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Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

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This is our review of the TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport.

If you love travel and flying then the chances are that you have heard of the TWA Hotel. Opened in 2019, it turned the iconic former Trans World Airlines terminal at JFK Terminal 5 into a retro-themed hotel complex celebrating the Jet Age.

The original building was designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. There are virtually no straight lines, with the swooping roof floating above the terminal like an upturned leaf. Even from the outside you can tell it is different to any other building you’ve seen:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

Unlike PanAm’s iconic Worldport Terminal, which was unceremoniously demolished in 2013, the TWA Terminal survived and was protected. In 2001, the Terminal closed for passenger operations and after sitting empty for a while it became part of the Terminal 5 development which opened in 2008. In 2015, plans were put forward to convert it into a hotel, and it is now the only hotel to be within the boundaries of JFK Airport.

I was originally meant to stay at the TWA Hotel last year. Unfortunately, omicron happened and I rushed back from the States just in time to avoid the newly re-instated quarantine period. I was pleased to hear that we were staying at the hotel as part of the British Airways and American Airlines press trip to see the new Terminal 8 lounges.

Getting to the TWA Hotel is fairly easy, regardless of which terminal you arrive or depart at. It is located at Terminal 5, and all terminals are connected via the Air Train. All you need to do is get off at the T5 stop.

Inside the TWA Hotel

Step inside and you’re immediately taken back in time to the 1960s. Like many buildings from this era, form and function were very much one and the same, and so the structure of the hotel represents how it would have been used, often with built-in amenities and spaces designed exclusively for one purpose.

Case in point: the big departures board, which fluidly emerges from the floor in the same circular mosaic as the rest of the building and rears its head like an odd-looking cartoon character staring out:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

Even the desk in front is integrated into the building and gradually flows into the floor.

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

To the left you’ll find the same check-in desks that once welcomed passengers onto their flight are now being used by the hotel itself. The luggage belt still works, running in a long loop via the building’s basement. On the other side (this building is very symmetrical!) the space has been turned into a food hall.

In the centre of the building, which is much smaller than you might expect, the space opens up, with sight lines right across to the Constellation sitting on the tarmac on the other side. Wide, gentle staircases lead up to a mezzanine level covered in a plush, bright red carpet:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

Carpet may not be the most convenient material for dragging suitcases across but it certainly makes an impression.

There’s even a bridge that connects the two first floor levels on both sides:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

In the centre, you’ll find a classic 60s sunken lounge serving cocktails:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

There are plenty more heritage features throughout the hotel. Next to The Sunken Lounge you’ll find a bank of phone booths:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

Walk up another floor to the first floor and you’ll find more lounge areas, plus a display of heritage TWA uniforms:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

It is so well done that it feels more like a blend of theme park and museum. It is very impressive.

Rooms at the TWA Hotel

By now, you are probably wondering where the hotel rooms are. There are 512 in total, and cleverly these are all located in two new purpose built wings which can be accessed via two oval-shaped tunnels:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

There are eight floors in total, with the lower floors used for conference rooms and similar. I was on the seventh floor.

One of the benefits of having the guest rooms in new wings is that they have been purpose built. You do not have to deal with odd shaped rooms or the bizarre features that often beset heritage hotel conversions.

Unfortunately I arrived at night, so the photos are relatively dark, but hopefully you can get an impression of what it is like. It did take me a second to work out the light switches and the following morning I did realise that there are more lights ….

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

As almost everyone at this hotel is either on their way to or from the airport, the hotel features limited wardrobe space. There is, however, a luggage rack / ottoman, plus a collapsible luggage rack.

There is also a small mini bar area, although this was totally empty. There is a mini fridge (empty), glass rack (empty). There is no coffee machine or kettle. There are no glasses of any kind – I actually had to call housekeeping to request one so I could drink some water from the tap. The amenities are, shall we say, bare-bones.

To the right is the bathroom, with stark white tiling and terrazzo floor:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

Toiletries are TWA branded and in pump bottles attached to the wall:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

There are plenty of towels, although, again, no slippers or robes. I managed to request a robe although slippers were not available. This is an odd choice for a hotel with a pool as I imagine most guests would like to change in their rooms. Does the hotel just want them walking through the corridor soaking wet in swimwear?

