A Visit To The TWA Hotel

Connie on the ramp at the TWA Flight Center

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 in the fall of 2021, initially I looked at flying to Newark. 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 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 the rates were through the roof(I completely forgot about the UN General Assembly meetings happening 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.

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.

The old ticket counters with a still functioning baggage conveyor belt and a coffee shop appear to your right. Now they function as the front desk/guest services. The BMW Isetta in no other color than 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.

The Front Desk at the TWA Hotel

Opposite of the front desk, is now a 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.

The sweeping roof 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.

If you’re looking for dinner, the the Paris Cafe is calling. Table seating awaits or you can sit at the bar area. 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.

TWA uniforms throughout the years.

If 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.

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.

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.

My room with a “runway” view.

The rooms are a beautiful display of retro style. Brass fixtures, dressing room lighting in the bathroom coupled with walk in showers, 70s chairs and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the taxiway.

Behind the bed is a desk area and as you enter the room, there is a small closet and a bathrobe hanging up with some drinking glasses and an ice bucket. There are blinds but who would want to drown out the beautiful view of aircraft coming and going? I guess if you wanted sleep, but you can save that for your flight.

Connie.

The main attraction at the TWA Hotel is obviously the beautiful restored Lockheed Constellation. AKA Connie. Connie has a connection to Maine as it was living in Auburn waiting to be refurbished by Lufthansa Technic. They poured $160 million into it but it never flew.

Outside of the TWA Flight Center is a small ramp area, with Connie surrounded by baggage carts, tables and air stairs leading you to the forward and rear doors.

As you ascend the stairs, you feel like you’re going back to the golden age of aviation. The cockpit is roped off but you can still look in and see how it was beautifully restored. Inside, the seats have been beautifully restored in bright red fabric, matching the carpeting. A small stand up bar is in the front, to the back, the seats are lined along the sides with small tables to sit and enjoy friends.

At the back of the plane is a small bar with a list of signature drinks and snacks to enjoy while taking in the history of the aircraft. Highly recommend the Whiskey Charlie and the Paper Airplane. The drinks aren’t too pricey given that you’re at an airport hotel, and a boutique style hotel at that.

If you’re an aviation enthusiast(or nerd as my wife affectionately calls me), your trip to the TWA Hotel isn’t complete without a visit to the roof top swimming pool. If you’re going in the morning from 7am – 10:45am, you won’t need a reservation. After that you’ll need a reservation from 11am-11pm.

The infinity pool is the centerpiece of the luxurious rooftop deck. There is an outdoor bar for cocktails and snacks to enjoy while watching planes from the JetBlue and international arrival terminals come and go.

View from the Rooftop Bar looking at the JetBlue Terminal.

To get taxi shots coming to the gates in front of you, you’ll need nothing more than a 70-200mm lens, however, if you’re trying to get touchdown shots of arrivals on 31R, you’ll need something in the 400-500mm range on a full frame camera. Either way, it’s an amazing up close vantage point of aircraft and you get some vantage points of the aircraft that you might no otherwise get.

Overall, aviation history buffs, or those who just want a walk down memory lane, the TWA Hotel at JFK International Airport in NYC won’t disappoint. If you’re able to, get a room with a ramp view, you will be glad you did.


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