Experiential pop-ups and “Instagrammable” exhibits are all too common these days, like the Museum of Ice Cream and Color Factory, which at their core is just a glamorous photo backdrop. Though of the many themed experiences out there, none come close to the newly-opened TWA Hotel, a 1967 airport Terminal turned hotel. What makes this hotel so amazing is it’s the real deal, not a fake backdrop, or tourist trap, but a living icon now open for public use. There's history, there's glamour, there's a compelling backstory, and now a chance to reinvent itself.
I recently stayed a night and I don’t think I have ever been more excited for a hotel stay. While that may not come as a surprise for an aviation fanatic like me, I trust anyone who visits can appreciate what this hotel has to offer.
The highly-anticipated TWA Hotel opened Summer 2019, nearly 60 years after the Terminal’s original opening in 1967. This isn’t just any old airport Terminal, it’s the original TWA Flight Center designed by famous architect Eero-Saarinen best known for his neo-futuristic modern style. Shaped like a seagull with its wings extended into the sky, this marvelous Terminal was built with sweeping curves and arches to form the main area. There are parts of the building that are cozy and intimate, while other areas like the famous Sunken Lounge, offer spacious and airy open ceilings. It’s remarkable how this building continues to withstand the test of time.
The hotel itself is located inside JFK International Airport which makes short layovers, early departures, or late arrivals more do-able. I’ve recently become accustomed to staying at airport hotels the night before a flight to avoid any extra stress, particularly when traveling through New York. Some of my very favorite airport hotels around the world include the Crowne Plaza at Singapore Changi International Airport, Sheraton at Milan Malenpensa International Airport, and now the TWA Hotel at JFK
The Hotel Layout
In an effort to preserve the TWA Flight Center, the property has been divided into three distinct sections - the Flight Center or main lobby, the Saarinen Wing, and the Hughes Wing, where 512 rooms are located. Each new wing is curved to outline the perimeter of the TWA Flight Center. Directly behind the TWA Flight Center and between JetBlue’s Terminal 5 is where you’ll find the restored Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, or “Connie” for short. The plane now serves as a special bar, which is open to guests and non-guests. Here is a layout of the hotel.
There are a few ways to reach the hotel, none too difficult. For those arriving from off-site, the easiest (and perhaps most expensive) will be by cab. The second option will be arriving from a JetBlue flight into Terminal 5, which is connected directly to the hotel from the arrivals hall. Those arriving into Terminals 1-4 and 6-8 can take the AirTrain to Terminal 5, take the elevator to the ground floor, follow the arrows through the parking garage, and cross the street to the hotel. It’s not a terribly long walk although if it is cold outside, which it very much was during December, then be prepared to bundle up.
My Alaska Airlines flight arrived into Terminal 6, just one Terminal away from the hotel. My transit time from deplane to check-in took 20 minutes by AirTrain.
The Brand Experience
One of the best parts of the hotel is how period appropriate everything is. From the key cards to uniforms, I love how strong the brand identity is. Even the font choices, color schemes, and design have been used to further immerse guests into the lively 1960s. It truly shows how branding has played a large part to ensure an authentic experience at every touchpoint.
From check-in to restaurant staff, and employees at every level, I was so impressed by everyone's level of enthusiasm, knowledge, and pride. Particularly the pool wait staff who started at the hotel just a few months ago, yet could rattle off every hotel stat. It was evident that each person was genuinely excited to be there.
The hotel has 512 hotel rooms split between 2 towers, the Saarinen Wing and the Hughes Wing. I stayed in room 701, a room sold as a “Deluxe King with Historic TWA View” for $259 + taxes. The room was directly facing the Saarinen Building, as I booked. To access the rooms, guests enter the “Catch Me If You Can” red tubes towards the elevator bank.
Arriving on the 7th Floor, room 701 was located directly outside the elevators. The room location wasn’t ideal as I definitely heard excess noise from the outside, but I don’t think the hotel was fully booked, so the noise was at a minimum. For future, I would have preferred a room towards the middle or end of the wing.
I loved every aspect of the room! Every which way you turned was something to appreciate. The moment I walked in, I noticed the mix of wood, stone, and black trim for contrast. From there, I explored the well-appointed bar area. The entire bar set-up was a statement, which was accentuated by upside-down hanging glassware, gold trim, and a marble top counter. It sparkled, it glowed, and it was inviting.
