A Visit To The TWA Hotel

Looking down at the Sunken Lounge.

Ever since the announcement that the former TWA Flight Center at New York’s JFK International Airport was being developed into a hotel honoring the airline, it had been on my aviation bucket list to visit. However, I didn’t expect the chance to stay the night would come as soon as it did.

I had a business trip come up to go to NJ to look at a piece of equipment for my company. Initially I looked at flying to Newark from Bangor, however, the seasonal direct flight from Bangor to Newark on United had ended and it was going to be a bit of a nightmare as far as connections go. While flying to JFK added another half hour to the drive, the connections on Delta were better and I wasn’t spending all day in airports. It also allowed me to stay at the TWA Hotel.

Initially I looked at other hotels around JFK, but they were either booked up or were charging a lot of money(I completely forgot about the UN General Assembly meetings while I was there). So I checked the TWA Hotel to see, it was more than half of the other hotels, and I didn’t have to worry about a shuttle to and from the airport.

After making the trip to NJ and returning my rental car, I hopped on the AirTrain and headed for Terminal 5 and the TWA Hotel. Getting from the AirTrain to the TWA Hotel is fairly easy, though the train station isn’t directly attached to the terminal, it requires a little bit of a walk. There are painted arrows on floors of the AirTrain station and the sidewalk leading you to your destination. If you get lost, it’s because you probably had your nose stuck in your phone reading this.

As you approach the hotel the concrete canopy protrudes over the sidewalk as you see the sweeping concrete roof and large windows of the head house TWA Flight Center. The sidewalk leads to small pools with fountains on either side leading to a crosswalk and straight to the main entrance. Bellhops wearing TWA coveralls meet you at the front door and help direct you.

The BMW Isetta.

Once you step in the front door at One Idlewild Drive, you take a step back into the golden days of air travel. You are immediately greeted with steps the lead to the Sunken Lounge area. Beside you is the Solari split-flap message board with the original mechanical operation. Hearing and seeing the sign change is really something to behold.

To your left are the old ticket counters with a still functioning baggage conveyor belt and a coffee shop. Now they function as the front desk/guest services. The BMW Isetta in no other color tan red, sits next to the Intelligentsia coffee bar along with some seating areas for those to enjoy their coffee or to just relax and take in the nostalgia of the Jet Age.

Opposite the ticket counter now front desk, is the food hall with coffee, sandwiches and other delights along with seating to enjoy your treats. FYI, the breakfast sandwich at Vinny’s Panini was great.

Above you, you help but notice the sweeping roof that gives way to stairs that once brought you to the seating area and flight tubes. This is now the Sunken Bar area. Every night you can relax on the retro red chairs or bench seats as you look out on the “tarmac” and admire the beautifully restored Connie. Looking back toward the front door, 2 sweeping staircases lead to the 2nd level inside the Head House with a sky bridge connecting you to each side and providing beautiful vantage points as you look below.

On the left side is the Paris Cafe. A combination of table seating awaits or you can sit at the bar area. As you sit down, you can’t help but look out the vast windows to the Terminal 4. The natural light by day and the lights from the buildings filter in and create a mood that you can feel reminiscent of the Jet Age. The food and drink menu is very diverse but will offer something for almost anyone. I had the fish and chips, which was very good, the fish had more batter than I like but the flavor was great. The craft beer selections were nice with some local offerings on the list as well. All of the team members I chatted with always greeted you with a smile and were willing to help make your experience the best it could be.

Should you venture up the stairs to the right you will come to the one of the many museum exhibits scattered around the hotel. The large wall of windows shines light on the many flight crew uniforms from over the years along with other era specific travel items. In this area is also an exhibit documenting when the Pope visited. Don’t forget to check out the Twister Room either, unless you’re as flexible as I am, in that case, stick to, well anything but Twister.

The hotel is attached to JFK’s Terminal 5 which is home to JetBlue. You can access JetBlue’s terminal through one of the concrete Flight Tubes. The Flight Tubes also bring you to your respective room wings.

The wings are named Hughes and Saarinen for tycoon Howard Hughes and Eero Saarinen, the architect for the TWA Flight Center (as well as Washington Dulles International Airport and the St Louis Arch), respectively.

Flight Tube leading to the rooms in their respective wings.

My room was on the 8th floor of the Saarinen Wing. As you make your way up the Flight Tube adorned with the bright red carpet, about halfway up on the left are the elevators(this tube also is what connects the TWA Hotel with Jet Blue’s Terminal 5 at JFK). The elevators waiting area have another split-flat message board that has various quotes on them.

When you make your way off the elevator, the deep red carpeting leads you down a gradual curved hallway with rich wood accents, brass lighting by the room doors and an ever so handy shelf to put your iced coffee down(I speak from experience) to get your key out.

My King Room With Historic View.

As you enter your room, the first thing that will catch your eye are the floor to ceiling windows that run the width of the whole room. My room looked out over the Head House with a slight view of Connie, though some have taxiway views, depending on your choice. The small wet bar to your right with a mini fridge and drawer that holds a safe and a classic TWA bathrobe hang beside it. Making your way in further a desk spans bed faces the windows with a pencil and note pad to jot down notes you wish you had taken about the experience for use later(again, personal experience). A TV mounted on the wall is really unnecessary because you’re going to spend all your time in the room staring out the windows.

