The date of the grand opening of TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport was Wednesday, May 15, 2019; and my first time at TWA Hotel occurred almost 3.5 years later.
When Eero Saarinen designed the landmark Trans World Flight Center — which was dedicated on Monday, May 28, 1962 — the architect likely had no idea that the structure would one day close to passengers and reopen to become an iconic hotel property.
My First Time at TWA Hotel
Upon exiting the elevator to the right near Flight Tube 1 is an interactive exhibit of the office of Howard Robard Hughes Junior — when he was the owner of the airline — as part of the focus on the history of Trans World Airlines. The office was recreated with details that depict that era, allowing for guests and visitors to imagine themselves behind the desk of the eccentric billionaire.
This passageway is known as Flight Tube 1, which extends northeast from TWA Hotel and is the one used by passengers of AirTrain. Flight Tube 1 is also adjacent to the interactive exhibit replicating the office of Howard Hughes. Flight Tube 2 extends southeast from TWA Hotel. From what is known as the head house, Flight Tube 1 led to Flight Wing 1; and Flight Tube 2 led to Flight Wing 2.
The Sunken Lounge is part of the unique interior architecture of what was once the Trans World Flight Center. The departure and arrival board is programmed to exhibit colorful designs — such as the number 1962 which is displayed on the board to commemorate the year the Trans World Flight Center was dedicated. Small TWA logos are seen on either side of the number.
This is only one of the views of the spacious lobby — complete with a Solari split-flap departure board with mock departures and arrivals to and from destinations around the world — and on the first floor is the Food Hall with multiple counters which were where ticket counters once were located.
A clock hangs over the center of the lobby in the head house. The two arrival and departure boards face each other across the vast expanse of lobby. Popular music from the 1960s — including that of the British Invasion, Motown, Bubble Gum, and one-hit wonders — plays continuously.
What appears to be ticket counters for an airline on the first floor is actually the area where guests check in and check out of the hotel property.
Where else can one spot a bank of pay telephones, which have become rarer to find every day thanks to mobile telephones and other portable electronic devices?
When first entering the hidden alcove in what used to be the Ambassadors Club on the second floor of the former Trans World Flight Center, the room looks like you might be experiencing some psychedelic trip…
…until you get further into the hidden alcove, when everything starts to look normal again — at least, what was considered normal back in the 1960s.
Authentic vintage uniforms from several different designers over the decades are on display in the Ambassadors Club. Hostesses and then stewardesses — those are what female members of the cabin crew were known as then — wore these uniforms.
A 1958 Lockheed Constellation Starliner L-1649A-98 fixed wing airplane with four engines — with assigned tail number N8083H — permanently sits outside the TWA Hotel. Once containing 102 seats and four engines, “Connie” — as this airplane is affectionately known — is now a cocktail lounge and bar.
Outside of the front of the TWA Hotel are two vehicles: a Lincoln Continental and a Volkswagen Microbus, which is also known as the Type 2, Transporter, or Kombi. These are just two of the vintage vehicles which are on permanent display at the TWA Hotel.
For those people who enjoy playing Twister, an entire room is dedicated to the right-foot-blue, left-hand-red party game which was popular in the 1960s — complete with a giant spinner. Anyone can use this room at no extra charge.
Speaking of rooms, a hotel is not a hotel unless it offers rooms in which guests can sleep — and the TWA Hotel does offer rooms which overlook the runways of the airport. Be forewarned, however, that the room rates can be rather pricey.
How to Get to TWA Hotel Via AirTrain
The people behind TWA Hotel spared no expense with regards to advertising and directions to the hotel property.
Overhead signage clearly guides guests and visitors to TWA Hotel from the Air Train station at Terminal 5. If you plan on using the AirTrain at least four times, you will save money with this article on How To Purchase 10 Trips On AirTrain in New York For Only $25.00: A Step-By-Step Guide.
The advertising for the TWA Hotel even appears on the floor of the station at Terminal 5, letting you know to literally step on it and get to the hotel property as quickly as possible.
One thing is for certain: you will not need to ask for directions on how to get to the TWA Hotel property with all of the words and symbols used on all of the signage.
One cannot miss the elevator to the TWA Hotel, which acts like a pseudo ersatz time machine when one steps inside.
Final Boarding Call
I do remember using the TWA Flight Center when I used to live in Brooklyn only a few miles west of the airport. I believe that my final flights were from New York to Seattle and returning to New York from San Antonio with Trans World Airlines. I do not remember the exact cost of that open-jaw ticket; but it was more than $400.00 for both directions…
…so being at the TWA Hotel for the first time evoked memories for me — especially when walking on the red carpet through one of the Flight Tubes…
John F. Kennedy International Airport
One Idlewild Drive
New York, New York 11430-1962
All photographs ©2022 by Brian Cohen.