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How airport hotels are resurrecting the golden age of air travel

The reinvention of Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal in New York as a chic hotel signals a move toward more stylish airport accommodations. Matthew Hague offers a guide to booking in style en route

The TWA Terminal was financed by playboy business magnate Howard Hughes and conceived by the greatest designers of the day, including architect Eero Saarinen.

When the TWA Terminal at New York's JFK Airport opened in 1962, it embodied the optimism of the jet age. The structure was made of heavy concrete but soared as effortlessly as a bird caught in the breeze. The use of materials was daring, suggesting that, much like transatlantic flight, what was once impossible was now anything but.

It was all incredibly glamorous. The building was financed by playboy business magnate Howard Hughes and conceived by the greatest designers of the day, including architect Eero Saarinen and industrial pioneers Charles Eames, who did much of the furniture, and Isamu Noguchi, who created a signature fountain.

A by-appointment only showroom on the 86th floor of One World Trade Center in Manhattan hints at the design of the new 504-room hotel near the restored TWA Terminal.

Sadly, by the time TWA had gone out of business and the terminal closed in 1992, air travel had become something decidedly less chic. Instead of being associated with glamour, adjectives such as "sweaty" and "soul crushing" had become more apt. And instead of world class architecture, airports started to look more like strip malls, surrounded by equally bland hotels where weary passengers bed down for an unremarkable night's sleep en route to their final destination.

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Now, airport accommodation options are starting to change. In early 2019, the TWA Terminal will re-open with the original terminal restored and encircled by a new, high-design, 504-room hotel. "We want to put you back in 1962," explains Tyler Morse, CEO of MCR Development, which is redeveloping the property. "It was a time of great hope. The first Bond movie had just come out. It was when the Beatles first came to America. John Glenn had just circled the earth."

The use of materials in the TWA Terminal was daring.

The trim red uniforms once worn by terminal staff will make a comeback, Saarinen's signature Womb chairs will outfit the guest rooms and lounge, and the Noguchi fountain will flow again. Luckily for anyone with a long connection, the TWA property isn't the only overnight spot bringing elegance back to air travel. Hotel operators around the world are reimagining their airport locations, and the five below stand out for their ability to give layovers a touch of luxury.


Moxy, Munich

The Moxy at Munich Airport has a name that is vaguely reminiscent of a 1990s dance club, and a location, just five minutes from the terminal, that is typically reserved for sterile chain hotels. Interiors are fresh, energetic and geared toward its typical customer: young, design-savvy globetrotters who typically avoid anything that feels too corporate. The centre of the space is known as the "living room" and feels more Williamsburg than Bavaria.

Room rates start at $70/night. For more information, visit marriott.com.


Westin, Denver


The Westin Denver International Airport embodies flight. The shape of the building, created by the firm Gensler, mimics a giant set of wings rendered in a swooping mass of glass and steel. Many of the 519 rooms overlook the airport, so the steady stream of arrivals and departures becomes live theatre for guests. The Sky Lobby, with its futuristic, spaceship aesthetic and view over the Rocky Mountains, on the other hand, looks ready for lift off.

Room rates start at $295/night. For more information, visit westindenverairport.com.


CitizenM, Paris


After Dutch businessman Rattan Chadha sold his casual clothing company Mexx in 2001, he decided to tackle a problem his well-travelled staff had been complaining about for years: finding affordable, non-fugly places to stay on business trips abroad. Chadha's hospitality brand, CitizenM, addresses the issue. The property near Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris exemplifies Chadha's idea with playful decor, such as hanging model Zeplins interspersed with high-end Vitra furniture.

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Room rates start at $105/night. For more information, visit citizenm.com.


Hilton, Amsterdam

The Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol balances international contemporary cool and local Dutch style. The soaring exterior – all angular criss-crossing lines – would look equally sharp in Miami or Marrakesh. The Escher-inspired floor and headboards that evoke local landscapes could only be from Holland. Throughout, a careful balance has been created between expansive and intimate spaces – necessary to accommodate both business conventions and lone travellers who want to unwind.

Room rates start at $195/night. For more information, visit hilton.com.


Renaissance, Atlanta


With 750 rooms, the Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway Hotel is a bustling place, which is fitting as it's right beside America's busiest airport. Despite the size, it's a surprisingly creative and quirky space. Art is key to the overall concept. The lobby is accented with a world map made from paint splotches, and Banksy-inspired graffiti marks many of the meeting rooms. A communal lounge even offers art supplies, so that guests can unwind by colouring or painting before their flights.

Room rates start at $210/night. For more information, visit marriott.com.


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