An airport hotel on the surface seems to be a very boring place to wait and lounge in while you have a layover, but the TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport is an expedition in future. The Flight Center turned TWA Hotel has started grabbing attention since its opening
By: Nikita Vivek Pawar
Posted on: May 23, 2019
An airport hotel is the worst nightmare of a traveller’s journey. Somewhere in the back of your mind you know it’s not going to be pleasant waiting in the lounge till your next flight. But there is one such hotel that promises to be worth your time. Laying dormant for over two decades beside the John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 5, the Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight Center has finally turned into a splendid, kitschy airport hotel. Once you step inside this retro-chic hotel, you are transported to the 1960s with the technology of 2019. The hotel is restored carefully, while preserving its iconic spots and landmarks, giving due respect to the original architect Eero Saarinen’s design and layout.
The TWA Flight Center was the beginning of the Jet Age, an epitome of design, infrastructure and management. The TWA Flight Center enjoyed fame and honour all its life and continues to do so in a different light altogether.
The TWA History
The TWA terminal had opened in 1962 with the original structure featuring a prominent wing-shaped thin shell roof over the head house or the main terminal. The unusual tube-shaped red-carpeted departure-arrival corridors gave it a futurist ambience while the tall windows gave expansive views of the arriving and departing airplanes. In October 2001, the terminal operations ended due to TWA getting acquired by American Airlines after suffering financial struggles. The terminal was designated a New York City landmark in 1994 and, was thereafter listed on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places in 2005.
The restoration of the TWA Flight Center began in 2016, taking care to maintain the theme and vibe of the Flight Center. Out of the many features of the hotel, the property has a TWA Shop, selling apparel and gears to honour the Trans World Airlines’ legacy. A museum exhibition was arranged to celebrate mid-century modern designs with over 440 TWA uniforms, some designed by luxury brands Balmain, Valentino and American designer Stan Herman. The items in the museum are curated by the New York Historical Society to allow visitors an insight into aviation history.
Restoring and recuperation of a renowned landmark and building a 50,000-square-foot events center was a massive endeavour to undertake. The project involved 22 government agencies and more than 170 firms. The project costed $250 million with four architecture firms adding to the original design. Turner Construction Company began work in the fall of 2016, with roughly 450 union tradespeople on site every day.
Tyler Morse, CEO and Managing Partner of MCR and MORSE Development said, "We restored and reimagined his landmark with the same care that he [Mr. Saarinen] devoted to his design. No detail went overlooked — from the millwork by Amish artisans to the custom font inspired by Saarinen's own sketches to the one-of-a-kind manhole covers. Starting today, the world can enjoy this mid-century marvel for many years to come."
The Flight Corridor
The TWA Hotel is one of the only airport hotels that has a Reading hall where guests are invited to relax on mid-century modern furniture by Herman Miller while browsing Phaidon books. The hotel also includes a 15,000 sq.ft. ballroom. The 512 sound-proof rooms (providing respite from runway noise) are located in two black glass buildings attached to the main hotel by two red tubes. The rooms are styled like in the 1960s with Saarinen designed chairs, a martini bar and guess what - a working rotary phone! The split-flag departures boards are custom made by Salori di Udine in Italy. The hotel also houses the world’s largest hotel gym which is 10,000 square-foot fitness center. If that wasn’t it, the hotel also has the BLADE helicopter service to Manhattan.
We all love visiting places where our favourite movies and series have been shot. It could be the Duone Castle from Game of Thrones or the King’s Cross Station from Harry Potter. Similarly, do you remember the scene where Tom Hanks confronts Leonardo di Caprio while he boards a flight, in the 2002 movie ‘Catch Me If You Can’? That iconic flight tube is the one that connects the Flight Center to the Jet Blue’s Terminal 5.
What makes the entire experience surreal and unlike anything matchable is the hotel’s 63-by-20-feet infinity edge pool and 10,000 square feet observation deck which offers an unobstructed view of the JFK’s bustling Runway 4 Left/22 Right. Inspired by Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes, France, the pool bar will be open 365 days a year. The exciting part? It turns into a pool-cuzzi in the winters! Hosting up to 300 patrons, the Pool Bar is operated by the Gerber Group serving food from a full kitchen and cocktails including Mile High Spritz (vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice and prosecco) and Watermelon Collins (Aviation gin, watermelon and lemon juices, agave and club soda).
