There are airport hotels, and then there’s the TWA Hotel.
Opened in 2019 at New York City (JFK), the TWA is a playground, a dream come true for aviation geeks and travel lovers alike. The former landmark turned hotel instantly became a must-visit for travelers near and far, turning the notion of a stuffy and basic airport hotel on its head.
So did it live up to my lofty expectations? No. It smashed them into a million pieces. As I sat in the hotel lounge, watching the departure board turn over as Louis Armstrong’s “La Vie en Rose” played overhead with a drink in hand, the pandemic that has decimated travel simply faded away.
There’s no other place like this.
Basics of the TWA Hotel
Not long ago, the TWA Hotel was part of a functioning terminal at New York City (JFK) for Trans World Airlines – better known as simply TWA, of course – starting in the 1960s. By the 1990s, TWA was struggling and in 2001, the airline was acquired and folded into American Airlines.
The iconic head house building sat mostly empty for years until 2015, when it was announced it would be restored as an airport hotel. To much anticipation and fanfare, the TWA Hotel finally opened in 2019.
The TWA Hotel is located just outside of JFK’s Terminal 5, where JetBlue operates. That means you can easily get to the hotel before or after a JetBlue flight – the terminal and hotel are actually connected via a tunnel and elevator.
But you can also quickly hop over to the TWA from any JFK terminal using the AirTrain by making your way to Terminal 5. Just follow the signs for a short walk to the hotel.
Here’s perhaps the best part of the TWA Hotel: Whether you’re flying out of Terminal 5 or elsewhere, you can head to the hotel and walk around, grab a drink, or soak in the views for free. No need to make a reservation.
Booking the TWA Hotel
Let’s get this out of the way: The TWA Hotel is not your average airport hotel. And it’s not priced like one, either.
After taxes and fees, you should expect to pay around $200 a night minimum at the TWA – if not significantly more, especially if you want a suite or a room overlooking the runway. But if you’re an aviation geek, history lover, appreciate good design, or just like cool buildings, it’s easily worth the price.
For example, a one-night stay in a standard King room next month clocks in at $217 after taxes.
The TWA Hotel isn’t part of a traditional points program, but that doesn’t mean you can’t book using points. One great option would be to book through the Chase travel portal using points from a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
If neither work for you, booking through Hotels.com is a smart move, as you can work your way towards the “stay 10 nights, get one night free” rewards program. In all, I paid $198 for a one-night stay in a Deluxe room with a king bed.
One unique option at the TWA Hotel is that you can book “day stay” rates for as few as four to as many as 12 hours. The prices aren’t significantly cheaper than a full-night stay, but it could make sense if you want to check out the hotel and grab a snooze and shower during a long layover.
Lobby, Lounge & Common Areas
I have no words.
My jaw hit the floor as soon as I walked in, and it spent most of my stay dragging along the ground. I simply can’t describe the enormity, the beauty, or the intricacy of this place. From the soaring, curving ceilings to the concrete steps and metal railings to the red carpet and furnishings and the vintage (and operational!) departure boards, it doesn’t miss a detail: It is pure 60s.
There is no place like the TWA Hotel, period. It’s like La Sagrada Familia for airline geeks and travel lovers. I spent every waking hour I could simply wandering throughout the hotel, discovering cool nooks and crannies and absolutely geeking out.
Here’s a look back at the entryway, complete with one of two departure boards, to give you a sense of this hotel’s sheer scale.
When you’ve managed to stop gawking, you’ll find the check-in desks to the left after walking in through the main entryway, as well as a cute mini VW van and some TWA merch.
You can check in with an agent or at a self-serve tablet. There’s also a cute seating area just off to the side, which is a great place to wait if there’s a line to check in.
The main building is basically an enormous oval, with a series of winding staircases, levels, walkbridges, and other features. But it’s all built around what I’d consider the star of the show: The Sunken Lounge.
Gorgeous, right? I imagine how you feel about the design of the TWA Hotel depends largely on how you feel about the words “mid-century modern” – and the color red. But to me, it’s flawless. And there’s no denying it is a flashback straight to the TWA of the 1960s.
There’s plenty of seating and the hotel did a good job of keeping guests spaced out with social distancing markers, though I could imagine it getting pretty crowded here as travel picks back up. Here’s another look at the lounge.
I’ll be honest: I sat here for hours just watching the departure board change over, soaking in the ambiance. Maybe I’m just a softie, but this space – and the whole hotel, really – is more than just architecture and design. It truly captured the joy of travel. That’s special.
Watching a group of KLM flight attendants line up for a photo on the steps of the Lockheed Constellation (aka “Connie”) parked just outside was a special moment.
Here’s one last look at the lounge from another angle. It’s just incredible.
A handful of storefronts and cool features are wrapped around this massive space, including a store with tons of TWA gear, a Shinola store (which was closed during my visit), a shoeshine station, a chic room with a photo booth, and even a bank of payphones. I did not test to see whether the payphones work – and whether they were, in fact, just 10 cents a call.
