Vintage Flair on Display as JFK Prepares to Open First On-Airport Hotel in 2019

Actors acting as TWA crewmembers at the hotel's sneak preview (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

On Tuesday, the old TWA Flight Center at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport opened its doors briefly to a select group of journalists to get a look at the future site of the long-awaited TWA Hotel. The event, hosted by MCR Development, allowed journalists to see the remnants of the languished terminal, the progress being made to restore it and gave a sneak peek at one of its future hotel rooms.

Touring the TWA Flight Center

The view immediately after walking into the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

Traveling to and from JFK’s Terminal 5 on various JetBlue flights over the years, I’ve always been intrigued by the former TWA terminal. The building is an architectural and engineering marvel, especially when contrasted to the ultra-modern Terminal 5 just feet away, that was designed by the famous Eero Saarinen, who also designed the terminal for Washington’s Dulles International Airport and the former U.S. Embassy in London.

Looking right towards the former Ambassador’s Club. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

The terminal is an intricate series of curves and meanders specifically designed with no right angles anywhere in the building. This gives the terminal an open feel and the curves are resemblant of an elegant labyrinth instead of a busy airport terminal.

The former home of a famed Solari split board. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

The casing where the famous Solari split board hung above the terminal. In a former life, this was the precursor to the digital departure boards we have today. Passengers would huddle around the sign, inquiring about their flights, as many people do today. However, instead of instant updates, the board would cycle and spit out letters and numbers one by one, leaving onlookers in suspense until the last letter or number appeared.

One of the famous curved staircases in the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
One of two tubes connecting the terminal to JetBlue’s Terminal 5. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

On display was one of the concrete connecting tubes that currently connects the TWA terminal with JetBlue’s terminal 5. Although it is currently closed, the opposing end leads directly into the JetBlue baggage claim area via a staircase. The tube was made famous in the movie Catch Me If You Can about the con man Frank Abagnale Jr. In the movie, Tom Hanks’ character accosts Abignale Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is attempting to fly on a TWA plane.

Looking down into the heart-shaped sunken lounge. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

This passenger lounge is known as the sunken lounge due to it being two steps down from the rest of the terminal. Its heart shape made it affectionately known as the heart of the terminal. It also features a Solari split board.

The front entrance to the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
The connecting arch between the two upper levels of the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

While walking around, we were able to see the old furniture that has been unused and untouched for decades. The terminal truly is a time capsule where various objects had been lost in time. Pieces of furniture, phones, and other items from a time that I’ve never known all sitting there, waiting for any sort of interaction.

Long-decayed and abandoned furniture in the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
Curved couch that was part of the Ambassador’s Club. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

MCR Development had hired actors to portray a TWA pilot and flight attendant for the day. The two acted as semi-tour guides along with CEO Tyler Mose of MCR Development.

The Captain and Flight Attendant for our tour. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

When the event began, MCR Development CEO Tyler Morse addressed the crowd. Morse, an aviation enthusiast himself, was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the terminal. The hotel project was close to his heart, clearly.

MCR Development CEO Tyler Morse welcomes guests to the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
Glamour and style are two major themes of the hotel, as reflected by the outfits of the day. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
Our Captain and Flight Attendant welcoming us to the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
CEO Tyler Morse informing journalists about the history of the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

After the opening speech, we embarked on our tour of the terminal before getting a sneak peek of the hotel’s rooms. We started at the former site of the Ambassador’s Club on the second floor.

The first stop on our tour: the former Ambassador Club. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
CEO Tyler Morse remarking on the unique glass that comprises the terminal’s exterior. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

Although the glass that lines the building is seemingly normal, no two panes are the same. The glass is also very think, although it doesn’t appear to be. One square foot of the glass is quite heavy, as we were able to hold a piece. The tour continued to the connecting tubes on the first floor.

