interior of TWA hotel room

Someone joked that “the Dunkin Donuts in the baggage claim of jetBlue will report a spike in sales this evening.”

The hotel’s managing director looked like he was on the verge of tears—though in his defense, he was very gracious and doing his best in a difficult situation. (He ended up comping my room, which was nice of him.) As one guest said, “A soft opening is one thing. This is a very, very rough opening.” I got the impression from the on-ground staff that this May 15 ribbon-cutting was an executive mandate, fueled by some Fyre Festival-lite sense of charge-ahead denialism. One need only read the recent Wall Street Journal piece to get a hint of the hunger. In it, the developer of the hotel, Tyler Morse, said, “My objective is to sell every room every day twice a day,” while calling for “200% occupancy.”

David Mitchell
David Mitchell

Something changed, though, when I encountered a former TWA employee, one of many who were out in force to celebrate the reintroduction of their beloved old terminal. Her name was Yoli.

“Today, today, would mark my fiftieth anniversary of working for TWA,” Yoli said. (She is now a flight attendant for American Airlines.) “I started fifty years ago on this exact date. I flew the 747’s, going overseas. I even remember my white Samsonite case, no wheels. It’s… it’s emotional.”

Another former stewardess named Nancy approached us, mentioning that she was twenty years old when she started training with TWA. Today was her 53rd birthday, she said.

Near a glass case of memorabilia, I saw a man in what appeared to be an old garage uniform, with a TWA patch at the chest. He seemed to be looking for someone. I stopped him to ask if he’d been an employee. His name wasArthur, and he had been an aircraft mechanic for the airline, who started working for the company before the Eero Saarinen terminal was finished in 1962. He stared out one of the curtain windows at “Connie,” a Lockheed Constellation aircraft placed in-situ in a little courtyard between the hotel and jetBlue’s Terminal 5. Arthur knew this machine well. Connie is set to become a themed bar with seating inside, but Arthur remembers her differently. “In 1958, my wife and I flew that exact plane to California. Eight hours! No movie, no stereo. All you did was watch was the props go round.”

David Mitchell

Even though the new hotel had scrubbed most of the Jet Age charm from the old building, these conversations resuscitated some of that era’s exquisite, elusive appeal. I might even book a room again here for convenience, like if I had a really early flight the next morning. But with the sloppy clinical vibes, the ill-preparedness and the general kind of anticlimactic reaction it created, the TWA Hotel has failed, so far, to pioneer a new, actually cool version of the airport hotel. Maybe that feat is impossible. This project certainly seemed to have the most promise.

There was one counteracting highlight against this assessment, the brightest moment of the night: I met a fabulous, blue eyeshadow-sporting, acid-tongued former stewardess named Anne. She was dressed in one of her old TWA uniforms, and she bared her fangs quickly (in a good-natured way), delivering some dishy, 40-year-old gossip.

David Mitchell

“You know, Lucille Ball was banned from TWA,” she said. “Oh yeah. She was nasty. She dumped a meal all over our other stewardess friend Ellen’s head, messing up her beehive. Ellen went to the pilot, she was so upset, and the pilot said ‘OK, go tell Lucille off.’ The First Officer even came out, and Lucille said ‘get your fucking ass back in the cockpit where it belongs!'”

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