There are also some very large bathrooms, which – you guessed it – also screamed the ’60s.
Airport hotels are notorious for getting rundown – especially those the size of the TWA – so I was curious to see how it’s held up nearly two years in. Aside from some dirty tile floors in common areas and a few scuffs in furniture, I’m happy to say the TWA is in remarkable shape.
It was so much fun exploring the labyrinth of walkways, staircases, levels, and nooks and crannies scattered across the lobby. You can get a little lost, in the best way possible.
There are tons of great little pockets and seating areas tucked away behind the curves of each level, like this one with a water feature. The TWA calls this area the Ambassador’s Club, a nod to the airline’s first class lounges. You can even wind your way into some of those and discover hidden spaces like The Pope’s Room.
Seriously, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a seat anywhere around the lobby.
There’s even an excellent display of more than two dozen old TWA uniforms from over the years, including both pilots and flight attendants.
The throwbacks are even stronger off the lobby. On one wing of the building, you’ll find a replica of the office of Howard Hughes, the famed pilot and businessman who turned TWA into what it became. There’s also a small exhibit taking you through the history of the airline, which is definitely worth a stop.
On the other wing of the building, there’s a replica of architect Eero Saarinen’s office as well as a living room straight out of the 1960’s.
You won’t find your room itself in this amazing space, but off to either side of the lobby. This hotel is positively massive with more than 500 rooms, so it splits off into two wings: The Saarinen Wing and the Hughes Wing.
Even making your way from the lobby to these buildings is an experience. Just look at these tunnels.
The beautiful journey continues in the hallways, which can feel quite long based on where your room is.
I booked a Deluxe king room, which was the absolute last room at the end of the Saarinen wing on the eighth floor.
At 290 square feet, the Deluxe room was certainly on the small side but spacious enough – and a bit larger than the 275-square-foot standard rooms. And no, the ’60s vibes do not stop when you walk through the door.
Overall, I loved the design of the room almost as much as the rest of the hotel – almost. The color scheme works great and I loved the wood paneling with gold finishes. And the bed itself was plenty comfortable.
One nice touch was a wireless phone charger on the bedside table. Along with the flatscreen TV at the front of the room, it was one of the few things that looked and felt modern.
While the floor-to-ceiling windows were great, my view wasn’t the best – and that’s on me. If I had it to do over again, I’d gladly spend a bit more for a view of the airport tarmac or even the TWA building itself. You can easily bring the blackout shades down with an automated switch.
At the front of the room, there’s a great lounge chair, a small but functional desk, and the TV.
Yes, of course there’s a rotary phone in your room. We’re in the ’60s, after all.
Back toward the entryway, there’s a fabulous bar setup with nice glassware and a mirror, alongside some hangers for your clothes.
The minifridge wasn’t stocked. Whether that’s a pandemic-related cutback or a more permanent change, I’m not sure. It’s also possible the hotel could stock the minibar upon request, though that seemed unnecessary.
Pull out the drawer below the minifridge and you’ll find an electronic safe.
Much like the rest of the room, the bathroom was small but very well-appointed – and very much on-brand with the 1960’s theme. Even the garbage can fits in.
Like every room, mine was equipped with a nice walk-in shower.
Toiletries were in bulk bottles, which seems to deeply bother some people. They seemed to be fairly high quality.
All in all, the room was great. It has everything you need from a hotel room, from a comfortable bed to fast Wi-Fi, and the design fits right in with the rest of the property. But the room definitely plays second fiddle to the rest of the hotel. Especially one amenity…
Rooftop Pool & Observation Deck
There are infinity pools, and then there’s this. Aviation lovers, rejoice.
Just head down the Hughes wing of the hotel and up the elevator to the very top floor and you’ll find the crown jewel of the TWA Hotel: The rooftop pool and observation deck.
Here, you can swim and watch planes take off, land, and taxi to your hearts’ content. Unfortunately, this is one of few areas at the TWA Hotel that you can’t access unless you’re actually staying at the hotel. Access is restricted to hotel guests.
The TWA Hotel calls it a “pool-cuzi” that’s heated up to 95 degrees. I didn’t go for a swim, but it didn’t feel quite that warm to my touch. The pool itself faces Terminal 5, so you’ll see a lot of JetBlue planes coming and going. But you don’t have to look far to find Terminal 4 and see aircraft from Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Etihad, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines, among others.
It’s a phenomenal pool in a truly unique setting, but it’s not hard to see this spot getting very crowded as the pool itself is not all that large. Fortunately, there were only a handful of people up on the observation deck during my visit.
In addition to the pool itself, there are plenty of tables for a spot to sit and enjoy a drink, some work, or both.
There’s also a bar up on the pool level, though it wasn’t staffed at the time.
If you’re not feeling the pool, there’s plenty of other space and walkways to get even closer to the planes making their move around JFK.
