Commissioned in 1939 by TWA owner Howard Hughes, the Lockheed Constellation “Connie” was once the pride of the TWA fleet. Parked behind the hotel, Connie N8083H logged some notable miles. Following TWA passenger service from 1958 to 1960, the propliner flew supplies in Alaska and dropped marijuana in Colombia before being abandoned in Honduras and eventually relocated to Maine. Since fully restored, she now serves as the TWA Hotel’s groovy cocktail lounge, accessed via air stairs. The outdoor area also features landing lights and the Roll-a-Rama roller rink, converted to an ice rink in winter.
The project also introduced 512 hotel rooms in two flanking wings named after Saarinen and Hughes. The latter houses the rooftop observation deck, bar, and infinity pool. Featuring state-of-the-art soundproofing and TWA-branded elements, the mid-century modern-inspired rooms are solidly comfortable. Other amenities include the world’s largest hotel gym, open 24/7, and 50,000-square-foot underground conference center. While the service levels are recovering after the pandemic, JFK’s first and only air side hotel wears its boutique well for a layover (Daytripper rates available) or staycation.
Saarinen intended the TWA Flight Center to be “a place of movement” that represented the excitement of air travel. Fostering that wondrous sense of departure is the TWA Hotel’s greatest triumph. Time was the terminal’s enemy from day one as progress passed her by. Yet she survived as other Idlewild icons including Pan Am’s saucer-shaped Worldport and American Airlines’ wondrous stained-glass terminal, featuring the world’s longest bar, are gone. Now, the clock is on her side, rewound to the 1960’s.
Reborn as a cinematic stage for dreams, the terminal is dressed for the occasion. The former TWA check-in area is now the hotel check-in. TWA memorabilia and museum-style exhibits abound, from vintage TWA uniforms and travel posters to Howard Hughes’ desk and two banks of yesteryear pay telephones. Saarinen-styled furniture, including his famed womb chairs and tulip tables, populate the guest rooms, restaurant, and Sunken Lounge. Buzzing with flight crews and travelers of all stripes, it’s great for people watching.
The master stroke, in my book, is the soundtrack of 60’s hits played continuously in the outdoor and indoor public areas. Greeting my arrival for an overnight stay this summer was the 5th Dimension’s 1967 sunshine pop classic “Up, Up and Away.” That was TWA’s slogan back in the day (the airline adapted the song as an advertising jingle in the late 60’s) and it hit an uplifting emotional chord that set the stage for the journey of sights and sounds ahead. More than a hotel, the TWA Flight Center is a place of transporting sensations.