The Three Hour Tour

Why "Space A" Travel Beats Commercial Travel
(And a few reasons why it doesn't)

If you are in the Military and plan on taking advantage of the Air Mobility Command's services (formerly MAC), there are a few things you should know. I welcome anyone who is considering this to contact me if they have questions via email.

Not the least of things you should consider is how much idle time you will be spending in passenger terminals. It isn't the most exciting nor fun place to be, and you will be spending great deals of time here. This picture is a good example of how we spent a good bulk of our remaining days on Okinawa. Kid has a favorite purple blanket that she received from my mother a couple of years back (it is the only thing she has held onto as a "favorite" for more than a month or two at a time) and we have a great fleece blanket that zips into a sleeping bag that rolls and fits in a small compartment of the backpack I traveled with. This made a great make-shift bed for a kid who had to wake up at 0245 some mornings, and also a great cuddling blanket on the flights because it gets very cold in the air. A word of warning, many passenger terminals don't allow you to sleep in them whatsoever (something about zoning?), and some also have "family rooms" which are a blessing. If you have children you can use the family rooms to allow them to sleep (many have travel cribs), and since you can't leave a sleeping child unattended you can catch a few ZZZ's yourself in the recliners. Kadena has a child's play room with a huge television and and playhouse where they can play as long as you check on them frequently and keep the noise to a dull roar. In our travels I found Kadena and Elmendorf to be the most family-friendly terminals.

Space A flights are way more relaxed than your average commercial flight. The nice Air Force, and occasional Sailor, crew are a great mix of professional and fun. After they demonstrate the safety gear and general rules they like to mingle and try to keep you in good spirits. Once you reach optimal altitude you are welcome to not only take off your seatbelt but to spread out and relax. On the larger cargo planes you are welcome to spread out onto the floor, lay down and sleep if you wish. This is where having a nice travel blanket comes in handy, because I am not going to lie, the floor is cold, hard, and more than a little dirty and dotted with places for connecting cables and lines. Another word of advice: Buy the box lunch. Someone somewhere at AMCs make sandwiches and pack them in boxes with fruit, candy or granola bars, bottled water, chips, soda (not options, pretty much all of the above) and a few other things, and for $4.50 or so it is a pretty good meal. If that isn't enough you are allowed to bring your own snacks, and I suggest anyone traveling with children do this. You can have forbidden items like produce or dairy as long as you eat or dispose of it before landing. The crew will also more than likely have a supply of water. On the C-17 (similar to this open source photo) they made coffee and shared it with the harried and tired looking parents, and even had a cooler of sodas and water available (at no cost!), although on the second leg we had to remind one guy to strap it down, since during takeoff from Kadena he forgot and it launched down the center of the bay and flung open over the sealed and plastic wrapped luggage. It was actually really funny, and sadly happened too fast for a picture.

Something else that I absolutely loved about this type of flying is that it seems to be a bit easier on parents traveling with their children, of almost any age. Parents with very small children don't have to stress about their babies crying and disturbing other passengers. Space A flights are loud, since they aren't insulated the way a commercial plane would be against noise. Not only will your baby not be that loud above the sounds of flying and 30+ thousand feet, but most everybody is wearing earplugs, she they aren't going to hear it anyway. Slightly older children can sit together and play. I personally love that they are able to socialize on the planes, and was always warmed to the cockles of where my heart used to be by the sight of them sitting in groups consolidating their toys or swapping and sharing hand-held video games and books. The crew will also, time permitting, offer to let kids explore the plane under their direct supervision. This includes seeing the cockpit, and on one flight the boom operator of the KC-135 Stratotanker we rode took the kids down to see the boom used in refueling planes. If they do mid-air refueling they will usually let you watch, provided there is no turbulence or complications. Older kids and teens have the space to brood or mope or do whatever it is that teens do these days with their ears jammed with headphones. Some of the larger planes even have outlets for you to plug in your laptop or portable DVD player. All you have to do is be prepared to return to your seat and buckle in the case of turbulence. And did I mention that there is a ton of space on most flights to sprawl out and sleep? Well, on most flights there is a ton of space to sprawl out and sleep. :P

On thing to note is that you are flying on a military mission plane. They are usually coming or going from or to or during something official, and you need to respect that. You need to listen when they tell you no hats in certain areas. You need to respect that some areas are sensitive, so you will not be permitted to take pictures. Having had the kind of job I did when I was Active Duty I understand full well why taking pictures of or on the Flight Line is a no-no. Don't argue. Don't try to sneak a shot (they WILL confiscate your camera). Have more respect than news agencies do for sensitive materials and remember that what seems harmless to you could actually endanger the lives of these men and women who are providing travel to you at no cost. You may, however, take pictures on board in the passenger/cargo area, and out the windows as well. We rode directly through this sunset on our way to Alaska. It was pretty much the same sky for most of the 9 hour flight. We flew into it, and it was behind us as we landed in Alaska at what should have been Dark Thirty in the morning. Hey, it is Summer in The Land of the Midnight Sun. More on that next time!


The Three Hour Tour


We landed in Okinawa, and I want to say thank you to the family who offered to drive us to our hotel after taking their own things home. I noticed that people on these flights really help one another out, and I think that comes with the camaraderie of being in the military life. We learned a long time ago that we can't do everything alone and really reach out to help a fellow soldier, shipmate, marine or airman. Pay it forward is all anyone ever asked me to do. We got to our hotel so late that not even the one place delivering food was open so we could order dinner. Instead, we settled for this nutritious schmorgasboard:

The flight we were trying to catch which would take us to Travis in CA kept canceling. There was an issue with the plane when it landed at its home base. The few flights that did pop up filled quickly with higher category people, or were canceled due to the typhoons happening South of us at the time. But that is the Space A game. You go to the terminal very early in the morning (usually about 0330 or 0400) to wait to either catch a flight or not catch a flight. It is best to stay the whole day unless they assure you all flights have been canceled just in case something pops up. The first day we didn't camp out all day, and after the early flight cancelled we decided to try and see some of the Island, since it had been the only flight not going to Mainland Japan.

Okinawa is a lot like Hawai'i, complete with high cost of living and virtually no public transportation. Aside from Sam, the awesome shuttle driver from Niece who spoke five languages (I totes got to flex my unused language skills!) we were stuck with taxis. Taxis on Okinawa are way expensive. The Kid and I headed out to American village, which was only a few minutes ride away, and we paid more for that ride than we do here for a fifteen minute ride to the base. More by double. Also, the whole driving on the other side of the road thing freaked me out, even though I knew about it. I just couldn't get it out of my head that we were driving on the left and not going to crash into oncoming traffic!

So we went to American Village, which is a shopping center full of souvenir like shops and restaurants sporting local Okinawan fare. Okinawa has a history all its own, with people descended mostly from Mongol and Malay and its own language and food. Soba, apparently, is a native Okinawa food, or so they would have me believe, as I didn't really have time to verify that. Like Hawai'i, Okinawans are very proud of being Okinawan and prefer you to know that they are not simply Japanese.

Kid pretty much had to pose with any and all statues of dragon or fu dog that we came upon. Luckily I like to indulge her need to be photographed.

At the Passenger Terminal.

At American Village.
At Sunset Beach.

There was a huge Ferris Wheel at American village and Kid begged for the first fifteen minutes that we were walking around to get to ride on it. We went inside and managed to find our way to the machine that sells tickets.

As we waited our turn to board I thought The Kid was going to 'asplode with excitement.

That soon changed, as this is apparently the world's slowest Ferris Wheel. About five minutes into the fifteen minute ride (which makes exactly one revolution) she was bored.

The view from the top was still rather lovely, and we were able to see the whole of the are and plot our next move, which was to go to Sunset Beach and relax there for a spell.

Sunset Beach is a cute little protected cove that is netted off to prevent some of the nasties, like box jellyfish and such, from coming to shore and bothering the people enjoying it. The sand is comprised mostly of crushed shells, and the water was as warm as a bath. Having not had the foresight to bring our bathing suits we settled for wading and enjoying the beach.

The walkway around the edge of the beach is lined with concrete dividers which have all been painted uniquely, and the beach itself has these things that resemble concrete Jax, some of which have also been painted. There were several which we found really fun.

My favorite one.

