Way back in 2008, I was looking for a way to get us to Japan using points. At the time, I was reading FlyerTalk (before it became what it is today) and even then, the consensus was that it would be a cold day in H**L if ANA ever released more than one seat in First Class.
Therefore, I was shocked when doing a search that I found two First Class seats on ANA for a round trip from Washington DC to Tokyo. I went onto the board and told everyone to enjoy their ice cream because I found the proverbial unicorn.
I booked these flights in early 2008, long before I was considering an impending presidential election in November or the peaceful transfer of power to take place on a random date in January of the following year. I also wasn’t thinking about our connection city because it was easy enough for us to get positioning flights from Orlando to Washington DC.
When I booked a Southwest flight for us from MCO-IAD, I had no problems finding inexpensive seats for January 20, 2009. It was also easy to find an airport hotel for that evening at the adjacent Courtyard by Marriott.
It took well until after Barack Obama was elected president that November when I realized Sharon and I would be flying into Washington DC on one of the most monumental days of our lifetimes. In fact, we would be in-flight during the ceremony with our flight landing at 1:15 PM, a mere hour after Obama was set to become the 44th President.
There’s nothing we could do. Our flight to Japan was set the depart the next day. Our original plans for making a day trip into the nation’s capital were dashed but we decided to make the best of the situation.
When we landed at Dulles, the scene was surreal. The airport was empty. I don’t mean it was empty, like when you arrive on the last flight of the night that’s been delayed by 3 hours but the airport was fully functional, but lacking passengers. I later found out that since the airspace around Washington DC was closed for the ceremony, we were one of the first flights to arrive. That meant almost no wait time for baggage or lines at the rental car counter.
When we arrived at the hotel, the place was empty. All of the people staying there the night before had taken busses from the hotel to witness the ceremony. We settled into our room and looked for things to do for the day.
The one thing that stood out was the nearby Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. As a huge fan of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, I was shocked that I’d never heard of this location before that day. It was close by and sounded like a great place to spend a few hours.
As we arrived, we were met by security who asked why we were visiting. When we said we wanted to see the museum, they directed us to the parking lot but said the museum was closing early. We soon found out the museum was hosting one of the many inaugural parties. Guests arriving for the party were directed to the underground garage for screening by the Secret Service.
The upside of this was that the museum was basically EMPTY!!!!! There were also plenty of things to take pictures of, like the Concorde, Fox Alpha, Air France.
And the “test” Space Shuttle Enterprise.
We weren’t allowed into certain museum areas as preparations were already in place for the upcoming party.
After a few hours, we headed back to the hotel to find a place for dinner. We settled on a nearby favorite of ours, Legal Seafoods, where I got the inauguration special, a bucket of clams for $4.40.
Looking back, I’m amazed that, for the most part, we stayed unaware of the events happening that day. This is one way that technological advances have changed our lives. If this was today, I could have streamed the inauguration from the plane on my tablet with the onboard WiFi. Once we landed, I would be able to follow the day’s events on Facebook, Twitter or any other news site of my choosing. At a minimum, I could get push notifications about the biggest news of the day.
Were things then better or worse? Does it matter? I don’t know but looking back, it’s amazing how much has changed since 2009, which wasn’t that long ago when you think about it.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary