Review: TWA Hotel at JFK Airport (New York, USA)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, I enjoyed a wonderful trip to New York City and the Caribbean islands of Anguilla and St Martin. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (January 13, 2020): Review of TWA Hotel at JFK Airport, New York City

Opened in May 2019, the TWA Hotel – JFK’s only on-airport hotel – pays homage to the sixties, also known as the golden age of aviation and travel. At the center of the unique hotel is Eero Saarinen’s landmark 1962 TWA Flight Center, which houses the lobby, restaurants, bars and retail outlets. Two hotel wings, designed to reflect and defer to the landmark TWA Flight Center, sit behind the historic building and contain 512 guestrooms with views of JFK’s runways and the TWA Flight Center. The hotel also has a stunning rooftop infinity pool, which remains open 365 days a year thanks to its ability to reach 100° F (38 °C)  and turn into a pool-cuzzi.

The TWA Hotel at JFK Airport features in my top 10 list of the world’s best airport hotels.

Have you ever stayed at TWA Hotel at JFK Airport? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

In this review (more info and photos below my YouTube clip & slideshow):


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The TWA hotel is the only on-airport hotel at JFK. The property is located across and connected by red carpeted tubes to JFK Airport’s Terminal 5, which is used by New York’s ‘home carrier’ JetBlue. Due to its location, the hotel is a conveniant choice for travelers leaving JFK on an early morning flight. JFK’s AirTrain provides the fastest and best route to and from the TWA Hotel; the AirTrain is free within JFK Airport and between the TWA Hotel and all terminals. For the jetsetters among us, there’s also a dedicated desk at the hotel for Blade, a company which offers helicopter flights between Manhattan and JFK Airport (astarting at $195 USD per leg).
  • The hotel’s main facilities are housed in the former TWA Flight Center, which was designed for Trans World Airlines by famous Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. The terminal wasn’t completed until after the architect’s death in 1961, but it remains one of his most well-known projects, along with the Washington Dulles International Airport and the St Louis Gateway Arch. Featuring a prominent wing-shaped thin shell roof supported by four “Y”-shaped piers, the building’s design received much critical acclaim. In 2001, the TWA Flight Center had to close because it could no longer support the size of modern airplanes. Nearly two decades later, the landmark building came to life again as the glamorously kitsch TWA Hotel.
  • Saarinen’s TWA terminal now serves as the hotel lobby, thought to be the largest hotel lobby in the world. A masterpiece of midcentury modernism, the airy atrium is a massive space, featuring soaring glass walls, elevated walkways, and a curving concrete roof. Many of the building’s most iconic features have been preserved and reinvinted: The Sunken Lounge, with its rich red upholstery and Solari departures board, is now a cocktail bar; the former Paris Café has been reborn, this time under the direction of famed French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten; and the famous red carpeted tunnels now lead hotel guests to their rooms and JetBlue’s Terminal 5 .
  • Designed to defer to the historic landmark, the hotel features two semicircular, 7-storey structures on either side of the terminal, which house 512 guest rooms. During my visit, I stayed in a “Deluxe King Room with historic TWA view,” which featured floor-to-ceiling windows, a plush king-sized bed, and a bathroom equipped with one sink, a toilet, and a rainshower. The room’s decor was reflective of the corporate modernism of the 60s, with warm walnut accents, mirrored martini bar, brass light fixtures, terrazzo floors, Knoll furnishings, and even a rotary phone. Despite being in the heart of an airport, the room was ultra-quiet; apparently, the windows that block out the sound are the thickest in the world (after the USA Embassy in London).
