We love the TWA Hotel at JFK airport. Everything about taking an iconic building and transforming it into a functional space for the present time, without modernizing it beyond recognition hits right in our wheelhouse. The hotel strikes the perfect balance between the past and the present by keeping the style of the original building while giving guests present-day amenities in the rooms.
We stayed at the hotel in 2019 before our trip to Germany and absolutely loved it. Everything from the check-in area to having drinks in the Connie parked outside made our trip special. We were looking forward to staying there again and considered booking a flight that had an NYC layover just we could spend another night at the hotel.
The pandemic threw a wrench into those plans for 2020, but we felt comfortable traveling internationally for a while in 2021. For our trip to Iceland, we booked round-trip tickets on Icelandair from JFK. Once we made those reservations, there was almost no way Sharon would let me book any other place than the TWA Hotel for the night before our trip.
While we still loved our stay, we noticed some things that we hope aren’t omens of what’s to come.
The check-in process has only gotten worse.
When the hotel opened, the idea of having the front desk agents behind what looked to be ticketing counters was cute. However, now that touchscreens have been installed, the primary purpose of the agents has become walking guests through the process of self-check-in. If you’re arriving early, sorry. No rooms are available unless you’d like to pay for early check-in.
We arrived around lunchtime, and like other guests, the front desk instructed us to come back at the indicated check-in time. Most guests decided it was a good time to catch a bite to eat and the only place available at the hotel is the Food Hall.
While the idea when the hotel opened was this would be a bustling area of local food merchants, it’s become a hot mess of several different counters, apparently all run by the same company. Whether you want a pizza, bagel, sandwich, or hot dog, there’s only one person taking orders for all of the stations. Many people stood at the other areas before realizing that no one was coming to help them.
The only positive was that I could order the food for us without standing in line twice. This is the only place to eat in the hotel during breakfast and lunch hours, which is disappointing.
We did find out the only space with a separate register was the recently opened Mister Softee booth, which was located at the far end of the counter.
It was only a soft-serve ice cream machine and I’d think you’d find a better selection at a truck in Manhattan if you could find one.
Back to the check-in process. When we decided not to wait for a room and to head out to Manhattan for the day, we had to check our bags. While you’d think the airport-like desk would be able to handle bags and store them a’la Bell Services, the agent instead brought us a Smartcarte to stack our bags and we rolled it into the adjacent empty conference room.
When we came back that night, they unlocked the room, we got “our” cart (which was mixed in with 4 other carts by then), and we rolled it up to the room. The next day I brought it back to the desk and once again we stored our bags in the room while we went to eat at Junior’s. The desk agent complimented me on my ability to stack so many bags on the cart.
Enough about my Tetris skills. What about the hotel?
Let me preface this by saying we love the TWA Hotel and will stay there whenever practical.
That being said, although not very old, but it’s starting to show its age. Most noticeably, the iconic red carpeting in the tunnels leading to the main terminal has numerous stains.
When we got to the room, the window shades were open. Since our room faced the terminal building, we didn’t want to give everyone a show like the guests on our last visit.
If you didn’t already notice the problem with the window shade on the right, it was very noticeable when we tried to lower the blinds.
After plenty of pulling and maneuvering, I was able to straighten it, mostly. The shade moves electronically, and if the chair is pushed against the window, the alignment is thrown off. That causes the shade to shift to one side. Not exactly what I’d expect in a $300 a night hotel.
When we checked out, I did tell the desk staff, but I’m doubtful if they did anything about it.
Finally, I said before that the only place to eat lunch was at the Food Hall. This isn’t entirely true because the TWA Hotel has a rooftop pool with a bar that serves food. If we wanted, this might have been a place we could have spent the afternoon looking at the planes taking off from JFK while enjoying some food and drinks. However, we weren’t willing to pay the price of admission.
Pool Reservations are required for TWA Hotel guests to visit the pool and observation deck and eat at The Pool Bar from 11 AM to 11 PM every day. From 7 AM to 10:30 AM, hotel guests may swim in the pool and visit the observation deck without a reservation, though occupancy limits apply.
Each Pool Reservation is for one hour and 45 minutes. At the conclusion of that period, guests will be asked to completely exit the pool area so it can be cleaned.
Admission prices are as follows.
- Monday through Thursday: $25 per adult and $20 per child (age 5–12)
- Friday through Sunday: $50 per adult and $20 per child (age 5–12)’
The reservation fee includes admission to the pool and observation deck and a seat at the pool bar. It does not include food or drinks or guarantee a lounge chair at the pool.
I knew of this policy ahead of time so I headed up to the pool deck to confirm this was the policy. When exiting the elevator, a polite “bouncer” met me who asked if I had a reservation. I said I didn’t, but I was just looking. I received a polite nod.
That’s not the interaction he had with the other guests, who arrived in swimsuits and were shocked that a hotel would charge $300 a night for a room and then have the nerve to make guests at the hotel pay an additional $50 per person to swim for 2 hours.
They should have read this interview with the owner of the TWA Hotel who feels that guests should get accustomed to paying for the amenities they want instead of expecting hotels to provide things for free. He thinks hotels should start charging for things the same way that airlines do.
I’ve forgiven some of the shortcomings of the TWA Hotel – the maintenance issues, the problems with the food hall, the bizarre handling of luggage – because I love the place so much. It’s just such an awesome idea that an iconic building from the 1960s in the middle of JFK Airport was turned into an amazing hotel. I just fear that the hotel, beyond the multiple small issues that could easily be fixed if someone cared to fix them, will get too big for its britches and lose its charm in favor of charging people for every experience the area has to offer.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary