Yes, after over 2 years (due to some pesky pandemic), I’m finally travelling again for work. I’m off to Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, for some leadership training, courtesy of Reboot.
Like most of my travelling diaries, this is mainly going to be about the travel, food and lack of sleep, rather than the actual training which is pretty personalised and a lot less exciting for anybody not in attendance.
Getting Fit to Fly
With Covid passes and testing still a thing, there was much to do. First of all, both airlines recommend using an app called VeriFLY. This allows you to collate and confirm all your readiness documentation, including vaccines and tests.
The first hurdle is that it didn’t recognise my booking reference – this needed to be the AA one which BA don’t tell you (see my conversation below about this).
The second hurdle is providing your vaccination details – it’s not obvious how these are imported in, but I worked it out in the end. It then gets to the next stage and that’s a valid Covid test. It has to be done within 24 hours of the flight – but what happens if the flight is delayed? Does that invalidate it. Thankfully, I found the answer to this on the BA site… no it doesn’t.
I stumbled across MedicSpot, who offer pre-flight tests for £17. The way they work is that send a test in the post, you perform the test within 24 hours of your flight, take a photo of the result and send it back to them. Within a few hours, they send back a certificate, signed by a doctor. For travelling to the US, the test has to be monitored (you know, to make sure you’re actually doing it and not just dipping the test under the tap) so, for no extra money, they arrange someone to watch you do it via Zoom.
Now, no fault of MedicSpot, but the timing of everything was a maze. 24 hours before the flight I could check-in. But I couldn’t. I needed a Covid test result first.
So, 11:50am was check-in. My monitored Covid test was at 1:30pm. They promise it within 24 hours (which would be a bit late), but it’s normally within a couple. Then you have to import it into the app, which then needs to validated by them – again, a few hours. I then need to complete final parts of the app. Then I can check-in.
The reality was the the Covid test confirmation came through straight away and the app one didn’t take too long either. By around 3:30pm I had everything I needed and the app was showing me a pass that I could use with the airline to confirm that I was Fit to Fly. I just wish this was all laid out somewhere rather than each stage being a discovery, often involving some stress and investigation.
Although I’m travelling with American Airlines (AA), it’s booked through British Airways (BA). And there was a regular confusion caused because of one airline doing the job of another. For example, when BA told me I could check-in on their site I was then told I had to go to the AA one instead.
And this was my first headache – using the AA site. You need to know your booking ref with them and the one that BA give you doesn’t work. Instead, it’s tucked away in a corner of your BA details, on a specific online screen which is related to something else. But, once you have that reference, everything is a lot easier. I found the BA site to be an utter mess, with different things located in different areas and nothing at all obvious – I just wanted a clear step-by-step walkthrough of what I needed to do.
Also, tucked away in their confirmation email was a line to say that if my flight was with AA (“it is – you’ve sent me this confirmation to tell me that!”) that you need to contact BA to reserve your seats. I didn’t see this until only a few days before the journey. Anyway, I phoned them, only for their phone line to say they were too busy and hang up. Great. So, I DM’d them on Twitter, using an automated request system that they have set-up. They replied after I was in the US, which was useful to no-one.
In the end, I was able to reserve my seats via the AA site – something they don’t bother to tell you about. Even so, leaving it so late, I’m now travelling at the back of the plane, in the very middle.
The reality is, a few instructions aside, using BA was pointless, as all my information and updates were from AA.
VeriFLY aside, I found use of apps on my phone to be incredibly useful – more than I’d appreciated in the past. A combination of the Heathrow app (which is where I was flying from) and the one from AA meant that I was always aware of what was happening, where I needed to be and what I needed to do. They tracked where my baggage was, even telling me in advance which carousel it was on.
I was staying at the Hilton hotel and their app too lets me check-in and even open the door with my phone.
Anyway, enough of this, let’s talk about the week…
My alarm went off at 5am. I showered and had some breakfast before being picked up at 6am. We got to Heathrow at around 8:50am, with 3 hours until the flight. I got through check-in and security quickly and, amazingly for me, without incident.
The good thing about the AA mobile app is that it shows the status of your hold luggage, including where it is.
The flight was fine. I didn’t sleep but managed to get 3 recently released movies, as well as a bit of mobile gaming. We landed around 3:20pm, Charlotte time – 8:20pm back in the UK. Security, immigration and luggage pick-up, again, went without incident and I was soon catching a Lyft cab with 2 other Automatticians that I met up with.
I checked in, got to my room and unpacked.
All the Automatticians that had arrived and were attending the week-long training met up in the hotel restaurant, Libations, at around 6:30 but didn’t eat until around 7:30. I had a chicken burger. By 8:30 (12:30am back at home) I was ready to head to my room. My head hit the pillow around 9:30pm and I feel into a deep sleep.
I was awake at 4am. Bleurgh. I read for a while and then, around, 6:45 I hit the shower. Half an hour later I was in the hotel restaurant for breakfast. At home this would be lunchtime so I was really hungry Two rounds of bacon and scrambled eggs later, along with 2 coffees, an orange, a yoghurt and a box of raisins, I felt better.
The Reboot training is divided into 5 broad areas, spread across the week – Communication Fundamentals, Management Essentials, Giving and Receiving Feedback, Commitment Conversations and Managing Transitions. The training across the week was excellent and I really got to know a number of Automatticians.
Lunch was provided by the hotel and, aware of my lactose intolerance, the chef even made me my own dessert – every day this week he’s come out and let me know of something special that he’d either bought or made himself, that was just for me. It was very much appreciated.
We met up in the hotel lobby that evening at 6:40pm to grab taxis for the restaurant – Basil Thai. I had the Crispy Red Curry Duck, which is the chef’s speciality. The restaurant wasn’t that far but it was raining – in fact, it rained a fair amount that week, albeit it was reasonably warm. Having said that, we walked to the restaurants every other night.
I was back at the hotel sometime around 9:15, before heading off to bed, with my light going off around 10pm. It had been raining quite heavily for most of the evening and I found the sound of it, whilst trying to sleep, relaxing. The extremely noisy thunder in the night, less so.
Well, my sleep is getting slightly better – a 5am start for me today.
That evening we all went to Tupelo Honey. I had the local, southern dish of fried chicken with waffles (with a biscuit for starter – essentially, a less-sweet scone but still with jam and butter). All smothered in maple syrup. Naturally.
We walked there and back this time around, as the weather was dry and around 14°. I got back around 9pm and headed to my room before getting to bed around 10pm.
Awake at 5am again.
And the last time of our training. After we’d wrapped (a little earlier, just after 4pm), we posed for a picture.
That evening it was time to check-in, which was more painful than I expecting as setting up VeriFly for the trip home was a nuisance, due to getting my vaccination details into the app (and, no, it didn’t use the ones that I’d provided before for my outbound flight, as if my full vaccination status is going to get worse before the return trip!!). I couldn’t remember it being this difficult before.
But I had some success in the evening too – when checking in my flight tomorrow, I noticed the better seats were not a lot cheaper, so I’ve upgraded to a better, window seat, similar to the one I had on the flight in.
The meal that night was at Aria Tuscan Grill. There was lots of high quality Italian food on offer and a wine list bigger than the food menu. Having said all that, I had Lamb Shank – not particularly Italian but still very, very good.
Yeah, 5am again. Nothing changes. But, hey, last day.
I did my usual… sat around for about 1.5 hour surfing the interwebs and doing anything particularly useful. I then showered and went for breakfast about 7:10am, this time intenrionally waiting around for anyone else to appear – many didn’t until nearer 9. At around 10pm, with a check-out at 11, I thought it was best to return to my room and pack. I was out of my room with 10 minutes to spare, leaving my cases with reception.
I headed off to the nearby 7-Eleven to buy snacks to take home for my daughter. I stopped off at at local bookshop too, where picked up some more souvenirs of the trip. After bumping into a friendly, elderly gentleman who pointed me in the right direction, I went for a walk around Charlotte, taking in some of the sites, including the nearby Bank of America stadium.
I returned to the hotel around midday, where 5 of those remaining collected and we headed out to get lunch. We had pizza at The Bella Ciao, which was rather excellent.
After, 5 became 4 and, after a trip around The Mint Museum gift shop, we became 2, as 2 remained behind to have a full look around the museum. Adam and I continued an exploration of the city, where we also chatted about life and generally put the world to rights.
We arrived back at the hotel around 2:30, where we went to freshen up and collect cases. Around 3pm, in the hotel foyer, Adam and I got a Lyft to the airport.
For the size of the city, Charlotte Airport is really quite small. Although there were long queues they moved quickly but, after such a smooth journey here, something had to give and, yes, it was security. The metal detector went off, indicating my belt. My belt is metal free – a quick check later, though, and I was through.
Due to a tailwind, we were back 40 minutes earlier than expected, so my driver wasn’t ready for me. A short stand in a cold car park later, we were on the road and heading back home. Somehow, I’d managed not to sleep on the plane (but did manage to sneak in another couple of films) and, remarkably, I stayed away until that evening – 36 hours after I’d woken up in Charlotte. Needless to say, my eventual sleep was a good one!