A good dozen of us in the DC area have been watching the latest pseudo-controversy about White House access regarding the cancellation of a tour is elementary school kids attempting to visit the White House, supposedly for a photo op with the Steelers. On the surface, it appears as the story of a callous government bureaucracy not bending a bit to help out with kindergartners.
But, once you dig through the shoddy reporting of the local news, it turns out the kids were over an hour late to the appointment. To the White House. I'm not sure what they thought was going to happen, but let me assure you, on the near impossible chance you get White House tickets, they will be unbending on rescheduling. I'm no fan of the White House's visitor policy, but on this one, I'll cut them some slack.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Not to prolong a ridiculous non-story, but to explore what an appointment time "means" when you have one. So let me run down the list of likely ticket venues and my experiences with being late. Obviously, I should lead in with the usual caveats that this is simply my experience, your's may be different, and I don't speak for any of these organizations. That aside, let's assume you have 12:30 pm tickets to all of these places:
Bureau of Engraving and Printing: I don't know why they even have tickets for this one anymore. Personally, I think their schtick has gotten stale, but if you have tickets, be on time. They're pretty good working with you if you are five to ten minutes late, but no guarantees.
Capitol Visitors Center: 12:30 is the time you line up to enter the movie theater, inside the Visitor's Center. This means you have already passed through security, which you should allow 20 minutes for, although it's routinely less (and occasionally more). Also, you will want to give yourself a few minutes to orient yourself to the new Visitors Center. So, I would plan on being in line to enter the CVC thirty minutes prior to your ticket time and use the spare time, if any, to take a break in the cafeteria and/or explore its excellent museum. The good news; although I don't recommend it, the folks at the Visitor's Center have proven to be very helpful with me in the last few months with late/delayed visitors. It's worth asking them if you miss your ticket time.
Ford's Theater: The ticket time is when the presentation starts. You want to be in line 10 minutes or so before it. You might be able to squeeze in a minute or two after, but don't plan on it. Fortunatly, you can still use the ticket to visit the Peterson House across the street, even if you miss the ranger presentation. Once the museum opens, I'll be posting on ticketing procedures for that.
Holocaust Memorial Museum: Great news here! Ticket times are good for any time after their stated time. So, you could use the 12:30 ticket at 4 pm with no problem. Also, the ticket is only for the Permanent Exhibit. If you arrive early, take the time to check out Danial's Story (if you have kids) on the first floor, or the temporary exhibits in the basement. I strongly recommend one of the current ones, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.
National Archives: Officially, you have to be on time, but I've had luck with just handing the security guard the appointment sheet and bluffing your way in. Not that I recommend it, but it can be done.
Tours: If you have a tour scheduled at a museum, Library of Congress, Cathedral, bike/segway etc. you're going to want to be on time. The tour will start on time and they may or may not allow you to catch up.
Washington Monument: You have about a thirty minute window to use this ticket. If you're ticket is 12:30, I'd be there right about then, but if you are a few minutes late, you'd just get in the 12:30 line and no one would be the wiser. You might be pushing it if you arrived at 12:59 and they were already taking the 1:00's in. Throw yourself on the mercy of the Park Ranger, and you might get lucky.
White House: Yeah, right. Don't be late.
I hope this highly subjective look helps. Not that I ever advocate being late, but.....