Newsday travel writer Scott Vogel set out to explore the vintage TWA Hotel at Kennedy Airport, but ended up in an infinity pool overlooking the runway. Credit: Randee Daddona

Here's an affordable staycation near home — and it only costs $25. One word: poolcuzzi.

Even non-guests are welcome to take a plunge on the roof at JFK International Airport’s six-story TWA Hotel in Queens, where the outdoor swimming pool appears to be heated to a rolling boil, steam rising furiously from its surface. Mesmerizing and conspicuously fenceless, the 64-foot-long pool floats over Terminals 4 and 5, looking on as planes from Icelandair and Virgin Atlantic negotiate arrivals and departures from jetways just a few hundred feet away.

The rooftop infinity pool and observation deck at the TWA...

The rooftop infinity pool and observation deck at the TWA Hotel in Queens. Credit: Randee Daddona

You needn’t be a hotel guest to enjoy TWA’s poolcuzzi. A day pass is a real bargain for Long Islanders to soak in a 95-degree oasis modeled after the Eden-Roc Hotel’s pool in Cap d’Antibes — and you can do it while watching literally thousands of escape-minded travelers take to the air.

“When the place was built, the owner wanted one of these infinity pools, and they were like, ‘No, you can’t do that, it has to be fenced in,’ ” said guest services manager Michael McEnery. ''But … if the water is heated and there’s some movement, it’s not considered a pool. It’s a Jacuzzi, and the fence rule doesn’t apply.’ ''

After just a few minutes of steeping, I was a new man. Thanks to its size, TWA’s pool accomplished all the winter blues-canceling you expect from a hotel hot tub with none of the downsides, namely the need to avoid eye contact or make awkward small talk with total strangers in your personal space.

But it was more than that. I felt exhilarated as only a man can while dog-paddling through magma as a double-decker Emirates A380 — the one with private suites and showers in first-class — slowly backed out of a gate, made for the runway and a 12-hour journey to Dubai, even as a LOT Boeing 787 touched down from Warsaw and an American 777 jetted off to Paris. 

A landmark terminal reborn

“That’s him on the cover of Time magazine,” said McEnery at another point, gesturing to a photo of Eero Saarinen, the Finnish architect who designed the 1962 TWA Flight Center in which the 512-room hotel now sits, a midcentury architectural masterpiece that was painstakingly, magnificently restored and reopened to the public in 2019, turning the hotel into yet another kind of thrilling escape. “The story goes that Howard Hughes, who was the owner of TWA, saw him in Time, called him and said, ‘I want you to design my terminal and price is no object.’ "

Tourists get a preview of the new Trans World Airlines...

Tourists get a preview of the new Trans World Airlines building under construction in 1961 at Idlewild Airport (later JFK Airport). Credit: Newsday/Jim Nightingale

The result, a terminal that from a distance is birdlike, graceful and futurist in a Tomorrowland sort of way, is jaw-dropping up close and spellbinding inside. It’s all still there — the gaping maw glass panels, swooping, curvy concrete stairways and catwalks, white penny tile, chili pepper red carpet, iconic David Klein travel posters imploring you to FLY TWA to London, Lisbon and Vegas, trippy sunken cocktail lounge. I found it impossible not to smile while strolling Saarinen’s terminal. The building exudes an optimism rare for concrete, stubbornly reminding us that leaving on a jet plane was, is and always will be a glamorous miracle, even in our present bag-of-peanuts era.

Newsday reporter Scott Vogel visits the Twister room at TWA...

Newsday reporter Scott Vogel visits the Twister room at TWA Hotel in Queens. Credit: Randee Daddona

Trip back in time

Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?

We could float among the stars together, you and I. For we can fly!

“Up, Up and Away,” which made stars of the 5th Dimension singing group in 1967, found its way into a TWA commercial the next year, one that began with a blond-bewigged woman in mod sunglasses exiting a limo at the airport, her elbow-length gloves clutching a poodle. The song, along with Harry Belafonte’s calypso “Jump in the Line” and other peppy ’60s tunes, functions as the hotel’s soundtrack, a simultaneous homage and sendup of the era, not unlike the flotilla of mannequins gaily dressed in midcentury “host uniforms” displayed on the terminal’s second-floor landing, some designed by Valentino, Pierre Balmain and Ralph Lauren.

