TWA’s space age Flight Center opens at New York’s JFK Airport (1962)

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

TWA to unveil spectacular NY Flight Center

By Viggo Andersen, Travel Editor

Probably the most beautiful, and certainly the most imaginative, air terminal in the world will be unveiled tomorrow when Trans World Airlines formally opens its new Flight Center at New York International Airport (Idlewild).

This writer, along with a hundred or so other travel scribes from all parts of the country, was invited to a press preview of the spectacular structure last week, and came away from the experience as enthused and bemused as he was after attending his last circus too many years ago. Not that there is anything remotely circus-like about TWA’s new Flight Center. It is a thing of pure beauty and creativity — a rare combination of artistry and functionalism.

Dedicated to the age of flight, this great terminal building, shaped like a huge bird with soaring wings spread, was designed by the late Eero Saarinen. The architect, according to his widow, wanted the architecture of the Trans World Flight Center “to express the drama and wonder of air travel. He wanted to provide a building in which the human being felt uplifted, important. and full of anticipation. He wanted to create a space which would dynamic, rather than static, and would reveal the terminal as a place of movement and transition.”

Monument to genius

How well Saarinen succeeded in achieving his objectives, you’ll have to visit this brilliant new star in the Idlewild crown. In my opinion, he exceeded his highest hopes, and this his final great piece of architecture is a lasting monument to his genius.

The Flight Center Is described by Charles C Tillinghast Jr, TWA’s president as a facility designed not simply for the jet age, but for the era of supersonic airliners. It is expected to be readily adaptable to the day when people will travel coast-to-coast in 90 minutes, Tillinghast said.

Massive roof

Perhaps the terminal’s most impressive feature is that its massive roof, weighing 11,500,000 pounds and covering 1-1/2 acres, is supported solely by four buttresses. No pillars or rafters mar the unbroken expanse of arched ceilings. The walls consist of 8,500 square feet of glass, accepting an atmosphere of openness.

>> Also see: The retro futuristic new look of TWA (1963)

Another highlight is the flight wing, connected to the main terminal building by a 307-foot enclosed walkway. Seven aircraft can park around the flight wing at one time, passengers entering and leaving through telescopic jetways, without ever being exposed to the weather outside”. These jetways are the most luxurious through which this writer has ever passed. According to our guide on a tour through the center, a second flight wing is planned, an even larger one than the first, one capable of handling 10 aircraft at a time, giving a total of 17.

The three basic things every air traveler desires are quick, efficient service at check-in; up-to-the-minute information on arrivals and departures, and rapid baggage delivery. These TWA is now able to provide at Idlewild with unparalleled efficiency and reliability.

The 25 check-in positions are linked by a special television circuit that relays specific information on the status of all flights. These check-in positions are also equipped with the newest development in baggage weight equipment, speeding up the detail of “getting going” tremendously.

For public flight information, TWA has installed the Solari Datavision system. Solari, an Italian firm recognized internationally as a maker of clocks and information board, has installed Datavision at many European air and rail terminals.

Two giant Solari boards are in the Trans World FLight Center. Their large, easy-to-read numbers and lettering can be changed in seconds from a central control panel operated by personnel coordinating flight arrivals and departures. The Solari system is unexcelled for keeping passengers up-to-date on flight status.

Luggage problem solved

The Flight Center also features a baggage claims system that goes a long way toward solving the Jet Age problem of luggage delivery. Earlier systems couldn’t keep up with the passenger capacity of modern gets and the resultant jump in baggage volumes. Congested crowds, milling up and down long baggage racks in search of their bags, have been a common sight at most terminals.

Such conditions won’t exist around the three striking carousels where TWA passengers pick up their belongings. These shining stainless steel “merry go rounds” rotate at 65 feet per minute. Baggage is carried to them on conveyors, and circulates to wherever its owner is waiting to pick it up. The carousels are capable of handling over 300 bags in a 20-minute period. The conveyors, moving at 300 feet per minute, are designed to have the luggage on the carousel by the time the passenger walks from the plane. And there’s no long walk after the luggage is claimed, either. TWA’s carousels are a mere 10 steps from the curb, where taxis, limousines or private automobiles await the arriving traveler.

Exterior: TWA terminal at Idlewild (John F Kennedy Airport), New York


Lillie Langtry: The life and loves of the scandalous Jersey Lily
Inside the Idlewild/JFK airport terminal


Airport information desk


The busy Trans-World Airlines Terminal at Idlewild Airport


Idlewild airport terminal construction


If you liked this, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest, plus see retro-inspired products in our shop. Thanks for visiting!

More stories you might like

Check out our books!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Because the fun never ends:

Join the fun

Don’t miss out on the latest and greatest vintage stuff!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.