  • The hotel’s highlight is its rooftop infinity pool, located on top of one of the two room buildings. The highly filtered water is purified every 30 minutes (a standard pool recirculates every 6 hours) and open year round since the water can be heated up to 100°F (38°C). Inspired by the infinity edge pool at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes, France, the swimming spot has a beach entry and underwater seating — not to mention a gleaming TWA logo mosaic in the signature colors of gold and red. The pool sits on the horizon of a thrilling scene: JFK’s bustling Runway 4 Left/22 Right (one of the largest runways in the USA), with views all the way to Jamaica Bay.
  • Another highlight is a meticulously restored Lockheed Constellation plane from the 1950s, housing a unique cocktail lounge. Commissioned in 1939 by TWA’s eccentric owner, Howard Hughes, the Lockheed Constellation “Connie” broke the era’s transcontinental speed record on a flight from Burbank, California, to New York in 1946. The plane also served as Air Force One for President Eisenhower in the 1950s. The model was brought back to its original condition for the TWA hotel, which involved replacing parts, repairing its missing nose, and installing flooring and windows. Bright red carpeting, curtains and upholstered built-ins were chosen to reflect the bygone era when it carried passengers across the country under the TWA brand.
  • The TWA Hotel at JFK Airport offers a wide variety of bars and restaurants:
    • Located in the heart of the 1962 Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal, the Paris Café by Jean-Georges encompasses the entire footprint of the terminal’s original Paris Café and Lisbon Lounge. The restaurant’s menu features historic in-flight menus from TWA.
    • At the heart of the hotel is the Sunken Lounge. Crowds gathered there to watch the Beatles arrive in the United States in 1965; today, windows look out on our 1958 “Connie” plane while overhead a split flap departures board by Solari di Udine displays messages. Guest can recline on the upholstered benches and admire the authentic white penny tile and original Chili Pepper Red carpet.
    • Grab-and-go options are offered in the historic Food Hall, where TWA travelers once checked in for flights. And yes, there are tables in case you want to stay a while. Food outlets include Fly-By Bagels, Vinny’s Panini, Feltman’s of Coney Island, and Mister Softee.
    • As already described above, the hotel also offers a cocktail lounge within its renovated Lockheed plane as well as a bar next to its rooftop pool.
  • A flight attendant’s log detailing five years of airborne adventures. Vintage furniture from the TWA headquarters. In-flight amenities – gilded playing cards, silver serving ware – from a more elegant era. These are just some of the items showcased at the TWA Hotel. The New-York Historical Society– founded in 1804 as New York’s first museum – curated the exhibits, which are free of charge and located in various spots throughout the former TWA terminal and its flight tubes. Two exhibits focus on TWA’s history — including Howard Hughes’ tenure as owner — and Saarinen’s development of the terminal. The offices of both men are recreated with period-perfect details, inviting guests to imagine themselves at Saarinen’s drafting table or behind Hughes’s desk.
  • The hotel is a tribute to the golden age of jet travel, not only thanks to the painstakingly renovated TWA Flight Center and the midcentury-modern decor, but also thanks to so many other, sometimes quirky details that invoke a nostalgic 1960s flashback. For example, staff dressed in vintage TWA flight attendant uniforms welcome guests in the lobby. The hotel check-in desks replicate TWA airport check-in counters. Vintage cars and luggage left here when the terminal opened are all part of the decor. Even the lobby’s public restrooms mirror Saarinen’s original design, right down to the large, central paper towel dispenser. Also, the classic red-and-white TWA branding is everywhere, from spiffy amenity kits to enamel pins.
  • The TWA Hotel at JFK Airport features the world’s largest hotel fitness center, featuring futuristic, state-of-the-art and best-of-the-past equipment. The fitness center — located one floor below the lobby, next to The TWA Shop — is free for TWA Hotel guests (although day passes and monthly memberships are also available for a fee). The facility offers acycling studio with 14 Peloton bikes, 12 treadmills, 10 ellipticals, and a full yoga studio.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