CEO Tyler Morse leading us down the stairs to the next stop. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
Standing in the sunken lounge looking west. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
The future home of a Lockheed Constellation restaurant. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

In the rear of the building, there is a space between the building and terminal 5. MCR has acquired a Lockheed Constellation, one of TWA’s most famous and revolutionary aircraft, which will act as a restaurant open to the public. Underneath the concrete, however, a large-scale conventional center will host events and conferences.

CEO Tyler Morse describing some of the plans for the hotel. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

According to morse, there will be 6 restaurants and 8 bars in total in the hotel. This includes both in the TWA Flight Center and the two towers that will make up the hotel. Additionally, there will be a viewing center and infinity pool on the tops of the towers, a perk for aviation enthusiasts and those fascinated by the miracle of aviation.

Walking in the connecting tube from the TWA terminal to JetBlue’s terminal 5. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
The view from terminal 5 to the TWA terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

After walking over to terminal 5 and back through the concrete connecting tubes, it was time to head to the model hotel room which was located offsite. MCR had rented 1960s-era cars to transport journalists over to the cargo area of JFK where the room was staged.

One of the unique cars on display at the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
Another unique car from the 1960s on display at the terminal. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

The Model Room

Inside a nondescript cargo building at JFK was the model room for the future TWA Hotel. This grey door served as a time machine, as when we stepped inside were transported back to the 1960s.

The secret offsite location of the mock hotel room. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

Frank Sinatra was playing over the speakers, flight attendants in 1960s uniforms greeted us at the door and scores of TWA memorabilia was on display.

An old TWA baggage tug. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
One of TWA’s former baggage carts. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
A mock-up of a TWA office desk. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
A TWA Boeing 747-100 model on display. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
Our Captain planning his next TWA flight. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
TWA themed gift bags and 1960s drinks and candy. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

After a brief few moments in the staging area, it was time to see the model room. Down the red carpet draped hallway with a modern yet nostalgic design, our hotel room awaited.

The model hotel room. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

The first thing you see in the room of the wet bar and closet. The wet bar is stocked with premium alcohol for having drinks in the room, reminiscent of the alcohol-fueled days of the 1960s. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a stocked mini bar, but the TWA Hotel is going a step further with the wet bars, but they’ll cost a pretty penny.

The TWA wet bar, the 1960s version of a mini bar. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
A former TWA flight attendant uniform. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

Moving into the sleek and modern bathroom, the only thing that reminds you of the 1960s is the TWA branded toiletries and other amenities. Besides those, the bathroom has all modern amenities and fixtures.

The bathroom vanity in the model room. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
TWA branded toiletries in the bathroom. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
The shower in the model bathroom. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

Moving into the main room, we were shown a display of what the view from the South Tower would look like facing the ramp. This room had a view of the ramp between JetBlue’s terminal 5 and terminal 4, which serves aircraft ranging from Airbus A380s to Embraer Regional Jets, and airplanes departing and arriving on runways 4L/22R and 4R/22L. Although, there were some planes out of place.

The simulated view from the South Tower of the TWA Hotel. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)
The model hotel room of the TWA Hotel. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

After the tour was over, we were shuttled back to the terminal in a classic 1963 Lincoln Continental with suicide doors. I’ve been driven to the airport in all sorts of cars, but driving down the JFK Expressway back to terminal 5 in this beauty alongside A350s and B747s took the cake.

A 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

The hotel is currently still under construction but is slated to open in Spring 2019.

Thomas Pallini

Thomas Pallini

Tom has been flying for as long as he can remember. His first flight memory was on a Song Airlines 757 flying from LaGuardia to Orlando. Back then, he was afraid to fly because he thought you needed to jump off the plane in order to get off. Some years later, Tom is now a seasoned traveler, often flying to places just for the fun of it. Most of the time, he'll never leave the airport on his trips. If he's not at home or at work as a Line Service Technician at Long Island MacArthur Airport, he's off flying somewhere, but only for the day.
Thomas Pallini