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!

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