Have you taken a flight recently?
Hehe. Did you bitch about it?
Crammed in like a sardine with surly passengers, an indifferent if not nasty crew serving a bag of chips and coffee, with charges for everything from your bag to the privilege of “early boarding.”
Flying, from the jammed TSA lines to the bus like flight is no longer fun.
Seating as it used to be on a TWA Constellation
But ahh, you young folks don’t know. Flying used to be exciting; almost glorious.
It began for me in my very early twenties as the decade turned into the 1960s.
And it began at the TWA terminal at JFK in New York, then known as Idlewild Airport. JFK, of course was still alive and President of the United States.
The Trans World Airlines Flight Center at JFK Airport in New York City has been called a cathedral to aviation – the Grand Central Station of the jet age. “It was magnetic,” said Louise Harpman, an architect and urban designer at New York University. “It has a sense of grandeur. It’s inspiring, a building like that. It looks like a bird taking flight. When you’re inside of it, then you’re kind of part of this theatricality of how people move through space. We don’t have other buildings like that.”
When the Flight Center opened in 1962, it was more than a terminal; it was its own destination. It was designed by famed architect Eero Saarineen, the man behind the St. Louis Arch.
“People think about Saarinen as a structural gymnast,” Harpman said. “He made buildings do something they’d never done before.”
The popular reception to the building she said, was “through the roof. People loved it. They thought it was incredible.”
My future wife and I along with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers drove out to Idlewild just to walk through the terminal and have a drink in the building, watching planes take off for destinations unknown. Seems so silly now.
And then I left for the Horn of Africa on TWA, through that very terminal. And returned in a snow storm to meet my wife carrying a winter coat for me under the clock. I would take many flights from JFK. Flights with roomy seats, “stewardesses” catering to every passengers need, free drinks, a menu to choose dinner served with glassware and silverware. Hot meals.
People actually dressed up to fly on the glorious Constellation or the new 707.
Carl Icahn would run TWA into the ground and deregulation would give us the air travel we have today. Nine eleven would add the TSA. The TWA Flight Center has been closed for almost two decades..
Rather than tear it down, it has been completely renovated as the TWA Hotel. It is the only hotel on the airport grounds. Previously one had to stay at local small hotels / motels or take a long train or cab ride to the center city. Now one can avoid the horrendous traffic and catch your flight.
The Sunken Lounge is the aptly named centerpiece of the hotel, a ground-floor lounge upholstered in bright TWA red where guests can order martinis from servers in red tunic dresses and look up at the rapidly changing flight board perched above them.
History is everywhere, even if you don’t go into the rooms.
Vintage TWA uniforms, some designed by famous fashion names like Ralph Lauren and Valentino, are on display in a mini-museum. Walk through the famous white-and-red “Saarinen tubes,” which were also created by the architect, from JetBlue’s terminal 5 and you’ll immediately feel transported into an other era.
In the rooms,the window glass is extra thick to muffle the noise of aircraft, The rooms have large flat screen TVs, plenty of power outlets and button-operated window drapes. Rooms either look out onto the Terminal 5 runway or into the hotel, making Saarinen’s beautiful ong white sweeps even more striking.
Andthere is a TWA Constellation parked within a few steps which has been converted to a bar. Nice.
Folks are coming out to the airport again just to have a drink in a Constellation and walk the terminal building, a paean to aviation.
I for one am glad to see this landmark saved and put to good use.