the building before then arriving at the front is just breathtaking. No square box shaped building but a flowing work of art which, after the recent renovation, shines in the winter sunshine.
Immediately after entry guests are met by a Solaris display board and information desk with what turns out to be actors dressed in original TWA uniforms ready to help.
Check-in is done at the original TWA desks, still with the baggage conveyer belt running behind, although now just for show.
Using a tablet, you check yourself in using a credit card, authorising your own key card before making your way to your room in either the Saarinen or Hughes wings. Your attention is drawn to the elegant flight of stairs opposite the main entrance with curved concrete walls everywhere displaying, or indeed hiding, a combination of new and original features.
Rooms for the Spotter
However, it is a selection of rooms that, to the spotter, are probably the main attraction with prices varying from Standard through Deluxe rooms, from $161 plus taxes through to either the Howard Hughes or Eero Saarinen Presidential suites at just under $700.
Before you arrive at your you walk in the footsteps of thousands of previous travellers as the famous concrete tubes which once led out to waiting aircraft are now used to take you to the buildings containing your room (as well as to the jetBlue terminal!).
Some rooms have views over the beautiful curves of the old Flight Centre but, since the circular satellite pairs that were once occupied by many of the aircraft TWA are now the site of the jetBlue terminal and ramp area, some rooms have an altogether different vista.
A Spectacular View
Having arranged a room with a runway view I still was not prepared for the wonderful sight through the floor-to-ceiling windows when I entered the room.
Being next door to the jetBlue terminal there were many of that airline’s Airbus and Embraer aircraft on display alongside airlines from around the world at the next door terminal 4.
Over to my right were rows of Delta aircraft of many different sizes including the new Airbus A220-100s.
Further out there are the taxiways and runways of JFKs massive operation meaning arriving and departing aircraft from all the terminals are visible.
The room is a mix of 1960s and modern day tech with a rotary style telephone, from which you can make free phone calls anywhere in the world, to a wireless charger and authentic Saarinen designed furniture to a 50” HDTV. There was also a Time magazine from the sixties near a walnut and brass cocktail minibar. A real mix of eras but one that works very well.
The rooms are also available for day rent so if your time or budget is limited and just want a short experience, this is possible option.
The best view of all, particularly if you are a photographer as the room windows do tend to distort photographs to some degree, is the rooftop pool and observation area complete with a Pool Bar.
Food and drink can be sampled while you soak in the warm year round infinity pool or just enjoying and photographing, with unfettered views of all the runways at JFK.
A good range of lenses are required here as aircraft can be anything from a mile away whereas others are merely metres, and everything in between.
Flight Centre Rejuvenation
If you ever need to take a break from either of these views then you can go back inside and perhaps visit the famous sunken lounge which was the terminals waiting area and is now the seating area for many of the franchised food and beverage outlets.
Also here is another Solaris board, although this one has been modified to produce different ‘images’ such as ‘TWA’, ‘1962’ or the US flag.
Looking out of the windows there is a great view of Lockheed L1649 N803H in beautiful period TWA livery. Delivered new in 1958, once her days of transporting the rich and famous were over she had a considerably varied life, hauling cargo, initially with TWA and later with an Alaskan operator shuttling supplies to Prudhoe Bay.
After a period of inactivity the aircraft was bought and restored but only to end up sitting in the weeds in Chandler, Arizona. The next stage in her life was not perhaps up to the stature of such an elegant lady, as in 1983 she found herself air dropping marijuana out of South America. This, however, was also short lived as a landing accident in Colombia required a new prop with the aircraft then being ferried to Honduras where again it languished until making what turned out to be her last flight to Auburn-Lewiston in Maine.
She was dismantled and made her final trip back to JFK in 2018 (see the pictures here) and is now a cocktail bar with many original features, including seating and a near complete cockpit. Nearby stands vintage TWA luggage tug and carts.
The central area consists of the previously mentioned entrance hall and iconic Solaris flight information board over the information desk. In one wing is the check in area, whilst the other is home to a number of food and beverage outlets.
In the upper areas of the building are more restaurants and bars as well as a collection of actual period uniforms, original TWA travel posters (copies of which are in the guest rooms) and other period items. There are also three replica rooms situated at the end of the curved flight tubes, one of which is a ‘typical’ sixties living area whilst the other two are replica rooms belonging to the two most important people in the building’s history. One is Howard Hughes’ desk and office whilst the other is Eero Saarinen’s design office complete with drafting table.
A Neverending Work
Work is still going on to provide as much authenticity as is possible. For example, there is an original small three jet fountain which hasn’t produced water in decades. This is due for refurbishment just as soon as it can be worked out just how to do it!
Before leaving this most extraordinary hotel a visit to the TWA shop is a must with everything from TWA branded badges, t-shirts and phone cases to robes slippers and towels with much more in between.
My time here was much too short, it is a one of a kind, truly unique building that needs time to take everything in and to experience it to the fullest. In its time TWA was unkindly said to stand for ‘Try Walking Across’. Now I prefer ‘Taking Wings Again’. I know I want to!
You can book your stay at the TWA Hotel here: https://www.twahotel.com/
For a more in-depth look at the TWA Hotel by Martyn Cartledge, head to https://www.flywinglets.com/single-post/2020/07/26/Taking-Wings-Again
For more great spotting hotels, like the TWA Hotel at JFK, our book Airport Spotting Hotels is a perfect guide for the aviation enthusiast.
Recently updated and now in its second edition, it includes hundreds of hotels at airports all around the world