Hotel review: TWA Hotel at JFK
A novel hotel, a museum and a retro airport terminal all under one roof? It's no longer a flight of fancy.
TWA Hotel: The details
- Where: New York John F. Kennedy Airport
- When: December 2019
- Room type: Deluxe King with Runway View
- Guests: 2 guests, 1 room
- Cost: US$302 inclusive of taxes
- Hotel star rating: 5-star
- Book your stay: TWA Hotel
- Hotel loyalty program: No affiliated program
TL;DR: Enoch's review in short
- My star rating: ★★★★1/2
- Cost: A little pricey; entry level room at approx. US$196 (AUD$283) a night inclusive of taxes, and a room with runway view will set you back at least US$302 (AUD$439)
- Location: Onsite New York JFK Airport
- Decor: Retro and elegant mid-century modern with a strong aviation theme
- Check-in/out: Staff assisted, with many self-service touchscreens also available
- The room: Large size with beautiful timber floors, work desk and great views of the Petronas Twin Towers.
- Food: The Paris Cafe is the only restaurant, with snacks and drinks at various other locations including the rooftop bar and in Connie Airplane Lounge. No breakfast buffet
- Facilities: World class fitness centre, heated rooftop infinity pool and ice rink during winter months
Instead of "come stay with us" this hotel abides by the motto of "come fly with us". Rightly so, because the 512-room property is built on the grounds of the historical TWA Flight Center from the 60s. By transforming the retro terminal space into the hotel lobby, TWA Hotel showcases a glimpse of travel and its glamour more than half a century ago.
Given the terminal's neo-futuristic design, coupled with the novelty of a back-in-time experience, TWA Hotel has gained significant attention from aviation enthusiasts and the general population alike.
I recently stayed at TWA Hotel during a layover at JFK and here is what to expect if you're considering booking a room too.
TWA (Trans World Airlines) was a major US airline between 1930 and 2001. The TWA Flight Center in New York was opened in 1962 and was utilised as a passenger terminal until TWA ceased operations when it was acquired by American Airlines in 2001.
The terminal features a bold and neo-futuristic design. Hailed as one of the 20th century architectural masters, TWA Flight Center's architect Eero Saarinen is also known for other notable works such as the Washington Dulles Airport and the Gateway Arch, St Louis.
A major advantage of the TWA Hotel is its proximity to the airport terminals. The hotel is linked to the Terminal 5 arrival level via the iconic "flight tubes" at both ends.
Although I flew in with American Airlines to Terminal 8, the hotel was just a short free AirTrain transfer away.
Alternatively, the hotel is accessible by car and valet service, landing you at the drop-off area in front of the hotel.
The hotel offers four room categories: standard, deluxe, executive suite and presidential suite.
Within each category (excluding standard rooms) you have a choice of TWA terminal view or runway view at a premium. TWA sells day rate packages in 4-, 6- and 12-hour blocks at discounted prices, which cater for those on shorter daytime layovers.
I made the booking direct at TWA Hotel's website.
Inclusive of taxes and fees, the total added up to US$302 (approx. AUD$439) a night for a deluxe room with runway view.
The check-in area is modelled after an airline check-in desk, complete with a conveyer belt for you to check your bags.
Self check-in screens are also available.
Check-in staff welcomed us and provided a brief overview of the property; "welcome to the Disneyland for adults", he joked.
Instead of checking us in, he directed us to use the self check-in screen, which I thought was a little odd.
A set of red TWA key cards were issued and can be kept as a memento after the stay.
Finding the check-in area as well as the directions to the rooms was confusing due to poor signage. We had to seek directions from three separate staff members before we eventually located our room, which speaks volumes.
The hotel rooms are located in the two wings – the Hughes Wing and the Saarinen Wing.
The Saarinen Wing gives access to the events centre while the Hughes Wing gives access to the pool bar and observation deck (level 9).
The elevators of each wing are located mid-point along the red-carpeted corridor. They are vintage-looking with a gold TWA logo on the floor.
We were initially allocated a room in the Hughes Wing on level 5, which had a partial runway view.
We quickly rang the reception to change to a room at a higher level. Thankfully there was one available on level 7.
