Saturday, September 20, 2014

Our Adventure Using Space-A

We recently needed to go home due to a family emergency. We didn't have much time to plan or save up funds for this trip so we utilized Space-A (space available). We had 24 hours to plan as best as possible before Jay's leave started and I did as much reading and researching as I could. I had a plan! We could fly from Hickam to Travis easily and then we'd probably get somewhere on the east coast fairly easily but then it would be rental cars and hours on the road from there. Our trip back would be out of McGuire AFB or Dover AFB to Travis and back to Hickam. Easy Peasy! 
Then I saw the prefect flight for us that Friday out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam!  We would go JBPHH's passenger terminal (PAX) to catch a flight they had to Travis with a follow on flight to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. That part went by very smoothly. As soon as Jay signed out on leave, he went to JBPHH's PAX to sign us up for the virtual roll call list. The next morning, I received an email from the terminal informing us that we were on the flight. We had our check in times so we finished our last minute packing, cleaned the house as best as possible and then we headed to the PAX. We sat around for about an hour before the announcement for us to move into the baggage check to prepare for our flight. It was fairly easy. There were roughly 40 passengers for this flight so it was slow moving but nowhere near the caliber of congestion you would experience at a typical airport. We sat around after baggage check for a while, about an hour or so, before moving forward into security and the waiting area to be bussed to our plane. After all forty people made it through security, we were informed that our flight was delayed and we would be held in the secure waiting area, similar to what you would consider a gate at a typical airport except without restrooms, restaurants and other facilities. They did allow people to leave to use the restroom but they had to be re-screened before re-entering the secure waiting area. Finally we were bussed over and began loading onto our aircraft which just so happened to be an Air Force C-17. It was a very different experience than that of which I've had before. They did have pallets with commercial airline seats installed but the rows were very tight, almost tighter than that you would see in economy on commercial flights. Since they had equipped the C-17 with enough seats for approximately 150 people, there was room to spare plus ample room to walk around the pallets installed in the center of the cargo hold. The boys found the flight to be amazing and seemed very comfortable. 
We flew into Travis AFB, CA and arrived around 10:30pm PT. We did not realize that the terminal closed before our arrival and after them unloading our luggage that we had to leave the terminal. We didn't know the area and we had an 18.5 hour layover. We immediately started calling the local hotels for openings. The on post lodging was booked solid so no luck there. No cab companies were answering their phones. We were very discouraged until we saw a hotel on the list that said "Free Shuttle"!!! Oh yes! There was a FREE shuttle!! We HAD to stay there! We called to ask about this free shuttle and the receptionist was not interested in helping us much at all. We had yet to receive our luggage and when she informed Jay that the shuttle stopped running at 11pm, he told her to not worry about it since we hadn't received our luggage and it was already 10:45pm. Then of course, our luggage appeared on the baggage claim carousel. I called the hotel back to ask for assistance and while she wasn't exceptionally friendly, she did help me out. Having the free shuttle saved us from two cab fees on top of the needed hotel room price. So I thanked her profusely for the help, despite her irritable attitude. We arrive and she instantly became our best friend. She was born and raised in Hawaii so somehow our short stint living in Hawaii made us acceptable to her. I found it humorous. We got our room and we got some sleep. 
The next morning we got up, showered and packed up. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the cafe in the lobby before requesting the shuttle again for our journey back to the Travis PAX. Travis PAX is awesome. There is a child care center in there! There are cribs, TV, changing tables, a huge play area, toddle sized restrooms and even a bath tub for those who find themselves in need of bathing their child while on a trip. (Don't we all have that one trip that would have gone smoother if there was a bathtub nearby when your kid decided to blow out of a diaper or vomit all over themselves!!? There is no shame, we've all been there.) We waited around in the child care center until it was almost time for roll call. We get moved along through the process but much quicker than JBPHH! We get told to check our bags and get our boarding passes before waiting maybe 30 minutes before being moved through security. We wait approximately 2 or 3 minutes before loading onto the bus to be taken to our awaiting C-17 that we had travelled on the prior evening. Our same crew greet is at the plane doors and we pick our seats. This time we only have NINE people flying on the plane including my family of four. It was amazing. We took two rows of seats. Jayson and Jay took one row of five seats and Elijah and I took another. We had space to spare! It was awesome. We arrived at Wright-Patterson AFB late that night. We had about a three hour drive from Wright-Patterson to Canal Fulton and by the time we arrived, everyone was exhausted. We slept until about 9 or 10 am since we were suffering from jet lag. I'm very surprised the boys allowed us to sleep that long. We slowly adjusted and then the week was over and we had to start our journey back.
I was terrified from the stories I had heard of people getting stuck waiting for flights through Space-A but Jay seemed to be at ease since we were able to get out to Ohio so easily. I spent the whole week watching the terminals Facebook pages in fear. McGuire and Dover seemed to have changed their routine! There were NO flights to Travis at all from September 1st until the day we left Ohio for the east coast. I finally found a flight from Andrews AFB that would take us home with a layover in Oakland, CA. It had 150 tentative seats! The flight we took out had the same amount of seats and went so smoothly! So we cut our trip short by a day to drive out to my mom’s house so we could go to Andrews the next morning (Saturday) for this flight. We emailed the day I saw the flight so we'd be on the sign up and when we arrived the morning of this glorious easy flight, they informed us that the flight had been chartered by a military unit going on TDY. There was really only ONE available seat. Uh say what?! Why didn't they update their Facebook page or their terminal recording to show only one tentative seat?? We wouldn't have gotten up at 1am to drive an hour to Andrews AFB for ONE seat! That's insanity! So we trekked back to my mom’s house. No worries there was a flight on Monday to Travis AFB and we'd just catch that one. Except by the time we arrived and said bye to my mom, they "slipped" the flight. Essentially the flight was delayed by 24 hours. Mom turned around and had to pick us up again. So Tuesday morning we do the same thing. Third times a charm right? Wrong! About 30 minutes after arriving to the terminal and marking ourselves present, they announce over the intercom that the flight had been cancelled. My mom was half way home by that point and had to turn around to come get us. 