Louis Vuitton’s Stamp of Approval
Travel has been the central theme of Louis Vuitton forever. No wonder then that the new TWA Hotel caught the French brand’s eye. Louis Vuitton, therefore, landed in New York, to showcase its Cruise 2020 collection, before the hotel opened up to travelers, on May 8, 2019.
Perfectly fitting to the venue, the Cruise 2020 collection ventures into the feelings associated with departures and arrivals, the cultural and ideological exchange between cities and regions, minimising boundaries and limitations. It translated the reliefs of legendary buildings as urbane prints, contrasted with clever embroideries and bedazzling brocade. Acid colours represented the magnificent New York City’s skyline, the Wall Street uniform gratifies in poetic transgressions, and shaded silhouettes refer a Gotham City ambience. It was a collection befitting the venue. LV showcased prototypes of iconic bags reconsidered in futuristic ways with connected accessories. Guests such as Emma Stone, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Jennifer Connelly, Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas got their first look at the hotel via the brand.
Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquière said, “I was lucky enough to have landed at the TWA Flight Center in the late Nineties. It was something I could never forget. This place was forgotten for twenty years and now has come back to life. It’s like a sanctuary that’s been revived and seeing it enchant anew in a different iteration, as a hotel, is a great pleasure. It’s about rediscovering of an uncommon place that yet is a part of American heritage.”
Incredibly, the rows of plants used for this show’s décor were either donated or turned into compost. Talk about sustainable events!
Food While You Wait
The USP of the TWA hotel is the iconic infrastructure and history that the place carries. Restoring and reimagining the same place in a different light makes the newer version a special experience. The TWA Hotel is equipped with few such incredibly unique restaurants.
The Lockheed Constellation L – 1649A Starline Passenger Jet from the 1950s is turned into a cocktail bar. ‘Connie’ has had a career for herself. Facing competition from the Boeing 707 to being sold at an auction for a mere $150, the aircraft has a lot of stories to tell. The 116 feet long airplane is now a cocktail lounge with reupholstered seats inside for the patrons to sip Champagne. Inside the lounge, artist Maric Zamparelli painted 8-by-4-foot murals, depicting 25 destinations from Bangkok to Boston. The best part? Guests are allowed in the cockpit to see the controls and have an insight into being a pilot for the massive airplane. Don’t forget to see the secret radar!
The Sunken Lounge is now repurposed to serve up as a cocktail lounge. The iconic red chilli carpet (also where Louis Vuitton showcased its collection) invites you to a unique experience. Located under the slipt flap departure, the centre of the terminal, the bar serves cocktails from the 1960s like Aviation (crème de violette, maraschino liqueur, gin, and lemon juice) and the Royal Ambassador (champagne, orange juice, and Grand Marnier). To honor TWA, Gerber Group offers the official Sunken Lounge Martini (served with TWA flight wings!) and the Howard Hughes (Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège, Crème de Violette, fresh lemon juice and ginger). The cherry on the top are the Original signature cocktails — including Come Fly With Me, inspired by Frank Sinatra’s 1958 album cover — garnished with a rainbow of swizzle sticks. The lounge’s floor-to-ceiling glass walls look out to the Connie airplane lounge parked on the tarmac.
The Paris Café by Michelin star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is one of the six restaurants the hotel has and one of grandest experience. The 200 seater Paris Café is located at the mezzanine level, taking over the terminal’s original Paris Lounge and Lisbon Lounge. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from an open kitchen in collaboration with Tastes on the Fly. The menu consists of dishes and food inspired by the in-flight menus from TWA. The hotel list also includes a food court style restaurant including restaurants such as Antico Noè, Empanada Republic, Fresh&Co, The Halal Guys and Playa Bowls.
If this doesn’t entice for you a quick-layover at the TWA Hotel, I guess I am not that wonderful a writer then.
Coordinates: JFK Airport, Jamaica, New York, USA