This past Sunday, Epicenter hosted a private tour of the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport. The hotel features many elements from the original TWA Flight Center, designed in 1962 by the eminent architect Eero Saarinen. The erstwhile air terminal, which closed in 2001, had been designated a New York City landmark a few years earlier, and therefore spared from demolition. TWA Hotel opened its doors to the public four years ago and has gone on to become one of the most coveted stays in the U.S.
Wayne Wiggins, a former baggage handler who worked at JFK from 1990 to 1994, joined Sunday’s tour. It was his first time seeing what his old stomping grounds have become. “In ‘94 it was more crowded,” he says. He first got into baggage handling primarily for flight benefits. What he thought would just be a summer job turned out to be some of the best years of his life.
Reflecting on his time working there, Wiggins says, “Even though I got paid crap money, I still say it was one of the best jobs, if not the best job I ever had.” When asked why, he says, “Because it was fun! You came in, did your job and nobody bothered you. Plus you got a chance to fly. I wish they paid better money. I’d still be working there.”
Reza Mohamed, 38, is a pilot who joined the tour due to his admiration for the “golden ages of aviation.” He started as an aircraft mechanic in high school. “My father would take us to the airport, and we would look at planes all day,” he says. “That was our vacation, being the poor kid from Queens.” Some 15 years later, he signed up for flying lessons and went on to become a pilot. Originally from Suriname in South America, Mohamed remembers his first flight into JFK as a kid, describing it as “a magical experience.”
“That’s really what I would like to see more of moving forward,” he says, recalling the exceptional service of that flight, “making it special for everybody who takes a plane.” When asked what he believes defines the golden ages of aviation, he answered, “style and service. Just the etiquette of the whole thing is really what draws me in. The TWA Hotel really brought to light those people in the service industry in aviation and how they provide that real first-class customer service to people who are flying. In turn, they can bring back some of that magic of airline travel.”