The deluxe room size was a little smaller than I expected, but it was not terrible. My only complaint was the lack of an in-built wardrobe as there isn't much space to hang your non-foldables.
On the contrary, each room comes with a very lavish minibar, but strangely omitted from the room are the complimentary tea, coffee and kettle.
The bathroom is adorned with terrazzo tiles and Hollywood-style vanity. There are no single use amenities here; affixed to the shower wall are basic soap, shampoo and conditioner.
Meanwhile, additional amenities can be requested from guest services.
Our room had a stowable high-definition TV, which we didn't get a chance to use during our stay. Rather, I preferred soaking in the runway view.
In fact one of the most striking features is the transparency of the room, with the floor to ceiling glass windows offering an uninterrupted view of the tarmac. The windows are also one of the world's thickest for a good reason – soundproofing.
The rooms are installed with modern-day essentials, such as ultra-fast wireless charger and USB ports, plus a pretty fast Wi-Fi connection.
To keep with the retro vibe, each room has an old newspaper, a TWA destination poster and an old-school rotary phone. From your room, you can make unlimited local and international phone calls free of charge.
Our stay coincided with the first snow of the season in New York. Although the runway visibility wasn't great, the arrival of snow brought an ineffable atmosphere, plus there was a lot more tarmac activity.
Every aircraft had to be de-iced before taking to the skies. As the rooms are positioned in between Terminal 4 and Terminal 5, you will typically spot smaller JetBlue aircraft on the left and much larger international carriers on the right.
We frequently spotted Emirates and Singapore Airlines A380s parked close by.
Your dining options in TWA are as follows:
- Paris Cafe & Lisbon Lounge
- The Sunken Lounge
- The Food Hall
- Intelligentsia Coffeebar
- Connie Bar
- The Pool Bar
The main sit-down dining restaurant is the Paris Cafe. This occupies the original Saarinen-designed Paris Cafe in the terminal.
The Lisbon Lounge is the bar and lounge area of the Paris Cafe. Reservations are recommended for the Paris Cafe as it is also open to non-hotel guests. Even when the restaurant was not full, I saw many walk-in guests being turned down during dinner time presumably due to the shortage of waitstaff.
The restaurant menu is designed by award-winning chef Jean-Georges, with reports the team drew some inspiration from the historic TWA in-flight menu.
The complete food and drinks menu is available online here.
I had mixed experiences dining, having eaten at the cafe several times during our stay. We experienced very slow and half-hearted service even during quiet times, a standard short of a true 5-star hotel.
I found the prices a little steep for the quality of the food and unfortunately buffet breakfast is not available here.
From the a la carte menu, a cappuccino, orange juice and poached eggs with toast would cost US$40 (AUD$58) excluding taxes and tips.
After a meal, you may choose to have a drink or snack at the Sunken Lounge or the Connie Cocktail Lounge.
The Sunken Lounge offers a stunning view of the terminal and the attractions outside, such as the Runway Ice Rink and the Connie Airplane.
Commanding the centre of attention was the giant "flap display", commonly used to display flight information back in that era. Instead of flight information, it displayed festive messages as well as occasionally birthday and anniversary wishes. In the background was music from the 60s, which is very fitting for the venue, except the soundtracks got repetitive after a while.
Due to the limited seating in the Connie Lounge, advance reservation is highly recommended. If you prefer a quick bite or a takeaway coffee, you have a choice between the Intelligentsia Coffeebar opposite reception or the food hall.
The food hall is rather underutilised with a lone outlet selling simple sandwiches and a daily soup. The other stalls remain vacant despite the facility lacking a variety of dining options.
Guests can enjoy a cocktail and snacks at the rooftop pool bar, though it was not operating during my stay due to the weather.
I enquired several staff regarding the opening hours but received different answers each time.
You don't have to be a gym junkie to fall in love with this gym as there's something here for everyone.
Spanning 10,000 square feet, the TWA 24-hour fitness centre is the biggest hotel gym in the world.
It's equipped with a yoga studio, cycling studio with Peloton bikes and a comprehensive range of modern equipment and gear.