A display of vintage uniforms worn by TWA staffers over...

A display of vintage uniforms worn by TWA staffers over the decades is on display at the TWA Hotel in Queens. Credit: Randee Daddona

From left: Audrey Hepburn arrives at the Trans World Flight...

From left: Audrey Hepburn arrives at the Trans World Flight Center in 1963; Nat King Cole arrives via TWA's Ambassador Luxury Service from Los Angeles in 1959; Willie Mays and his wife prepare to board a TWA flight to San Francisco. Credit: Getty Images, Bettmann Archives

“This one reminds me of Lyle Waggoner on ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ ” said McEnery of a ’70s male flight attendant dummy, before peeking into the cozy-round Ambassador Club, an “ ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ room where VIPs could come in and be somewhat away from prying eyes.”

Scattered throughout the terminal, McEnery went on, is also memorabilia such as Saarinen’s original blueprints, along with full-scale exhibits depicting a ’60s living room and period hair salon complete with beehive hairdryers.

Newsday reporter Scott Vogel visits the Sweet 'N Glow Salon,...

Newsday reporter Scott Vogel visits the Sweet 'N Glow Salon, a '60s-inspired exhibit at the TWA Hotel. Credit: Randee Daddona

Two of the flight center’s original fixtures have been retained, the Lisbon Lounge (“they make a killer ginger margarita”) and Paris Cafe, the bar stools and tulip tables perfectly period, although both are now overseen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and serve food that sometimes feels too good for an airport (e.g., a zesty cake of tuna tartare crowned by radish rings, artichokes bathed in lemon-basil butter surrounding a juicy Parmesan-seared chicken breast, a premium burger with yuzu-sparked pickles).

Fantastic voyage to nowhere

When it comes to era-channeling audacity, however, nothing quite compares to the Lockheed Constellation parked just off the hotel’s lobby, a 1958 propliner rechristened the Connie bar, and reachable via a staircase on the tarmac. The cabin and its 74-seat (time) capsule reverently recall the days when aisles were wider, windows were bigger and planes had lounge areas with sofa seating, canapés and drinks to tide passengers over till dinner on long flights (!).

Inside the 1958 Lockhead Constellation "Connie" at the TWA Hotel...

Inside the 1958 Lockhead Constellation "Connie" at the TWA Hotel in Queens. Credit: Randee Daddona

Just two years after it hit the skies, the sleek, 5-miles-a-minute Connie was a has-been, eclipsed by jets that flew twice as fast. Its post-TWA life included stints serving as an Alaskan bush plane, airdropping marijuana to remote parts of Honduras and Colombia, and — these days — a destination in itself. Yes, Boomchickapop popcorn and mini cans of Pringles are what pass for canapés these days, and the cocktails have eye-roll names like Eero Dynamics, Control Tower Sour and Vodka is My Co-pilot, but the Connie survives.

Indeed, the longer I visited, the more the day came to feel like a smiley-face parable, something about how things don’t die just because we think they will. The Connie, which by all accounts should be rotting in some Colombian jungle right now, has morphed into the toast of social media. (“I see young people on Instagram all the time — they’re like, ‘Hey guys, look at this cool new spot,’ ” joked McEnery.) The 5th Dimension — still on tour, still riding that balloon — sound as good as ever, if you’re wondering.

The Lockheed Constellation "Connie" has been turned into a cocktail...

The Lockheed Constellation "Connie" has been turned into a cocktail lounge at the TWA Hotel. Credit: Randee Daddona

And then there’s Eero Saarinen’s terminal, crackling with life even in the dead of winter — a long-neglected, crumbling vision turned temple of restoration, one where a few hours of hydrotherapy and a ginger margarita are all that’s needed to take you up, up and away.

The TWA Hotel

1 Idlewild Dr., Queens

The TWA Hotel, rooftop pool, bars and restaurants are connected by covered walkway to Terminal 5 at JFK Airport. Pool is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; day passes cost $25 adults, $10 ages 5-12 until May 25; after that, admission is $50 ($20 kids) with a two-hour time limit and reservations required. Parking is available at the hotel ($45 for two hours) or take the AirTrain from the LIRR’s Jamaica Station to Terminal 5 ($8.25). Overnight stays at the TWA Hotel start at $279 per night.

More info:, 212-806-9000

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