After surviving the wilds of Alaska and a roadside fiasco in Honduras, a vintage 1956 Lockheed Constellation plane is finally back at Kennedy Airport.
The 1956 Lockheed Constellation L-1649A Starliner, or "Connie" as the plane is affectionately known, will eventually become a fully-functional cocktail lounge, and its homecoming to the runways of JFK brings the new TWA hotel one step closer to becoming a reality.
The hotel, which is to open in the spring with more than 500 rooms, will entice fliers with several restaurants and bars, including one in the plane itself. The menu is not yet set, but diners can expect some throwback dishes that will transport them back in time to the plane’s heyday.
"It’s going to be a full theatrical experience, down to the uniforms and the gift bags and the food that we serve," said Tyler Morse, the CEO of MCR and MORSE Development, the company heading up the project, adding: "We’re recreating 1962. You’re going to feel like you walked into 1962, without the cigarette smoke."
Unlike today, when you’re lucky to snag a bag of peanuts, Morse said, the food on aircraft used to be something to look forward to and was a key point of competition.
"We have all these vintage menus of what they served everybody, so we’re using those as inspiration for a lot of the food that we’re creating" he said, adding that they’re working with several celebrity chefs (but wouldn’t drop any names).
Banquette seating will border the inside of the plane with two-top tables set along the edge, Morse said. In the center of the plane will sit four rows of seats, just as they would have when the plane flew for TWA. The project is also restoring the plane’s emergency exit — which was a small window with an attached rope to jettison down to the ground — as well as the navigator window, which was on the roof of the front of the aircraft used to watch for the North Star.
"You’ll really feel what it was like to fly in a standard coach seat in 1958. It was pretty awesome," he said. "It was basically first class."
The plane started its commercial life at JFK, and hasn’t been sitting around since.
In the early 1960s, larger and faster jets replaced the Lockheed Constellation, forcing TWA to retire the antiquated plane. It took on a second life, however, shuttling oil men in the Alaskan bush before ending up in a ditch in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, as a drug-running aircraft in the ’70s. It was passed around from private owner to private owner before being acquired by the German airline Lufthansa. Lufthansa ulimately sold the plane for the hotel project.
It was then disassembled, loaded onto an extra-long flatbed, and driven to New York, where it spent a couple of weeks delayed at the entrance to the Throgs Neck Bridge before crossing into Queens. The plane is expected to be fully retrofitted and reassembled by February or March, Morse said.
The restored TWA Flight Center, which closed when the airline folded in 2001, expects to see about 10,000 daily visitors. The aesthetic aims to transport people into an episode of "Mad Men," with Knoll womb chairs, original penny-tiled floors, chili pepper-red carpeting, ticking split-flap boards, and Tab sodas.
The TWA Flight Center first opened in 1962, designed by Eero Saarinen, the renowned Finnish designer. Saarinen also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Washington Dulles International Airport. The TWA hub was landmarked by the city in 1994 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
The hotel will start accepting reservations next month.