TWA: An Airport Hotel Like No Other

It’s arrived. And it’s quite a departure from other properties. This airport hotel—and it is in the truest sense of the term, as it’s on the grounds of New York’s JFK International Airport across from Jet Blue/Terminal 5—has been a long time in the making, a passion project, and a highly anticipated one. The TWA Hotel is finally here, ready to take off as the hotel opening not to miss. And the folks involved—from the developer to the interior designer—agreed to chat with Hotel Business for this exclusive industry cover story.

We first reported on this restoration project in our November 7, 2017 issue—also a cover story. As I wrote in my editor’s note in that edition:

The iconic transformation of the Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center terminal at JFK really excites me. It’s a 1962 treasure, and a pure and classic example of the now-hip-again mid-century modern design aesthetic. As someone who has always been inspired by design and architecture—and as a native New Yorker—it’s both comforting and exhilarating to watch this revival of his architectural genius, despite overwhelming challenges and even, at one time, talks of demolition. Considered more a neo-futuristic style at the time, the fluid lines of the symmetrical building—with cantilevered concrete shells that extend outward, representing flight—are visually stunning, as through sculptural supports and curving stairways, a sense of movement is evoked. And isn’t that what we all speak of in terms of architecture? Striking an emotional chord, eliciting a feeling from what is otherwise an inanimate object. And though his untimely death at a relatively young age cut short one of the most influential architectural careers in American culture, the vision of this Finnish-American architect and industrial designer—and structural gem in New York’s Queens borough—lives on, to be enjoyed by a whole new generation of tourists and locals who will feel the vintage vibe upon entering the hotel’s lobby. The emotional connection that Saarinen created more than 50 years ago will now not only live on—but with the opening of this hospitality hub—will thrive.

And now, in 2019, I’m writing about it again. The TWA Hotel was inspired by the year 1962, when the Kennedys graced the White House in the Camelot era, The Beatles released Love Me Do, West Side Story won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the animated sitcom The Jetsons premiered on ABC. Opened about a month now, I haven’t had the opportunity to stay there yet, but I know I will, as I’m intrigued by nostalgia and pop culture—and am married to a guy who, let’s just say, is the embodiment of vintage vibe.

My dear friend Karen, however, had the foresight to book a room in advance—on the very first day reservations became available—as an anniversary gift for her husband. She knew he would love it. And while our cover story, which starts on page 24, reports all you need to know about the project from a development, construction and design perspective, we all know it’s guest perception that really counts. So, I decided to interview Karen to get her take on being one of the first visitors to stay at this iconic destination.

“I love the golden days of travel,” she said. “From the uniforms to just the exclusivity of air travel in those early days. I remember as a child flying on both TWA and Pan Am, and the meals were special and the flight attendants beautiful and glamorous.”

She continued, “Just being in that building, knowing how much work was put into the renovation to keep it true to the original…we really enjoyed it.” Their king room had a runway view, which was “so cool” and “great for an overnight stay. And the room was quiet, even with the runway right there.” The trip back to the ’60s was nonstop—“my favorite part was being able to see the display of all the old uniforms and the flight attendants’ suitcases packed with essentials,” she said. “It made it more special that hotel staff wear replica uniforms, designed for different areas of the hotel. And to keep it real, the music in the public spaces is from the era.”

Not to be missed, “the rooftop infinity pool was great with a nice bar. I really wanted to swipe one of the red and white towels,” she joked.

“I would definitely go back, especially if I had an early flight and wanted to be close to the airport,” she said. “It would also be great just to hang out at the cocktail lounge, at the restaurants, if you were at a nearby terminal and wanted a nice place to relax.”

Sounds like you have a return customer in her and a future one in me. Just leave those towels where they are…