Food, Drinks & Service
Plenty of changes driven by the COVID-19 pandemic at the TWA Hotel were obvious.
For starters, masks were required throughout the property. And while I didn’t see any hotel staff enforcing that rule, most guests were good about keeping a mask on unless they were sitting with food or a drink – and every staff member I saw had a mask on. There were hand sanitizer stations scattered throughout the public areas of the property as well.
Overall, the service at the hotel was absolutely fine but a nonfactor for me. Could hotel staff have been more friendly or proactive? Sure. But I’m not sure that would change how I felt about the place.
The TWA Hotel is home to the Paris Café, its flagship restaurant helmed by Chef Jean-Georges, along with the adjoining Lisbon Lounge. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open during my stay: The restaurant is currently only open from Wednesdays through Sundays, from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The menu looks fantastic, as does the space itself. Paris Café encourages reservations, while the Lisbon Lounge next door only accepts walk-ins. Prior to the pandemic, the Paris Café was also open for breakfast.
Up at the front of the lobby there’s a series of grab-and-go food options dubbed The Food Hall. There are small outposts like a convenience store with some essentials, a bagel shop, paninis, coneys, crepes, and even a small beer stand. It’s pretty informal, and as far as I could tell, this was the only option for breakfast during my stay.
And that leaves drinking and dining at The Sunken Lounge, which is where I wanted to be anyway. There’s a small bar just outside the lounge itself where you can order both food and drinks. At the time of my stay, this was the only bar open for the hotel – and that meant a line tended to form. But the line always moved pretty fast.
The cocktail menu was fantastic, with a ton of aviation- and history-inspired cocktails like the Eero Dynamics, the TWA Hotel’s spin on an Old Fashioned. I enjoyed one while sitting in the sunken lounge, listening to the click-clack of the departure board and looking out at Connie outside. There’s also a decent selection of beer and wine, and everything was served in plastic cups.
The dinner menu, meanwhile, was fairly basic but good. There were some options for starters and shareables like wings and a hummus plate, a few salads and sandwiches, and just two entrees. I ordered the Runway Chalet burger, which was pretty massive and also pretty tasty. Due to COVID-19, meals come out packaged in takeout containers.
In all, the food was adequate but a tad underwhelming. I would have loved to eat at the Paris Cafe, and would definitely try to stay on a Wednesday or later to have a few more dining options at your disposal.
The Connie Cocktail Lounge
Unfortunately, arguably the coolest feature of the TWA Hotel has been shut down due to the pandemic – at least temporarily.
The hotel has turned one of its signature Lockheed Constellation (aka Connie) planes into a full-blown bar called The Connie Cocktail Lounge. It’s still closed due to government restrictions, but just take a look at this photo from the TWA Hotel. There may be no cooler place to sip on a cocktail.
Though the bar is closed, the plane itself and steps are still there to walk out and admire. And it’s definitely worth admiring: This is a historic plane that changed the world of travel. The Constellation even served as the first Air Force One under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The setting outside is also just superb. The area is lit up with runway lights, and view back to the hotel lobby is spectacular.
TWA Hotel Gym
Yes, there’s even a gym in this property. And it’s massive.
The 10,000-square foot gym is located in the hotel’s basement, fairly easy to find thanks to some signage. And it’s an impressive space. During my stay, it was open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
There are plenty of weight cardio machines spread throughout the facility. Masks were mandatory even for those exercising, and many machines were blocked off to ensure social distancing.
There’s even a small yoga studio and a room dedicated to Peloton, with more than a dozen bikes ready for classes.
FAQs About the TWA Hotel
How do I get to the TWA Hotel?
If you’re already at the airport, just hop on the AirTrain and ride over to Terminal 5. Take the elevator down to the ground floor, and take a short stroll toward the hotel, following the signage to the main entryway.
If you’re already at Terminal 5, look for the signs to the TWA Hotel on the baggage claim level. Hop in the elevator and take it down a level to the hotel. Then just head down the tunnel and follow it to the lobby, where you’ll find the check-in desk.
If you’re coming from elsewhere around New York City, just make your way for Terminal 5. Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft should allow you to simply enter the TWA Hotel as your final destination
Can I visit the TWA Hotel during a layover?
Absolutely! The TWA Hotel is located outside JFK’s Terminal 5, so you can easily get there from any terminal in just 5-10 minutes. Just keep in mind you’ll need to re-clear airport security as you head to your flight.
Do I need a reservation?
No! If you’re not looking to stay a night, you can still pop into the TWA Hotel and look around, grab a drink or even a bite to eat. One downside: Only hotel guests can use the rooftop pool.
The TWA Hotel is more than a hotel. It’s a time portal.
To knock the TWA Hotel for its food and drink or lackluster service would be to miss the point of the hotel entirely. Want an amazing meal or five-star service? Head into town – it’s not hard to find that in the heart of New York City.
But you will not find anything like this space anywhere else in the world.