When the TWA Hotel opened in the old Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center at New York’s JFK airport last year, I knew that I wanted to go just like every other airline dork in the world. It took me long enough, but on my recent trip to New York, I added an extra night on the back-end so I could stay the night. In short, it was phenomenal.
First, I had to book it. The TWA Hotel annoyingly only sells direct, so you can’t find it anywhere else. Even corporate travelers can’t use their booking systems which seems like a big mistake to me. I went on to the website and opted to pay for the upgraded runway view deluxe king for $259 for the night. By New York prices, that’s not bad… especially considering how awful all the other JFK airport hotels are.
My wife and I were coming from Manhattan, so we hopped on the subway and then took the Airtrain out to Terminal 5. Outside the train, there are TWA signs pointing you to go down the elevator, along the street, and then across into the building. At first, it’s a little sad. The innovative and breath-taking design by Saarinen is dwarfed by parking garages, hotel rooms, and other structures. But then when you get closer, the effect is minimized.
The main terminal building has been painstakingly restored with incredible attention to detail. In front, you can see the old car parked outside. These touches are noticeable throughout the building.
On the inside, you turn left to get to the check-in desks. These were indeed TWA check-in desks back in the day, and they look like the bones haven’t changed much. We tried to check in using the kiosk, but it said to talk to someone. The agent told us that our room wasn’t ready (it was 3 and check-in is 4), but he could get us into another room if we preferred. I said yes, please, and asked if they were full since I would have been surprised. He said no, it was booked at about 40 percent which is normal for them. Remember how I said they only sell direct? Yeah, that is undoubtedly part of the problem.
It took a long time to get this sorted as he kept going back and forth to talk to someone behind the scenes, but eventually it was worked out. We were given our TWA-branded room keys, and we wandered into the rest of the terminal.
It’s certainly an oddity seeing dozens of people just wandering around a hotel lobby, staring into the distance, but that’s exactly what this building does to people. The lack of interior doors, soaring ceiling, and TWA red highlights were enough to make even the casual onlooker interested.
The ticket counters on the other side of the entry area are being turned into a food hall, but so far, it’s mostly just empty with only a couple vendors. Behind those counters are the fitness center and the TWA Shop where you can buy all sorts of memorabilia.
In between the ticket counters is a central information desk which appeared to be staffed by someone dressed in TWA garb. I don’t know what that person did, and I didn’t bother finding out. I did stare at the large Solari board for some time, but the flights weren’t real. They just put random times, airlines, and destinations up there.
Turning around away from the entrance, there is a large set of stairs that takes you up to a middle ground. On the other side, the floor spills back down into the Sunken Lounge. Visually, this is a highlight. Here’s an overview from the level above, with the Connie in the background. Beyond the Connie is JetBlue’s Terminal 5.
On either side of the Sunken Lounge is a bar, and I saw them both staffed at most times. The Solari board in the middle was constantly flapping, displaying new messages.
Ringing the Sunken Lounge were a variety of curiosities. There was a room meant for playing Twister, though the spinner had been taken away.
There was also a newsstand and a payphone that worked. For 10 cents, I was able to use the faux-rotary phone (you could hear the touch tones when you dialed) to call back to my parents since they were taking care of our kids.
There was also a watch store, a reading room, and some restrooms.
After exploring this part of the building, we decided to head toward our room. The brand new buildings that house the rooms are connected to the terminal via the two old tubes that used to lead to the aircraft gates from each side of the terminal. You’ve definitely seen these iconic tubes in movies, and they are just as stunning in person.
The elevators to the rooms are halfway down the tubes, and they are not spared the attention to detail. This is on the floor:
The hallways are attractive and the gentle curve of the structure makes for an interesting view.
The rooms themselves are fairly small. There’s no closet in the room, and there’s also not a trash can. Instead there’s a mat next to the mini-bar snacks at a desk-ish thing behind the bed that shows you where to place your garbage.
Of course, I didn’t care about this. I solely cared about the view out the window. If I looked left, it might as well have been Long Beach with all the JetBlue tails. But if I looked right, well, then I had this view of Terminal 4.
When the runways changed from departing/arriving on the 13s to using the 4s, the view of departures got really good. I could have stayed there forever, but there was more exploring to be done.
Our tower had the pool up top, so I walked up there and froze. The water was heated, but I wasn’t about to get in. The bar had been converted into a winter ski chalet, and it was really well done. We didn’t stay long up there.
Back down at the tube, we walked toward the gates to see a couple of hidden little exhibits. Our tunnel had a 1960s living room and a replica of Saarinen’s office at the very end.
Walking down the other tube, we ended up in a replica of Howard Hughes’s office. There was also a retro-looking elevator with terminal access for those who were flying out on JetBlue in Terminal 5.
We ambled back toward the hotel lobby where it was almost time for dinner. Upstairs there is one area at the old Ambassadors Lounge space where you can find a quiet corner for yourself in some pretty funky looking areas.
There’s also an exhibit up there showing TWA uniforms from the past.
We headed over to the other side where dinner awaited us at the Paris Cafe. The service was good, but the food was just ok. It’s worth doing once, but that’s about it.
By this point, we were exhausted, but there was one more thing to do. That Connie in the back is a bar that’s open for business. We had to go get a drink there.
It’s a really cool space even if the drinks weren’t up to snuff. But it was great sitting at the window looking out on those massive spinners.
After that, we were done. We headed back to the room and collapsed into the comfortable bed. It was a truly unique experience that everyone should see even if you’re not an airline dork. The architecture and history alone makes it worth a trip.