This is a report on a June 23 visit to the TWA Hotel, a conversion of the former TWA Flight Center terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen and used from 1962 through 2001. Essentially two big new apartment/hotel blocks were built and the preserved portion is used as the lobby.
If you don’t mind paying $200 to park overnight, the best way to arrive is by single-engine piston airplane. Once the controllers stop laughing, taxi to Sheltair, chat with the helicopter taxi pilots, and the line guys will give you a ride to the hotel.
Try to schedule your visit for a day when the airport is using the 4/22 runways. The pool and the “runway view” rooms overlook 4L/22R, with 4R/22L behind. The action won’t be all that dramatic if the 13 runways are in use, but there is a reasonably good view of 31L. We visited when the 13/31 runways were closed for most of the day (painting?). It irked me slightly that I had to land the Cirrus in a crosswind gusting 20 knots when the airport has a 14,500′ runway oriented straight into the wind, but we were rewarded with a great afternoon and morning of plane-watching.
The hotel celebrates everything that was great/groovy about the 1960s. You won’t learn about the Vietnam War or the Great Society programs that have turned roughly half of Americans into government dependents (not to say “on welfare”!). There is an awesome car collection, including a Lincoln Continental with suicide doors, a Chrysler Newport, a Fiat Jolly, and an Isetta.
You’ll want to buy a reservation in advance to use the rooftop pool on the afternoon of your arrival (it is open to everyone from 7-10:30 am). When it is time for dinner, walk through the lobby to get to the restaurant (great food, stretched-thin service, reasonable (for NYC+airport) prices).
The hotel is tremendously fun for kids, with surprises in a lot of corners. Play Twister, visit Eero Saarinen’s office and drafting table, sit in a 1962 living room, sit at Howard Hughes’s CEO desk.
How about the rooms? Here’s ours before we trashed it (the kids are like 1970s rock stars, but without the musical talent). Perhaps 1/2 to 2/3rds the size of a standard Hampton Inn room. Note the Saarinen Womb Chair ($1000). There is no coffee maker in the room and no room service is available, so consider bringing some cold brew and keeping it in the mini-bar fridge (empty).
Can you run a hotel without bothering to answer the phone? Sort of. As an experiment, I called the hotel prior to arrival and waited on hold until a human answered. 50 minutes. From the room, however, dialing 0 for the front desk, as the rotary phone suggests one do, never resulted in any contact. This proved to be a problem when two dogs nearby embarked (so to speak) on an extended barkfest starting around 9:30 pm (past the sacred bedtime for our boys!). Senior Management was forced to walk down the hallway, go into the elevator, walk through the connector tube, and talk to the front desk in person. She was informed that the hotel didn’t have enough staff to figure out from which room the barking was emanating. Therefore, it became the guest’s job to explore the floors above and below our room. (We determined that the dogs were in the room just above ours, then went back to the front desk to report. The dogs’ owners were reached, but apparently they couldn’t make it back to their room so the situation continued until midnight).
(Other U.S. hotels seem to be on the same plan. I recently stayed at the Hilton in St. Petersburg, Florida and one of the members of our group waited on hold for nearly an hour, calling from the room, to reach the front desk.)
Speaking of noise… the windows are marvels of acoustic engineering and hardly any noise from 22R makes it into the room. Isolation from other rooms and the hallway is not as good, however, as we found out when listening to the canine chorus.
What about the level of coronapanic? The airport’s official site, June 22, 2021:
Due to ongoing health concerns regarding COVID-19, as of Friday, March 20,2020 concessions are only offering grab and go and takeout options, consistent with the latest New York and New Jersey directives. Food courts remain open, but we remind passengers to follow social distancing guidelines and to maintain at least 6 feet of separation between other guests. Many retail stores in the airports have closed. Please note that concessions are adjusting their hours of operation and opening status on a daily basis, and so we cannot guarantee any specific concessions or eateries will be open.
A minimum of 16 months to flatten the curve because 15 months plus vaccines plus PCR tests for nearly all passengers plus masks weren’t sufficient?
From the reservation service used by the hotel restaurant:
Per NYC indoor dining guidelines for COVID-19 safety, all guests will be required to have their temperature checked with a reading of 100.00 degrees or less and must provide a contact name, number, and mailing address prior to entering the restaurant as well as wear a mask at all times when not seated at their table.
Even if you want to read about how wise Dr. Fauci is, you can’t do so. The reading room has been closed for 15 months, but that’s “temporarily” and they “look forward to welcoming [us] soon”. Given the postage stamp sized rooms, it is a shame that any of the common space is sealed off.
Gym showers will be disinfected after use, in case surface contamination turns out to be a significant source of COVID-19. You will be protected from the hazard of drinking fountains by using these dangerous devices only to refill water bottles.
The actual gym is huge, perhaps 5X the size of what you’d expect. Nobody inside the gym actually cared about his/her/zir/their health, apparently, because nobody was wearing a mask (consistent with Manhattan customs, roughly half of the folks in the lobby, hallways, elevators, etc. were masked).
Taxiing out… (photo taken by a 7-year-old)
Summary: It’s a fun experience and well worth the $$ (about $500 for the room, pool reservations, dinner, breakfast for two adults and two kids; let’s try not to think about what it cost to run the Cirrus SR20!). We were not even done with the first day before the kids asked when we’d be coming back.
Sad contrast: The JetBlue Terminal 5 that has replaced this magnificent Jet Age building functionally. It is huge without being inspiring, packed with dispirited people being hassled every minute or two with signs and audio announcements regarding masks, and features long lines, e.g., for security. On the plus side, the kids enjoyed riding the AirTrain around all of the terminals!
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