The TWA Hotel at JFK: How to see this aviation history gem on your layover
NEW YORK — The cacophony of modern air travel bustled around me as I made my way from the AirTrain through the ticket area of the JetBlue terminal of John F. Kennedy International Airport. Passengers pushing luggage carts hustled to grab their tickets at self-service kiosks as others raced to catch flights, the sound of their rolling luggage following them.
A security announcement blared overhead, warning everyone to not accept baggage or packages from strangers as I turned the corner to see the elevator covered in the historic TransWorld Airlines logo — a portal back to the beginning of the jet age.
The buttons of this time machine offer two options: Modern-day JetBlue terminal or the 1960s TWA Hotel. The other passengers and I laughed at the choices as one of them hit the button to send us back six decades.
Moments later, the doors opened to a bright red hallway glowing with nostalgia.
A terminal becomes the TWA Hotel
TransWorld Airlines went out of business in 2001 when it was acquired by American Airlines. The JFK terminal built for the airline, designed by famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, sat silent until 2016, when it began to be reimagined as a hotel. The TWA Hotel opened to the public in May.
Like others I overheard wandering the halls of the hotel reminiscing about a bygone era of air travel, I have a personal connection with the brand.
My grandfather was a TWA mechanic who, in his retirement years, was passionate about the Save-A-Connie project, which restored a Lockheed "Connie" Constellation aircraft at the Kansas City Municipal Airport in the 1980s.
So when a recent trip took me to JFK, it seemed natural to make a reservation to see the "Connie" aircraft-turned-bar as well as the rooftop pool overlooking the runway. These parts of the hotel are open to non-guests who make reservations.
You can book a room at the TWA Hotel for an overnight stay or a shorter stay to catch up on your sleep. But if you don't need a room, the hotel's public spaces offer great opportunities to pass the time before a flight or during a layover.
My only warning after taking a trip down memory lane: Reemerging from the quiet buzz of the TWA hotel into the chaotic hustle of the modern terminal can be jarring. It really does feel like you time traveled between eras of aviation.
Here are some of the features you can check out at the TWA Hotel.
The TWA exhibits and Constellation plane
Curated by the New York Historical Society, more than 2,000 artifacts are scattered through the terminal-turned-hotel. They document the airline's place in the golden age of aviation and the rise of the jet age.
You'll see everything from vintage David Klein travel posters to the Valentino uniforms of flight attendants to an exhibit about the building and architect Saarinen. Along with some vintage vehicles, the hotel also has a Constellation airplane that has been reworked into cocktail lounge.
It's free to explore the exhibits, but be prepared to wander through the hotel to see everything.
Lockheed Constellation "Connie" cocktail lounge
The Constellation plane has been remade into a chic, midcentury modern cocktail lounge.
If you'd like a table, it's a good idea to make a reservation. When I strolled through, the cabin was about half full, but the servers were very busy. They seemed fine with guests dropping in just to take a look before walking on to other exhibits.
If you are traveling with kids, they are welcome to come and have a Shirley Temple.
The Pool Bar
Between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., you can visit and even swim at the rooftop pool lounge. It’s best to make a reservation if you want a table as the area is pretty popular.
The infinity pool overlooks the runway so you can watch planes take off. Towels are provided. You'll have to put all of your things in one of the provided clear totes before going on the deck. If you have luggage, check it with the concierge before you head up.
The Paris Cafe
This new restaurant occupies the original Paris Cafe at this location. It's now run by French-American chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose namesake restaurant in New York City has two Michelin stars. The menu boasts food inspired by meals served on TWA flights. You can reserve a table here as well.
Food at the Departures Hall
For a slightly less expensive, quicker option with a variety of choices, check out the food hall at the front of the hotel. Each former ticket counter in the Departures Hall is now a restaurant, and the menu changes daily.
When I was visiting, the Departures Hall was a great mix of airport workers, hotel guests and those killing time on a layover.
The TWA Shop
From sweaters and tote bags to vintage poster T-shirts, you'll want to browse the TWA Shop. If you don't want to carry souvenirs with you, the hotel has an online store.
How to get to the TWA Hotel
Take the AirTrain from your terminal to Terminal 5, which is the JetBlue terminal.
Head toward the JetBlue ticket counters, and you’ll start seeing signs directing you to the TWA Hotel. Follow the signs to the elevator painted with the TWA logo. Press the button, and the doors will open to the 1960s.
The length of time you'll need depends on what terminal your flight is in and whether you have TSA PreCheck. You'll need a lengthy layover because you have to leave your terminal, visit the hotel and get back through security to your gate.
I spent almost three hours exploring the hotel, and with PreCheck I got through security pretty quickly. Give yourself at least an hour to get back through security if you do not have PreCheck.
You can connect with Melissa through email at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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