Just weeks after returning from the company GM in Canada, I’m off again. This time I’m attending a conference in Washington DC -my first visit to the US! The conference in question is ONA17, which is for journalists. My team, WordPress VIP, works with a lot of media companies so we have sponsored a booth at the event and I will be one of a number of the VIP team attending to help run it, provide advice and, hopefully, assist with new client leads.
My day of travel. The conference doesn’t actually start until Thursday but the VIP team have arranged for a dinner on the Wednesday night for clients and partners and this is the only time for me to get there before this time. The flight is booked with Thomas Cook airlines and I’ll be travelling to Washington via JFK airport in New York (with a 5 hour layover time – joy!).
My alarm goes off at 5:30am for me to get to Manchester Airport in time for my 10:35am flight. I’d checked in and got my tickets in advance but had been unable to check in for the second part of my journey (from New York to DC), which was via another airline – JetBlue. The flight was nearly 7.5 hours but a couple of movies soon reduced this down. I’d paid extra for a seat with extra legroom and I really appreciated it. Thomas Cook, though, limit what films are available to you during the flight, expecting you to pay more for their full range (in this case it was the same range that I had to/from Canada so I’d already watched the better ones). What I will say for Thomas Cook is they do nice food – James Martin labelled, it was one of the better in-flight meals I’d had.
The only bother during this flight was the guy who sat next to me. As soon as he initially sat down, his elbows came out, not only taking over the shared armrest between us but actually digging into my side. Being British I said nothing. Neither did I say anything about his right foot being right over my side, as he insisted on having his backpack between his legs.
Landing in JFK, I had to pass through US Immigration. My ESTA had been completed many weeks ago and I got through slowly but without a hitch. Their immigration officials are really grumpy though 😉
Also, unlike my trip to Canada, I found I had to pick up my luggage from the Thomas Cook flight and re-check it back for my JetBlue onward flight. This also means checking in and going through security again. This got me thinking – looking through my itinerary for the week I realised I had just 1.5 hours before my returns flights when I was coming back on Saturday. In this case I was going via Boston. 1.5 hours to disembark, go through security, pick up my luggage, check it back in, go through security again and find my gate? That was cutting it fine and when I spoke to a really nice JetBlue lady she agreed. Unfortunately, there were no earlier flights but she was really helpful, including providing me with the terminal numbers for the return flight (yes, I have to transfer across terminals as well!).
By the time I boarded my JetBlue flight it was 6pm local time, it was dark outside and I was tired. Worrying about the return flight was at the front of my mind (tiredness does tend to make you stress about the less significant things, I find). I landed at around 8pm and, once reunited with my suitcase and through security, I grabbed an Uber and headed to my AirBnB apartment (and, in my tiredness, struggled to get in at first – panic began to settle in before I finally managed it). My apartment was nice although it was very open – the living room leading through (without a door) to the main bedroom, which in turn lead to the kitchen which lead to the bathroom. The biggest nuisance was the world’s nosiest refrigerator in the kitchen, which could be heard coming on every 30 minutes even with the kitchen door shut.
I think I was in bed asleep by around 10pm.
Sadly, my sleep didn’t last long and I was wide awake at 2am. I dozed as much as I could but, still, didn’t get much more sleep. That’s jet lag for you, I guess.
Until the dinner tonight the day was my own so I took the early start as an opportunity for a good long walk – in this case to the White House. It has to be done really. My conclusion – disappointing. It’s so much smaller than you think, even the grounds at the front (the film White House Down has lied to us all). I dropped my phone too and damaged it for the first time. That may be my overwhelming memory of the White House – small and I dented my phone. In fact, I found the executive building next door to be a nicer, more memorable building.
I walked past, up to the Washington Monument. It was good to see it in one piece as most disaster movies (and the recent Spiderman one) seem to have it destroyed in one way or another.
Then, I pushed on, past the reflecting pool and to the Lincoln Memorial. This was as impressive as I was lead to believe from films, although at no point did Lincoln come to life and talk to me.
By this time I was aching so I caught an Uber back to the apartment. I’d also not eaten by this time, so after a brief rest, I ended up just a couple of roads away at a place named The Diner. Little did I know how much time I’d end up spent here during the week! I had a burger, which was really nice.