The bed faces the window in the bedroom, with a narrow desk behind it (note my view!):

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

Conveniently, there is a wireless charger on the bedside table:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

A TV and armchair round out the offering.

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

The runway-view pool!

Another selling point of the TWA Hotel is the rooftop pool overlooking Terminal 5 and the runway(s). This is in the Saarinen wing, which conveniently was the one I was in.

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

In the summer, it is a standard pool. In the winter, it is turned into a hot tub and heated to 35°C. It is very cool, and on a cold November evening I was very glad that it was heated!

It is open 7am until 11pm year-round, although access is restricted:

  • In the winter, all hotel guests can swim for free at any time without a pool reservation.
  • In the summer, this is only true between 7am and 10:45am.
  • If you want to swim after 10:45, you need to make a booking which costs an absurd $25 for adults and $10 for children. Remember, this applies to hotel guests – if you are a non-guest the fees are double.

I don’t think I need to explain how stingy this is. It would cost you $70 to take a family of four swimming. Spot the recurring theme?

Breakfast at the TWA Hotel

As far as I know, none of the room rates come with breakfast included, and your options are limited to the Food Hall, which features a range of different stands, and the Paris Cafe by Jean-Georges. Both are a la carte.

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

We breakfasted in the Paris Cafe as it was the only spot to get anything more than a bagel or croissant. Again, it is a beautiful space on the higher floor of the building, with a nice bar:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

Service was lacklustre so we sat ourselves down. Like most places, I think they’re understaffed. Eventually we did get a menu and placed our orders.

I went for my typical eggs royal with a glass of orange juice and cup of tea:

Review: the iconic TWA Hotel at New York JFK Airport

Trust the Americans to serve fried potatoes and ketchup with everything! Before tax and tip, my breakfast came to $42 so it is not exactly a bargain, although pretty standard for New York these days.

Conclusion

I have mixed feelings about the TWA Hotel.

On the one hand, it is a beautifully preserved piece of aviation heritage and a huge amount of thought (and, I presume, cash) has been spent in recreating the TWA experience. It is truly astonishing and at times it felt like I was at a theme park rather than in an operational hotel.

On the other hand, when it comes to actual hotelling, the TWA Hotel is somewhat lacking and in many cases a bit stingy. The lack of basic in-room amenities is embarrassing, as is charging hotel guests to use the pool.

Don’t forget that this is not a cheap hotel to stay at. I checked random dates in January and the room rates start at $225 but can easily top $300. In terms of price, it is not a budget hotel, even if it acts like one in the way it nickel-and-dimes you.

Would I stay here again? Probably not. For the novelty factor, $225+ may be worth it. As a regular pre- or post-flight hotel it has been found wanting. That’s a shame, given how cool it is.

You can find out more, and book, on the hotel website here.

As the hotel is not part of any major reward scheme, we would recommend – if the price is the same – booking via Hotels.com and collecting Hotels.com Rewards stamps.


Hotel offers update – January 2023:

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Comments (30)

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  • Sunguy says:

    Stayed here back in late August – again, similar to Rhys and the others here – nice concept, but dangerously overpriced with some extremely “nasty” non-customer friendly charges. However, my experience of the staff is quite the opposite, the staff at least seem to try their best.

    I think this place is really a one and done kinda stay … they are quite good with the free pencils though!

    When we were there, one of the eating places was frying food and unfortunately, the entire area just stank of grease and old fat …. Im hoping that was just a problem with an extractor and isnt a general problem….

    Between the charging for everything and the consumer unfriendly reservation policies for the only on-airport hotel …. (and yes, I know thats part of the reason why) – and the “nice” but very unkempt and overused public areas (even the connie) – I cannot see why anyone would want to stay here more than once for the experience and if it continues to decline in standards not worth it in the slightest…. I’d also wonder if American Airlines would sue for bringing the brand into disrepute! lol!

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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