The bathroom is nicely done with Hollywood style dressing room lighting, a giant walk in shower with pump bottles of shampoo, soap and conditioner. A sliding barn door style helps save space vs the usual swing door in hotels. The only issues I had with the bathroom was that there weren’t any washcloths, just bath, hand towels on the shelf under the sink.

Obviously the TWA Flight Center is awe inspiring with the careful attention to detail in recreating the Jet Age. However, the real focal point is the beautifully restored Lockheed Constellation, or Connie. Sitting on the tarmac complete with in ground lighting and utility hole covers with TWA designs, Connie makes you pause and admire the magnificent restoration that took place to get her from the shape she was in to where she is now. The air stairs lead you up to the front boarding door and into the beautifully done cabin. The same bright red that adorns the Flight Center also greets you in Connie. The cockpit is closed for entry because some people weren’t respectful of her. However, you can still look in and see just how far technology has come in aviation in a relatively short amount of time.

Connie.

As you make your way toward the back, there is a small stand up table in the center and then bench seating along the side with smaller tables to set snacks and drinks on. A few rows of original seating then opens back up to more bench seats along the sides. The seats aren’t as comfortable as current seats, but the legroom is to die for! In the very back is the bar with the bartender in full pilot’s uniform ready to mix you a special drink from the menu or pick from beer and wine selections.

There is also an authentic TWA luggage tug parked on the “ramp” as well as suitcase belt loader and of course the air stairs going to the forward and aft boarding doors. Under the wings and surrounding the plane are small market tables and chairs to enjoy the majesty that is the Flight Center and Connie.

Your visit to the TWA Hotel isn’t complete without a visit to the top of the Hughes Wing of the hotel which is home to the rooftop lounge, infinity pool and views of JetBlue’s Terminal 5, taxiways and runways. During peak hours of 11:00am-11:00pm, a reservation is required and will cost you $25 per adult and $20 per child Monday-Thursday. Adults prices go up Friday-Sunday to $50 per person. Reservations are good for an hour and 45 minutes. Prior to 11:00am, access is free.

From the lounge, you get amazing views of JetBlue’s Terminal 5, Terminal 4, arrivals on 31R and taxi shots. I was there on a cloudy morning so backlighting wasn’t an issue, but if it were clear, you’d be dealing with that in the morning. For terminal shots, a 70-200mm lens will be perfect, however if you’re looking for arrivals on 31, you’ll need something longer. My 100-500 was ideal, though I still had to do some cropping to get a tighter shot.

Copa Airlines at T-4 with the JFK Tower

During my visit, I had to catch my flight back to Bangor at 11am so I only had a few hours in the morning to enjoy the front row spotting location. I got up early(well, my internal clock is on 4 year old time so I was awake at 5:00am even without the morning wakeup) and went down to get breakfast and then head to the roof until I had to get to the terminal. In that time there were several JetBlue flights coming and going but also the international arrivals/departures were coming in starting mid morning. Among those were a British Airways A350-1000, Emirates A380, Air India 77W and an Avianca A320 among others.

I didn’t get a chance to go in the pool, but keep in mind, it’s not something you’re swimming laps in. But it’s probably one of the most relaxing places to sit in a pool, inhale jet exhaust and get away from it all. The rooftop lounge wasn’t open but I brought a cup of coffee up with me in the morning so it was all good. One thing to keep in mind, you can’t go all the way around the top of the building. It’s basically the side looking at T-5 and the Flight Center. It would’ve been nice if you could’ve gone around to the side facing Terminal 4 to get some gate shots, but you’ll have to settle for the taxi in/out. One other note, there are usually planes parked on the ramp waiting to be ushered into the gates in the morning so you might catch something relatively rare like the JetBlue Blue Print livery or a Delta A220. Neither of which I got good shots of, but if I had another hour, I would’ve caught them getting towed to gates.

Sadly, I didn’t have time to check out the Howard Hughes Museum which I wish I had been able to do. There is a hallway leading from the Sunken Lounge to the door to get out on the “ramp” or to go down to the front desk. In the hallway are displays showing Connie’s progression and the Flight Center. Also are several TWA destination posters hanging. The TWA shop was closed as well, not sure if this is due to Covid or not, but I was hoping to get something for my little guy but I was able to shop from their online store.

Overall, the TWA Hotel is a must see for aviation and history enthusiasts alike and I’m already looking forward to going back sometime soon. One thing to keep in mind, it’s not the Motel 6. It’s not overly expensive considering the location, from the nightly stay to the food and beverage offerings. Many of the complaints you’ll see online are due to the pricing. Given that it’s on airport property and it’s a boutique hotel, pricing seemed fair. Sure, I could have stayed off airport, but due to UN General Assembly Week it seemed everything was booked or was equal to or more expensive, plus I would’ve had to rely on transportation to the terminal in the morning. I’m all for paying for convenience(within reason) when traveling. Especially when I don’t have a vehicle or I have a schedule to stick to. I just wish I had more time to walk around and take in all of the history of the Jet Age. If you have the opportunity to stay at the TWA Hotel, jump at it, you won’t regret it.


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