First Impressions of the TWA Hotel — Spectacular, But Needs Work

May 17, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The TWA Hotel opened Wednesday at New York’s JFK airport to much fanfare and delight. Hordes of press, guests and former Trans World Airlines employees crowded the lobby of the famed TWA Flight Center to celebrate and enjoy a rejuvenated marvel of architecture and ode to aviation history.

While the opening produced much excitement, there were quite a few hiccups regarding the actual operations of the hotel, which makes sense given it was a soft opening. That being said, the property felt like a fantastic place to step back in time and geek out over the Golden Age of Travel.

 

The Good

This really may be one of the world’s best airport hotels. That’s because the lobby is housed in the famous TWA Flight Center, designed by legendary architect Eero Saarinen, whose works include Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

The Flight Center has been completely revitalized to make it look like it did in 1962. Stunning, bright red carpet starkly contrasts with the white penny tile that covers much of the lobby’s surface. The swooping architecture of the building is so thoughtfully designed that there actually isn’t a single right angle in the building.

According to MCR Development, who spearheaded the project, the TWA Hotel has the largest lobby in the world, measuring in at 200,000 square feet. Hotel check-in desks are stationed right where the original airline desks were, and the baggage drop is still operational!

(Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)

No LCD screens appear here — Solari split-flat boards click and clack, updating on the minute with new airlines, destinations and gate numbers. Unfortunately, it’s not real flight information, but it helps add to the vintage ambience.

The sunken lounge is one of the lobby’s centerpieces, with views of JFK’s Terminal 5 and the 1958 TWA Lockheed Constellation. It’s a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or relax with a cocktail served by one of the hotel staff.

What I truly loved about the hotel is the incredible attention to detail. Everything is TWA-branded or made to look like it’s from the era when the airline was at its height (and I mean everything). From the coasters in the rooms etched with TWA aircraft to rotary phones (yes, they actually work) to vintage LIFE magazines.

Crew uniforms are prominently displayed, revealing the evolution of design and reflecting the culture of the country throughout the years. There are other nooks and crannies throughout the hotel where TWA and 1960s memorabilia are displayed, be it an early model TWA Boeing 747 or a circa-1962 TIME magazine celebrating the early days of space travel.

Classic TWA advertisements deck the walls of the hall that leads out to one of the stars of the show: a fully restored 1958 Lockheed Constellation.

The aircraft actually flew for TWA for two years and then had a wild history before it ended up where it is now, back in its original livery. Guests can enjoy a cocktail inside the aircraft, which even sports retro airplane seats — unfortunately, the interior bar wasn’t fully functional on opening day, though guests were served complimentary sparkling wine.

However, we did enjoy a few Negronis at the Lisbon Lounge, where we had great service. We were forced to stay there, though, as our reservation for the adjacent Paris Cafe, by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, was dubiously canceled on opening morning because of overbooking. Fellow guests said the food was good, but I took a peek at the menu, and the prices give post-security airport restaurants a run for their money: $18 for fried calamari and $26 for a cheeseburger.

(Image courtesy of The TWA Hotel)
(Image courtesy of The TWA Hotel)

Not only is this a place for lovers of TWA and aviation history, but those who appreciate a modern jet will be more than satisfied with a visit to rooftop pool and grill that has a panoramic view of JFK’s Runway 4 Left/22 Right. TPG Managing Editor Alberto Riva dove deep into how the hotel is a potential mecca for aviation geeks.

Two towers were built between the TWA Flight Center and JFK’s Terminal 5, which host 512 guest rooms — making it the only hotel that’s truly on site at JFK. The top floors of the Hughes Wing (named after legendary TWA CEO and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes) have incredible views of the runway, too — just make sure you request one upon booking. Tyler Morse, CEO of MCR Development, told us that while the property isn’t currently charging extra for these views, it does have plans to do so eventually.

The rooms themselves weren’t huge, but as far as New York hotels go, they get the job done. Midcentury modern design is prevalent throughout the space, and terrazzo tile lines part the bathroom. A classy wet bar sits in the room’s foyer, right next to a bathrobe emblazoned with the TWA logo.

I slept great during my one-night stay. The plush king bed was aided by the 4.5-inch-thick glass curtain wall that kept the room so quiet I forgot I was just a stone’s throw away from Airbus A380 engines.

Rooms themselves start at $250 a night but can also be booked in four-hour blocks for $150, perfect for the business traveler coming off a red-eye or someone with an extended layover at JFK.

For more details on the room, hotel and all its AvGeekery, check out our video tour hosted by TPG Community Manager and red-blooded AvGeek Wallace Cotton  with a cameo from yours truly).

Growing Pains

Unfortunately, the actual guest experience was far from perfect. But I should preface again, this was a soft opening, so not everything was operating at 100%. When I checked in, I was told the runway room I booked wasn’t ready because it wasn’t yet furnished. They had to move me to a lower floor, where I was just able to view the belly of the aircraft. The check-in agent could see my disappointment and offered to take half off my bill without me even asking.

Once I was in my room, I had no issues and enjoyed a pleasant evening and sleep. However, Alberto Riva was unable to turn off the lights behind the bed — and hotel staff had no idea how to fix it, either. He had to jury-rig a barrier with pillows over the lights to darken the room. We heard of similar issues and electrical problems from other hotel guests.

Throughout the hotel, parts of the building were very much under construction: There were exposed wires in some areas, some of the elevators weren’t operational, and when we headed up to the rooftop pool, we were confined to a small corner of the space, as they were still finishing up the area.

TWA Hotel representatives could not comment on when the hotel would be completely operational. They did say that the Departures Food Hall will be running at full steam come Monday, and the Paris Cafe started serving breakfast Friday.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been covering this since construction started in 2016. I can tell you the sheer complexity of this project is truly astounding: MCR has had to work with dozens of government agencies, historical societies and more to pull off this feat. And for all the service hiccups and the handful of unfinished areas of the hotel, it’s still incredible to see the TWA Flight Center revitalized as a true testament to the Jet Age. I imagine most of the unfavorable characteristics should be gone within the next few weeks.

Once the hotel is fully complete, it’s absolutely worth staying at and will surely be a place for longtime AvGeeks (and potential new ones), architecture nuts and even everyday travelers to explore and soak in all its historical ambience.

All images by the author except where noted. 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.