Remembering the Marriott WTC Hotel on 9/11

Like many flight attendants and pilots, the place where I spent my layovers in any city became my second home. In the mid-90s, almost 20 years into my flying career, I was lucky enough to have layovers in New York City near the World Trade Center. It actually seemed that the Vista Hotel, which eventually became the Marriott, was part of the World Trade Center. It was wedged so closely between the towers, I felt I could reach out and grab a coffee from the office workers in the building outside my hotel window.

My first layover in New York City was in 1991 and I had close to 20 more in 1995 and ‘96, all of them at the WTC. My last layover at the Marriott World Trade Center, or as it was immortalized in film, The 9/11 Hotel, was in March 2000.

I’m almost embarrassed to say it was the only part of New York City I felt I knew well. It’s easy to get lazy when you’re working all day at altitude and the area around the Marriott provided enough entertainment that I didn’t venture any further. There were great delis and restaurants close by, plus fabulous shopping at Century 21. And of course, the incredible twin towers of the World Trade Center. Regardless of how many times I stood outside and gazed upwards, two things would happen: First, I’d be struck by their incredible height and architectural majesty. And second, I’d be struck by the helpfulness of busy office workers, more than one of whom would always stop to ask me if I was lost. So much for the urban myth of rude New Yorkers.

After 9/11, I felt particularly bereft, having lost not only members of my greater aviation family but a place that had felt very much like home. Watching TV, and seeing my “office,” a Boeing 767, flying into the twin towers was a shock that still reverberates.

I remember where I was when I first heard the news – driving to an appointment shortly after nine in the morning. As the radio broadcast that a small aircraft had accidentally flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, I looked through the windshield of my car to the sky above. It was a perfect September day in Toronto – clear blue sky dotted with a few fluffy clouds. I supposed that the weather in NYC was not much different. As I recalled the New York skyline that I was familiar with, I couldn’t imagine any airplane “accidentally” hitting one of these giant structures. A few hours later, we all knew it had been no accident.  As the days wore on, I thought a lot about the Marriott Hotel and the people who worked both there and in the World Trade Center. 

Though many tales have been told about 9/11, on this 10th anniversary you might find it almost uplifting to revisit that day through the film about the Marriott Hotel WTC .

© 2011 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.


How to Pack Your Carry On Baggage

I’ve only checked my suitcase five times in thirty years.  Flying standby can mean a last minute dash to the gate and if my bag doesn’t get onboard, neither do I.  Skip carousel chaos and lost luggage limbo by bringing your suitcase onboard.

 Choose lightweight shirts and sweaters that can be worn separately or layered.   Good fabric choices are silk, cotton and merino wool. Visiting a tropical destination? Remember that air-conditioning can be bone chilling.   I always pack a hat and scarf, though they may range from a boater and sarong to a beret and pashmina.

Carrying enough toiletries aboard is simple once you know that only liquids, gels or aerosols have to fit inside the one litre clear, resealable “security baggie.” A medium-sized zip-lock freezer bag works well.   Place toothbrushes, razors and powdered cosmetics in your regular travel kit.

Toothpaste, shave cream and mascara are considered liquids and must be in containers no larger than 100ml.  Buy travel-sized products and make substitutions, like stick deodorant for roll-on to reduce the quantities of liquid.  

 Prescription medications and items like contact lens solution are exempt from these limits. Visit the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) or the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for current regulations about carry on and checked luggage.

© 2011 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.


The Best Airplane Seats

Crew members get a pre-flight briefing and so should you.  Before you check in online, check out your aircraft. posts informative seating charts for more than 60 carriers.  You can locate the most coveted spots (extra legroom over-wing) and avoid the worst (near galleys and washrooms). Flight attendants know some seats that may seem wonderful – like bulkheads – come with their drawbacks, like no underseat storage and the chance of being seated next to cranky infants.

Even perennial favourites, like overwing exit seats, may have limited recline and are chilly in flight, as you are sitting next to an operational door or window.  Depending on the aircraft configuration, these seats can also be next to lavs (washrooms.)

To change seats easily after boarding, know airline protocol.  The final count of passengers and their location gives pilots critical knowledge on the weight and balance of the aircraft.  You might disrupt their calculations by switching seats before take-off.  If you want to move, do so before the count or in the air.

 For both passengers and crew, the smartest attitude is “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” not “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

© 2011 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.


Maximize Your Overhead

Statistics like “42 million suitcases mishandled last year” never bother me.  I always make sure my luggage fits onboard. Flying standby can mean a last minute dash to the gate and late check-in is one reason bags go astray.

 Travelling light saves you money and increases your mobility. I’ve successfully toured for up to ten days with only one carry-on.  On longer trips, local dry cleaners are an economical option.  For creative packing tips and current regulations, visit, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority website CATSA and the US Transportation Security Association TSA.

© 2011 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.


The Other Side of Delhi

It’s 110 degrees in the shade, if you can find any, and I’m haggling with an immovable merchant.  As my jet lag temporarily lifts, I realize I’m arguing over 60 cents.  I hand over 150 rupees (about $4.50), grab the brightly embroidered bag and slink away.  

Welcome to New Delhi, the jumping-off point to the legendary Taj Mahal. But I’ve already done my compulsory tour of Agra.  Today, I’m enjoying another of India’s exotic treasures – extreme shopping at some of the city’s fabulous markets, and I’ve taken a few flight attendant friends with me.

