The TWA Hotel: Up, Up and Away!

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The TWA terminal, now a boutique hotel: Eero Saarinen intended the neo-futuristic
architectural icon to look like a bird in flight


By Ann Fox
Photos: A. Fox unless otherwise stated

Me in my vintage TWA uniform




After being closed for almost two decades,  the iconic Eero Saarinen designed TWA terminal at JFK has re-opened as a boutique hotel.   For former employees, myself included, it was a thrill to be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 15 and see how the terminal  has been repurposed.

Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, Borough President Melinda Katz and other dignitaries ready for ribbon-cutting at the TWA Hotel/Courtesy Gov.’s Office

The building has no right angles, so tucked in its swooping, curved nooks are eight restaurants, six bars, a 1962 style rest area, a shoe shine spot, a replica of Howard Hughes office and a large display of TWA uniforms dating from the fifties, among other things. Missing is a Mile High Club…

Bar at the Terminal in 1962/Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, PD

Missing, too, were the buckets placed under roof leaks in the days when the building functioned as a terminal. The building, which looked like a bird, attracted fellow feathered friends as well.  When I started my “hostess” career there in 1965, I remember carrying my suitcase and tottering in 3-inch heels trying to navigate around the wet carpet while holding my hat with a gloved hand ducking swooping gulls from neighboring Jamaica Bay. The building, boasting the largest column-less space in the world, could have used flying buttresses or maybe help from Ironman. I’ve been re-assured that the millions of dollars spent to refurbish the building have included more modern ways of repairing the leaks and eliminating birds’ nests.

Myself and others boarding the TWA Constellation cocktail lounge

There’s a 1950s era TWA Constellation which was rescued from being a drug runner, repainted and refurbished, and now parked behind the main building. It serves as a cocktail lounge. My first flight was on one of these and after serving a full meal on a one hour flight from JFK to Dayton in turbulence, I decided my future lay in flying on jets to Europe.  I felt so happy to walk down the stairs from the plane to the tarmac in Barajas and smell that lovely mix of early morning, dry Spanish air and black tobacco. The layovers with five peseta wines and one dollar meals at Botin’s convinced me that I’d never go back flying to Dayton.

When I was forced to retire in 2001, pending TWA’s  final Chapter 11, I was still enjoying the Madrid watering holes. After all, passengers always asked for good places to wine and dine in Madrid. I was merely doing the field work…

Visitors  inside the TWA Terminal in 2015, shortly before the  remake began /Huanhai777, CC BY4.0

Getting back to the May ribbon cutting, it was thrilling to see the building looking so good. The TWA logo is everywhere. The sunken lounge has been re-done in plush red.  The old departure and arrival board flips and clicks to show faux destinations, the check-in counters serve to welcome guests. The Paris Cafe is run by Jean Georges, not Chef Boyardee.

The Phoenix has returned as the proud eagle Eero Saarinen once imagined in his mind’s eye. Now I think I’ll have to try out some of those restaurants and bars. I’m still doing field work, you see.