The bar area was set inside a larger built-in unit which served as a place to hang jackets, the safe, and mini-bar. Now’s a good time to mention the room doesn't include a closet, instead it has large knobs to hang suits and jackets. Hanging on the knob was a branded white robe.
The bathroom to the left was spacious and well-appointed. The fun oversized marquee mirror elevated the decor. The vanity below stretched the same length as the mirror to give you a sense of how large the bathroom was. The shower pressure and water temperature was great, which is something I have started to pay close attention to when traveling. The toiletries were TWA Hotel branded and smelled quite nice.
Moving into the room, the entire living space was no more than 10’X10’. The bed was in the middle with a built-in desk and partition behind. Then, a generously large TV and floor to ceiling windows in front. In the corner was a chair and light for casual window gazing. The room was a great size for 2 people and plenty large for NYC standards.
My only criticism was the concrete floor, which had no heat radiation. So walking around the room on a cold floor after waking-up, or a shower, wasn’t the most homey feeling. It’s a highly personal preference but something I noticed and took away as an area for improvement.
While the hotel itself is the main attraction, the property offers a variety of amenities, shops, and bars to keep guests entertained. Its wellness program includes a rooftop pool overlooking the tarmac and full-sized gym available for guest use and day-visitors. Shoppers have their pick from a few small boutique stores including Reading Room the bookstore, leather travel goods store Shinola, the TWA Shop, and even a Twister Room.
Taking a moment to gush over the rooftop infinity-edge pool, words can’t describe how much this space makes me happy. Not only is the pool heated for those cold winter nights, the space also has a full-bar, plenty of seats, but most importantly, the best views in the house (if you ask me). How cool is it to swim, relax, and plane-watch at the same time? Everything about this space makes you never want to leave. The pool is open most of the day, although reserved exclusively for guests in the morning, I believe from 7AM - 11AM.
During my stay, the hotel also set-up an ice skating rink and an equipment chalet for skate rentals (and other cold-weather gear like scarves, gloves, and beanies). The rink lit-up quite nice against the Connie bar.
The TWA Hotel has attempted to provide a range of exciting dining options for discerning overnight guests and those who seek a quick bite. At the top of the list is Paris Cafe by world-renowned chef Jean-Georges, which I had to try.
Before arriving, I heard reservations for Paris Cafe can be hard to come by day-of. I took my chances and stopped by the restaurant around 6PM and was seated a few minutes later at their countertop, which was also filled with other solo diners and travelers. I thought it was smart to give solo travelers a seat facing the kitchen to interact with waiters and cooks. I found my server incredibly friendly and attentive.
The restaurant was designed to look identical to when the Terminal was in use - with lots of pastel hues of pink, yellow, and blue, paired with glossy white tables and marble tops.
I ordered a Cucumber Martini and the Roasted Faroe Island Salmon, by the recommendation of my waiter. The meal was paired with a bread basket and soft butter. Less than 5 minutes later, my dinner was served, and surprisingly before my drink, which arrived another 5 minutes later. As for my dinner, I enjoyed the Salmon, which tasted fresh, though the accompaniments were over salted.
Outside of the Paris Cafe, guests should also check-out the famous Connie Bar, an original 1970’s TWA propellor plane used to fly guests all around the world. This vintage plane is now home to their outdoor bar where you can sit onboard and order a curated selection of drinks.
The Check-In + Check Out
Following a great night’s sleep, I checked out of the hotel at 1PM after requesting a late check-out. The hotel front desk staff was quite accommodating in the morning and happily obliged my request. I spent additional time that morning exploring the hotel and snapping photos for contrast between day and night. I think the photos came out quite nice, if I say so myself. Like check-in, guests are encouraged to check-out on the self-service iPad, which was nifty. The entire process from check-in to check-out could not have been more seamless.
I have been looking forward to staying at the TWA Hotel for quite some time. It’s one of those hotel experiences I knew I had to see it, to believe it. The TWA Hotel wasn’t just any other on-airport hotel, it’s a well-preserved 60 year old airport Terminal turned hotel. I had very high-expectations going into my overnight stay and it did not disappoint. I was brought back into the 1960’s to see and experience how travelers used the Terminal. I enjoyed a delicious meal at Paris Cafe by renowned chef Jean-Georges. I had drinks inside a vintage aircraft parked just outside the Terminal. And, of course, I stayed in a well-appointed hotel room. Everything about this hotel has been made to look and feel like a moment frozen in time - and it’s done incredibly well.