Most hotel gyms I've been to may have two or three treadmills. Here you'll find a dozen, along with stair-steppers, elliptical machines and a range of other cardio equipment.
Forgot your runners? Not a problem, the fitness centre has got you covered. Shoes can be borrowed at the entrance. For non hotel guests, day passes will set you back US$25.
Rooftop pool and observation deck
The view from the rooftop is incredible. On a clear day you can see planes taking off and landing on more than one runway, including the A380s in neighbouring Terminal 4.
While swimming on a hot day is a norm, the 64-foot long pool is heated to about 40°C for those who enjoy a swim during the winter months. Unsurprisingly many were deterred by the chill but this meant I had the entire pool to myself.
The water temperature was not bad at all. Note: The pool is open until 11pm and is accessible to non-guests at US$25 (weekday) or US$50 (weekend).
An ice rink has recently been added beside the Connie Airplane. It is open from December until the end of February. Admission to the ice rink costs US$15 and ice skates can be hired at a cost. Again this is open to the public.
There is quite a bit to explore here apart from the various facilities covered so far. Scattered over the property are various exhibits and memorabilia, ranging from airline uniforms to a restored fuselage of a vintage aircraft. The key attractions include:
- Howard Hughes' office
- Eero Saarinen's studio
- Historic TWA uniforms
- Connie Airplane
- Photo Booth
- Twister Room
TWA Hotel map
At the far end of the Hughes Wing is a life size model office of Howard Hughes, an influential figure in the airline's history. So why not take his seat and pick up a cigar for a selfie?
Across the hallway is a wall displaying the historical milestones of the airline.
In the Saarinen Wing, you can find exhibits from Eero Saarinen's design studio and the terminal blueprint.
Another exhibit worth exploring is the historical uniforms of TWA at the mezzanine level. This showcases a colourful collection of mid to late 20th century designs by illustrious designers, such as Don Loper, Ralph Lauren and Valentino.
Pilot uniforms and crew accessories are also exhibited here.
Parked in front of the terminal is the iconic 1958 Lockheed Constellation, a retired TWA aircraft fuselage that underwent a major makeover "from beat-up to beautiful".
Historically, this particular aircraft type popularised the use of pressurised cabins and significantly improved air safety. So I was glad to get up close with this beautifully restored four-engined and triple-tailed airliner.
The interior is now a retro cocktail bar while the cockpit is fitted with original controls using authentic parts. The waitstaff are dressed in crew and pilot uniforms, so I figured this was as close as it can get in terms of experiencing a flight back in the 60s.
There are several interesting features within the TWA building. Firstly, you cannot possibly miss the giant flight information display board in the middle of the lobby, similar to the flap display board at the Sunken Lounge – it's 'flippin' amazing!
While I was admiring the beautiful display, I noticed several 21st century airlines were added to the mix.
While in the terminal, you may also want to check out the photo booth, the Twister room, vintage cars and TWA baggage trucks.
I also recommend a stroll along the carpeted bridge linking the two sides of the mezzanine level.
Here you can catch a phenomenal view of the Sunken Lounge and the terminal as a whole. Lastly, a range of souvenirs and memorabilia are available at the TWA shop next to the fitness centre.
Much thought has been put into making this place look and feel retro. For the most part, I was just in awe.
The music, the staff uniform and the props made this experience vividly life-like and nostalgia-evoking. It's an impressive effort to maintain the authenticity of style which is true to the mid-century legacy.
Much of the decor and furniture is also distinct and stylish. The elegant "womb chair" and "tulip chair" featured here were both designed by Saarinen himself.
From an aviation enthusiast's perspective, staying in TWA Hotel is a dream come true. But even for those who are not quite aviation-inclined, the hotel offers a unique experience.
Overall, the hotel did a stellar job in bringing back the excitement and glamour of travel in the 60s. The infinity pool with runway view and a world-class gym are also excellent facilities to have.
What I was hoping to see is better dining options. My impression of the customer service here is rather incongruous with standards expected of a premium hotel, considering the room costs. However, I think the convenience of being a stone's throw away from the terminal is still worth the premium.
If you are here mainly to visit the attractions, being a day guest is not a bad option either.