 Our first stop is Janpath.  Along the alleys, stalls are bursting with cheap and fashionable clothes. We grab long cotton skirts with ruffles down the front or along the hem, for about $9.00 each.  Paired with a sleeveless embroidered top, it’s a great summer look.  Another shop catches our attention with tie-dyed mirror-work tops, an updated hippie look in vibrant hues.  There’s one in each of our favourite colours – orange, fuchsia and turquoise, and we strike a better deal for buying in bulk – $4.50 each. Keep Reading

© 2011 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.


What Not to Pack

Airline employees and savvy travellers know better than to check their luggage.  That means efficient packing is paramount.  Though these tips may seem controversial and against accepted travel wisdom, you’ll be more comfortable, better dressed and less of a target if you follow this practical advice.


Unless you’re going to a dude ranch, bulky blue jeans are a waste of valuable luggage space.  They can also be uncomfortable to wear for long distance travel and can discourage gate agents from offering you that coveted upgrade. Designer or discount, jeans are still taboo in some clubs and fine restaurants. Instead, travel in non-wrinkle cotton or linen pants, which are classier and lighter to pack.


Runners, gym shoes, trainers, call them what you like but don’t call them stylish.  There are many other ways to keep your feet happy while promenading along the boulevard.  Try wearing a pair of chic loafers like the French do, and café waiters will assume you parlez like a local. If you must wear athletic footwear, at least avoid white. 


Nothing says “tourist” louder than a bulging backpack.  A more sophisticated way to travel around town is with a canvas messenger bag.  Sling it over your opposite shoulder for better security than a backpack, which is often accessible to everyone but you. There will still be enough room to carry cameras, guide books and the ubiquitous bottle of water

Of course there will be times when you absolutely must check your luggage. In that case, bring your valuables onboard and use a comination lock and luggage straps on your checked bags.  But if life is a journey, why not travel light?

© 2011 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.


Six Secrets of Venice


The most glorious sanctuary in Venice is Santa Maria Assunta ai Gesuiti.  Most of the interior surfaces of this Baroque Jesuit church are covered in an intricately carved pattern of green and white marble. This stunning feat of craftsmanship is enough to make you overlook the Tintoretto and Titian paintings on the walls. Risk a trip to Hell by snapping a forbidden photo then drop a couple of euros in the collection box to assuage your guilt.


Dodge the aggressive shop keepers and head straight for Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato.  This church may be older than San Marco though its elaborate mosaic floors have been spared the damage caused by constant visitors and the heaving high waters of St. Marks Square.  The odd opening hours may also have something to do with its wonderful state of preservation.


Live the high life, or at least appear to by quaffing copious quantities of Prosecco, the Italian version of champagne. It’s dry and crisp, and the bubbles are so festive. For another cheap treat, order the house wine when dining out.  More often than not it’s delicious.


On Strada Nuova,  buy a lantern with glass the pale pink of Venetian street lights. Don’t worry about getting it home. You’ll leave the shop carrying what looks like a wasp’s nest on steroids.  Your lamp will be swathed in enough bubble wrap to be sent by catapult and still arrive intact.


Browse through rooms of Abstraction, Futurism and Cubism in The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. It’s like first aid for modern art lovers suffering from an overdose of Baroque and Renaissance talent.  This one storey palazzo looks like a modest bungalow amidst its splendid multi-storied neighbours along the Grand Canal.


St. Mark’s Square and The Grand Canal aren’t the only shows in town.  Skip the tourist hoards and join the locals on the promenade Zattere al Ponte Lungo facing the Giudecca Canal.  Order a Venetian Spritz (Prosecco & Campari) at a quay-side café or meander off the beaten path and enjoy the dreamlike beauty in the maze of smaller canals.

© 2010 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.


The Perfect Travel Map


Anyone who has ever used a free tourist map quickly learns  it’s only worth what you paid for it.  You’ll make the most of your time and travel dollars with a pocket-sized atlas filled with useful information, not glossy advertisements.  Here are some of the best.


L’Indispensable’s “Paris par Arrondissement” classifies the city by arrondissement, or neighbourhood, which is essential for carefree meandering. Though updates are published regularly, I still use my 1998 copy paired with a current RATP map for the Métro (subway).  or at most newsstands and bookstores in Paris.


Best selling “London A-Z” is both an atlas and a guide book. Clear, detailed maps of the city centre and nearby areas are broken into grids for easy reference.  The central underground (Tube) route is on the outside back cover. A downloadable edition, “London Visitors’ and Tube Pocket A-Z Map” converts the paper version for your Windows based pocket PC.


Nancy Chandler’s maps look like what a diligent friend might bring back after a trip to Thailand.  Brightly annotated with highlighters and rainbow ink, there is a method to her psychedelic madness as hotels, shops and markets appear in different colours. A separate compact guide details everything from accommodation to transportation.  Worth ordering ahead of time.


Part of Venice’s charm is in getting lost, or so I like to remind my husband after we round another corner to nowhere.  It’s true that maps aren’t much use in this beautiful, maze-like city. Once you’re familiar with the Grand Canal, use the vaparetto or water bus stations to get your bearings and follow the signs.  The yellow markers are official, the rest are placed by helpful Venetians.

  If we’re renting a car, a road atlas is essential, otherwise I pair a city map with a transit route guide. My husband likes to bring a map of the entire country, which usually provides other entertaining information.

 Get your hands on a real map ahead of time and get your bearings as soon as you arrive, jet lag notwithstanding. For the best maps for other destinations, see what the experts, like Frommer’s, Lonely Planet or Condé Nast Traveler recommend.

© 2010 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.