Queues. Noise. Frenetic. Even for travelers flying first class and using airline lounges, these traits characterize almost all aspects of air travel today. And at NYC airports, this is ever the truer with few possibilities to relax and enjoy the experience of stepping off the ground in one city and stepping down in another.
A few years back, I was at Delta’s JFK Terminal 3 (now demolished) getting ready to board a flight to Milan while thinking about the history of where I was and where I was going. While at the time T3 was far from how anyone would describe a perfect travel experience, it was historic nonetheless. And only a few hundred meters away was the empty TWA Flight Center with rumors of a possible hotel in the works.
While considering the history of air travel, it’s easy to see it as an elegant experience that merged all aspects of service, design, and style. However, innovation that has not only made travel safer and more comfortable (lie flat beds!) has also made it far more accessible. Even accounting for new fees for everything from bags to early boarding, Airlines for America has found that the actual cost per mile has fallen roughly 50% in the past 30-years. In conjunction with other factors, this has rapidly increased the addressable market for air travel. So, it should be no surprise that terminals and the ground experience needed to change to accommodate the larger number of passenger miles flown.
Now in 2019, we have a taste of the experience of flying in 1950s right at JFK Airport. And, we can pair this with our lie flat beds and suites that weren’t even envisioned then.
Opening in May of this past year, I finally had a chance to spend a night here transiting the long way from Seattle to Asia. And as someone who not only loves to travel but has a flat that looks like a page out of a midcentury modern design textbook, the TWA Hotel evoked a smile as soon as I set foot inside.
Entering from the Air Train, I traversed through one of the two iconic tube corridors and was greeted by a massive open space that was quiet while bustling. But before fully arriving back to 1950, I checked myself in using a touchscreen.
After quickly dropping off my things in the room, I stopped by The Sunken Lounge where I found well-made cocktails served by friendly staff who actually remembered me when I dropped by a few days later on another layover. Besides the lounge, there are a few other options for both drinks and food. Overall I found it to be on par with what you’d expect at a higher-end hotel and thus surpassing what you’d expect to find at an airport. Inside Connie - the L-1649 Starliner on a virtual tarmac complete with lighting outside the hotel – they did a nice job maintaining the signs of age you’d expect from such an aircraft.
But perhaps one of my favorite areas of the hotel was The Reading Room. While technically it is a store where you can buy some books to fully utilize your luggage allotment, it had a great ambiance where you could sit in Knoll and Eames chairs and either read or refresh from the journey you’re about to begin or just completed.
All in all, be it a good espresso (Intelligentsia Coffee) albeit served in a disposable cup, a nice cocktail or beer, or just a quiet retreat, this is definitely a place that I’ll return to on a long JFK layover. And perhaps contemplate how future designers will try and showcase the pleasurable attributes of travel in 2019 come 2050.