There is also no swimming, in any language, past the protective barriers.

Presumably, should you violate this rule a giant squid will eat you.

After a few hours on the beach we decided to head back, but oops! I forgot that I didn't have a working cell phone in Japan, so thank-you, random guy in a U of M t-shirt who dialed the cab company for us! It really is true that military people seem to stick together and not mind helping each other out.

The next three days we spent pretty much between the hotel and the terminal, checking in and out and waiting for flights that never arrived. Our spirits were still high, starting each morning off with a new drink from the vending machine:

We ended up meeting up with a really nice woman and her son, who was about Kid's age, who were also staying in the same lodge and also trying to get to the States. She is a teacher at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in Yamaguchi on the Mainland, so she had a Japanese driver's license and rented a car for the day (the only thing that wasn't outrageously expensive) inviting us to join them. We went out to dinner and took the kids to see Up (which I found tragically sad and not overly enjoyable, but had cute moments). It was nice to have a playmate for Kid while we were at the terminal as well. More passenger terminals and commercial airports need kid rooms with toys. This was a blessing for bored children in terminals and for the parents who are stressed trying to find flights off the Island. After about the third day I felt like Gilligan (hence the affectionate name of this series of posts), thinking we would get off the Island only to have our hopes dashed about the shore when the flights filled with higher category travelers or were canceled altogether.

On the days that we didn't make flights we would venture to the Commissary to pick up supplies for camping at the terminal the next day. No parent should ever travel without a good supply of snacks, and since we were flying Space A we could have forbidden things on board, such as vegetables and cheese, so long as it was eaten or disposed of before we landed. I dare say we ate like royalty for a few days due to some creative planning and the USO microwave.

Finally, after being on what we referred to as The Surface of the Sun for almost five days we lucked into a plane that was headed for Elmendorf, Alaska, which not a lot of people were willing to take, but which we found out was going through to Charleston, SC. Usually we wouldn't have been able to get to the East Coast, but Alaska is considered "overseas" for military purposes, which entitled us to one connecting flight to the Lower 48, and this was the only one. Good enough for us!


The Three Hour Tour

I finally returned home last night from taking The Kid to the States for the Summer. It is now and will forever be referred to as my Three Hour Tour. No where in the planning process did I ever expect to be gone for almost three weeks! While I am recovering I thought I would do some Travel Blogging about the trip, because at the end of the day there were a lot of fun parts.

We set off on a Tuesday (I am mostly sure...LOL) from Osan. We missed the first flight out, so we had some time to kill before the next one left. I learned an awful lot about Space Available travel for Military members and dependents, which I am compiling both for future reference and also for a travel magazine that I sometimes contribute to.

We had lots of time to just goof around:
I mean, are you ever too busy to goof around with bug shield sunglasses? I think NOT!

It was actually a good thing because we had forgotten a few things like toothbrushes (but who needs those?) and lotion (which I can not live without).

We also had time for a nice sit down meal and viewing (and goofing around with) cars for sale on the BX lot.

I don't quite think so, missy. LOL.

Oh, that cat...

We had Kid's bags all packed, including a bear he bought her when she was sick earlier this year, and by the door and when we got back from picking up our travel documents from The Guy's command The Guy ran up to get all of our stuff. Somehow the bear never made it out the door and she was crushed because she wanted something to hug when she missed him. He ended up surprising her with this cat at the BX, whom she named Starshine (after Haley). We now have a bit of a joke that it is in fact an angry kitteh, because...well it seems to have a constant scowl on it's fluffy face.

The Guy dropped us off to wait for our flight to Kadena AFB on Okinawa. One thing that amazes me when traveling is the seemingly magical camaraderie among children in airports and hotels. They seem to find a way to quickly become the best of friends during even the shortest stints. Kid played with these kids in the passenger terminal and on the plane to Kadena, then said good bye cheerfully as we met a boy and his mother trying to get to the same place we were going.

We were able to travel about with them for the few days that we were in Okinawa.

I will probably stretch this out over a few days, to kind of give you the torturous feeling of how long we were in limbo. LOL.

If anyone of my military friends are considering traveling by Space A please contact me first. I have a ton of info that will make your trip a lot easier!

That's all for now!