  • The rooftop pool is rightly one of the hotel’s selling points, but it can get crowded here in summer. There’s only a limited number of lounge chairs available around the pool and they cannot be reserved. Lounge chairs are first come, first served.
  • Most rooms face the TWA Flight Center, with large floor-to-ceiling windows giving a direct view of the terminal and its bright interior spaces. However, this also means that those inside the terminal have a great view inside your room if you leave the light on. There are blackout shades, but nonetheless, the lack of privacy in these rooms might be problematic for some guests. Rooms with a runway view feel more private. Also, most rooms are cramped and have little space for storing larger luggage item (e.g. suitcases).
  • Service at the TWA Hotel is inconsistent and mediocre. The friendly staff is young and enthusiastic but lacks experience and gives a disorganized impression. There are far more hotel guests than staff members, which doesn’t help either. Also, the hotel lacks rooms service and doesn’t have any sort of luggage carts or bellmen, which is rather bizarre for an airport hotel.
  • With Jean-Georges Vongerichten managing the hotel’s signature restuarant (Paris Café), guests have high expectations. Vongerichten – who has been awarded Michelin stars for 14 years — operates 36 restaurants, including ABC Kitchen in Manhattan, Mercato in Shanghai and Simply Chicken in NYC’s Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, the menu at Vongerichten’s outlet at the TWA hotel is disappointingly simple while the food itself is mediocre and definitely doesn’t match up to the extraordinary surroundings nor to Vongerichten’s legendary reputation. The TWA hotel nails it on so many points, but it’s not a foodies destination. Also, all bar and restaurants close by 1am (a strange decision given this is an airport hotel).
  • The TWA Hotel at JFK Airport lacks a spa, which is a missed opportunity since many travelers appreciate some wellness prior or after a longhaul flight.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 7/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Pool: 8/10
  • Rooms: 8/10
  • Food: 6/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: not available
  • Service: 5/10
  • Value for money: 8/10
  • Overall experience: very good 8,2/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Room tip: Request a runway view room on the highest floor for more privacy and to watch the aircraft movements.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Anytime! Each season in Gotham offers visitors plenty of reasons to visit. Early fall offers crisp breezes, bright sun and comfortable temperatures (indian summer) , and may the best time for a visit.  Winter can be cold, but that also means better hotel rates. Spring is glorious and New Yorkers celebrate the thaw by taking to the streets, shopping at outdoor markets, frolicking in Central Park and dining outside. Summer can be unbearable hot, so try to avoid July and August.


HOW TO GET THERE

The hotel is adjacent to Terminal 5 (used by JetBlue) at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), the primary international airport serving the greater New York City area. Check the Wikipedia page of JFK Airport for an updated list of airlines that have direct flights to this airport.


PHOTOS
EXTERIOR
EXTERIOR
EXTERIOR
TWA HOTEL AT JFK: ENTRANCE
TWA HOTEL AT JFK: ENTRANCE
TWA HOTEL AT JFK: ENTRANCE
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY: CHECK-IN AREA
LOBBY: CHECK-IN AREA
LOBBY: CHECK-IN AREA
LOBBY: CHECK-IN AREA
LOBBY: CHECK-IN AREA
LOBBY
LOBBY: FOOD COURT
LOBBY: FOOD COURT
LOBBY: FOOD COURT
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
LOBBY
PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
TUBE TO GUEST ROOMS
TUBE TO GUEST ROOMS
GUEST ROOM FLOOR
GUEST ROOM FLOOR
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
DELUXE KING ROOM WITH HISTORIC TWA VIEW
HOTEL MAP
ROOFTOP WITH POOL
ROOFTOP WITH POOL
ROOFTOP WITH POOL
ROOFTOP WITH POOL
ROOFTOP WITH POOL (VIEW)
ROOFTOP WITH POOL (BAR)
ROOFTOP WITH POOL
ROOFTOP WITH POOL
ROOFTOP WITH POOL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
CONNIE PLANE AT TWA HOTEL
ICE RINK AT TWA HOTEL
ICE RINK AT TWA HOTEL
SHOP AT AT TWA HOTEL
SHOP AT AT TWA HOTEL
GYM
GYM
EXHIBITS AT TWA HOTEL
EXHIBITS AT TWA HOTEL
EXHIBITS AT TWA HOTEL
EXHIBITS AT TWA HOTEL
EXHIBITS AT TWA HOTEL
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
HOTEL AT NIGHT
DINNER AT PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
DINNER AT PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
DINNER AT PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
DINNER AT PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
DINNER AT PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
DINNER AT PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES
DINNER AT PARIS CAFE BY JEAN-GEORGES

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2 Comments

  1. Pics, as usual, are excellent! I visited this terminal when I was child in 1965. My family is from NYC and this took me right back. But how does the Spa get 9 out of 10, when there is no spa?

  2. It’s interesting to see that most of the criticisms of the hotel are the same that I had when I stayed there opening night. I chalked it up to opening day issues (especially the poor service), but it seems like they are more systemic than I would have hoped.

    I think the management, which comes from the budget hotel sector, simply doesn’t know how to run an upscale (let alone luxury) hotel.

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