I spent much of the afternoon resting and catching up on some work items. Oh, and I rang Thomas Cook as that return flight was still weighing on my mind. They were, in a word, useless. Initially I rang them (internationally, on my mobile – that’s not going to be cheap) where they put me on hold and forgot about me. After 20 minutes I hung up and used their online chat. Their advice – “try it and see what happens”. Great. When’s your next flight out if I miss that? Tuesday. That didn’t fill me with confidence and contrasted starkly against how useful JetBlue had been the previous day.
The dinner that night was great – fantastic food and great company. I ended up sitting with people from Slate, Global News and Parse.ly. Of course, it was also good to see my VIP colleagues too, who were staying in other AirBnBs locally, along with one who actually lived in Washington.
After dinner, we moved to a roof top bar named Roofers Union but I stayed for literally seconds as tiredness beat me and I headed back to my apartment. I was asleep for 11pm.
3pm I woke up. So I dozed until 6am – thankfully enough that I didn’t feel as bad as I should have done.
I met my colleagues at The Diner for breakfast just after 7:30am, before we all headed off to the first day of the conference at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel. It’s a massive hotel and those with booths are down in the basement. But, for a basement, it’s not too bad. When we get there it’s nothing more than an outline, a large number of boxes and some randomly dumped furniture. We set the latter up, including a large screen and proceed to open the boxes, which contain iPads and stands (for capturing email information) as well as all of the ‘swag’ that we’ll be giving away.
Once all set-up, and particularly around lunchtime, we had a steady stream of visitors to our stand, asking about WordPress VIP, although most were after our free swag (just as I was after everyone else’s). We were busy enough that it wasn’t until 3pm that myself, Steph and Kevin got away for lunch – Nandos it was. Nice food, lousy service.
And, yes, people liked my accent. One person mentioned it in passing but another made a specific point of it and even asked me to just say random things to her, anything to hear my accent in full flow. Hmm. That was a little embarrassing.
We finally finished around 5pm, where we all headed back to our apartments to rest and change before meeting up at 6:30pm at a BBQ placed named Federalist Pig – the food was amazingly good and I was back to my apartment around 7:30pm. Others went for drinks but I was wiped out at this stage.
I rested, watched a movie and eventually got to bed around 10pm.
I slept. I actually slept. 8 hours of sleep. Hurrah.
After breakfast, Steph and I went and picked up some additional signage for our stand – we felt we didn’t really have enough – before heading to the hotel for another day of ONA. Today it started later – 10am, which was nice.
Today’s lunch, about 2pm, was courtesy of Lebanese Taverna.
Once back from the day, it was time to start thinking about the return trip tomorrow and, in particular, the potential issues. In particular, I could now check in for my flight with Thomas Cook. Sadly…
WARNING: Boarding Pass Printing Not Allowed
Some boarding passes cannot be printed. You can collect your boarding passes at a check-in desk at the airport.
So, I’m checked in but I have no boarding card – meaning another hold up during the transfer, as I have to have this printed <sigh>.
Most of my colleagues go to a speakeasy that evening but Matthew and I head off to dinner at a local Italian Restaurant.
Another good night’s sleep and the last one for a while! I had breakfast with my colleagues before wishing them farewell. It was a while until my flight from Washington but outside it was already getting warm, so I though sitting in an air-conditioned airport would be a better bet (it was).
I headed to the airport and was there about 4 hours before my flight was due to leave. Once I got there, I once again spoke to a nice JetBlue assistant and was instantly relieved to find that my luggage would be automatically transferred to my onward flight to the UK – why had NO-ONE told me this before? The panic was instantly gone as a result. It turns out the only reason for me having to transfer luggage on the way in was because it has to be taken off before passing through US immigration – once you’re in the country, this is no longer the case.
So, I finally relaxed, did some work, before hopping on my JetBlue flight to Boston. It took a little over an hour – we even got there early. All I now needed to do was move to the next terminal, where I was able to get my boarding card, grab some lunch and wait less than an hour before boarding back to Manchester.
The return flight was relatively uneventful. The seat next to me was empty but a random German guy decided to sit there about an hour before the end of the flight. Oh, and he was another person who liked to spread his elbows too (as well as lean into me so that he could look out of the window as we were coming into land). His interference in my personal space bothered me less than the fact that he was occupying a seat that you have to pay extra for – it was no different to going in sitting in first class because there’s an empty seat there.
In fact, the whole flight ended up being quicker than expected as we landed about 30 minutes early and, for once, the ePassport scanner let me through when back at the airport. I was home for 6:30am, local time, Sunday.