New York's new TWA Hotel an homage to a past era of aviation

The huge, spartan lobby of the TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City buzzed with energy on its opening day Wednesday. The hotel is in the original Trans World Airlines terminal, which was dedicated on May 28, 1962. 

The new retro chic TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport wants you to think of the Brat Pack, the Beatles and the soaring grace of the former TWA air terminal, a futuristic design that was dedicated in 1962 to the then-new jet age.

What the hotel doesn’t want is for guests to hear even a murmur of jet-engine noise from adjacent taxiways. To achieve this solitude, both wings of the 512-room hotel are sheathed with a 4½-inch glass curtain wall, the second thickest in the world, to hush JFK’s maddening bustle.

New York's new TWA Hotel an homage to a past era of aviation

A fourth-floor room at the TWA Hotel overlooks the central terminal at JFK Airport.

Draw shut the blackout shades in every room and you’re in a virtually silent chamber, save for the low whoosh of air conditioning. Jet engine noise and auto traffic at the adjacent Terminal 5 aren’t issues. “We want to give you the experience of aviation without making you hear it,” says Erik Palmer, the hotel’s managing director.

What that glass curtain couldn’t silence: a chorus of complaints on the first night. The TWA Hotel opened its doors to customers Wednesday with abundant kinks to exterminate and a deep sense that things could have been much smoother had the hotel waited a week or two to complete its finishing touches, 57 years nearly to the date designer Eero Saarinen’s original Trans World Flight Center was dedicated.

Many of the elevators went on strike around 4 p.m. just as the first guests checked in; the cashless hotel suffered glitchy point-of-sale system processing as servers tried to ring up drink orders; and the rooftop infinity pool deck was off limits because construction isn’t finished. (The pool itself is ready, though.)

New York's new TWA Hotel an homage to a past era of aviation

Guests enjoy cocktails in the Sunken Lounge on the TWA Hotel’s opening day.

The hotel brought back the TWA Flight Center’s original Lisbon Lounge for cocktails and Paris Café, which is now run by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. A restored Lockheed Constellation painted in TWA’s livery sits outside the glass-walled lobby as a year-round cocktail lounge. In total there’s a restaurant, three bars and a food hall.

The 1960s design motifs extend to the guest rooms, which are geared to inspiring visions of 1962, the year of the first “Jetsons” episode, a time when Boeing’s 707 was rapidly supplanting propellers for a speedier, more glamorous form of air travel.

New York's new TWA Hotel an homage to a past era of aviation

An in-room amenity kit at the TWA Hotel brings back the iconic logo from the now-defunct airline.

Each room has dark wood, red chairs or a red seating platform, a black rotary-dial phone, a well-stocked cocktail minibar — including Tab soda — a jar of sharpened red No. 2 pencils and lamps of ’60s-era design. Bathrooms have Frette towels and wash cloths.

Among the hotel’s best amenities: Blazing fast Wi-Fi throughout, very likely faster than whatever you have at home. (Download speeds top out near 400 Mbps.) “We paid extra for that,” Palmer quipped — and so do guests with a mandatory $10 resort fee.

The hotel also has 50,000 square feet of event space. Weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and corporate meetings are the primary sales targets.

As you’d expect, rooms have that “new hotel smell,” and despite its location at a busy, 24-hour airport, guests can enjoy a fine rest in king or double bed rooms and suites. All should succeed in offering quiet. The glass wall encircling the two room wings — Hughes and Saarinen — is seven panes, thicker than any other glass curtain wall save the U.S. Embassy in London.

New York's new TWA Hotel an homage to a past era of aviation

Guests have cocktails last week in the hotel’s version of the original Lisbon Lounge from the TWA terminal.

Once all the rough edges are smoothed, and the staff find their groove, the hotel will be a nice experience for the sort of traveler who wants a certain no-nonsense aesthetic and doesn’t mind New York prices. (Hello, $6 cup of average drip coffee to go.)

TWA Hotel rates start at $249 with discounts for advanced payment; the hotel also has partial-day options for weary travelers wanting a nap, starting from $149. Premium rooms with runway views are more expensive. The TWA is not a luxurious hotel — you’ll get in-room Pringles and a box of Junior Mints but no room service, for example — nor is it trying to be.

What it does offer is restful sleep in quiet rooms and the kind of marketable “story” with Instagrammable photos, like sipping a cocktail while sitting inside a Lockheed Connie delivered to TWA in 1958.