We had been defeated. Andrews AFB Space-A is a joke. While I completely understand that this type of thing happens, they are lazy and unwilling to assist you at all. I had an Airmen stare at me after I asked him a question. Eventually, I just said "well thanks anyway" and walked away nearly in tears. I'm pregnant and it was our third failed attempt. I was stressed and this jackass private behind the desk looked at me like I was insane for asking how to get a ride off post to get back to my mom! Ugh. Anyway, that evening I was emotional and crazed. I had to get my husband home! His leave was running out!! So I started searching every avenue I could think of. We considered flying Jay home and having him overnight us a command sponsorship letter so we could fly without him. But the flight was pricey! It would leave the boys and me with very little if we got stranded mid-journey home! So my mom offered to help us out by purchasing us all one way tickets to San Francisco. I emailed Travis that evening to put us on a sign up, which I should had done before we even left Hawaii anyway but didn't even remember despite my friend Candace reminding me profusely! Once we arrived in SF, we rented a car I had reserved and drove to Travis, about an hour and half away. We got to see the Golden Gate Bridge, I was so excited when I saw the signs that the boys couldn't help but get excited too!! It was magnificent! Upon arrival to Travis, Jay checked us into lodging. Lodging at Travis was amazing! We had a family suite which was awesome! Two bedroom apartment! We did some laundry and went out to dinner before calling it a night. 
We woke up at 4am to ensure we didn't miss any changes to the flight. Roll call was still set for 0550 so we all got dressed and ready to go, finished packing up the clean clothes and headed to the PAX. We arrived around 4:45 am and there were already plenty of people hanging out in the terminal. There were other flights going out that morning so I wasn't too worried. We were not first on the list but we had an alright position. The flight we had shown up for only had 14 seats and we weren't far enough up the list to make the flight. We were the very last name called but there was only one seat left so we had to pass on the flight, which a similar family had to do just before us because they had four members flying and they were called when there were only three seats left. So for the next flight we were second on the list, as long as no one signed up with a higher category or earlier sign up date than we had. Minutes before roll call, someone with an earlier sign up signed in for Hawaii and Germany flights so we started to stress out. The next flight only had 8 seats so it was going to be the family of four ahead of us and us until the one person signed up ahead of us. We were stressing! Roll call started and they called the last minute sign up, once.... Twice.... Four times they called his name with no answer. After each silence between them calling him, I prayed they'd just move on to the next name! Finally, the late sign up was a no-show for this particular flight and they moved on to the family ahead of us. We all breathed a sigh of relief just to be put on the flight manifest! After signing up, we moved over to baggage check to drop off our bags and get our boarding passes. We then sat by the gate security until we were called to go to security. Security at the PAX terminals is almost just like security at a typical airport except its run by about three or four airmen and there are far less people trying to get through security since they only take one or two flights through at a time. It really helps keep the bottle neck down in the security area. Maybe the TSA should start considering consulting Air Mobility Command about security procedures! We go through security and are loaded onto the buss within minutes of settling into the secure waiting area. 
We load the plane and it's really cool. Probably one of the coolest planes (and crew) I've ever experienced. We were flying on a KC-10A and that thing was so awesome! There were more crew than there were passengers but they were all so friendly and enjoyable! Jay, Jayson and I got to see the area where the airmen sits to refuel other airplanes mid-flight. That alone was worth the flight! As I returned from my field trip to the back, Eli had woken up and wanted to go on a field trip too. He was too little to down and check out the refueling area but he was able to see the cargo hold behind us and then he was invited into the cockpit with the pilot and co-pilot. He loved it! I think these guys just sealed the deal for two more airmen to join the U.S. Air Force in about 10-13 years! My boys had already been telling me that they both wanted to be pilots. Now they have experiences to really fortify that desire inside of them. We arrived at Hickam (JBPHH) at about 11am local time and we were out of the terminal about 20 minutes later. Our luggage was brought straight to us since there were so few of us on the flight so we really didn't have to wait for that. They were all so great and friendly from Travis AFB Passenger Terminal to Hickam AFB Passenger Terminal. I wouldn't trade those experiences for a first class flight home. These two terminals are run amazingly and with such poise that I'm so glad to have had most of my experiences with them. The one rude airmen at Andrews AFB terminal along with them lack of updating their flight information online or on their voice recording really made me dislike that terminal as a whole. 

So a quick run-down of how everything happened:

Thursday 9/4/14: 
     We find the flight and get everything ready for the trip.

Friday 9/5/14: 
     12:15am (Hawaii Time/HT) Jay signed us up for the virtual roll call for the Travis AFB / Wright-Patterson AFB flight. 
     11:30am (HT) we show up for baggage check and security before loading the plane. 
     1pm (HT) approximately, we take off. 
     11pm (PT) we arrive at Travis AFB.

Saturday 9/6/14: 
     11:30am (PT) we arrive at the Travis AFB PAX for our second flight. 
     2pm (PT) approximately, we take off. 
     11pm (ET) we land at Wright-Patterson AFB.

We spend the week with Jay's family and working through the family emergency.

Thursday 9/11/14: 
     I found a flight from Andrews AFB to Hickam AFB with a layover in Oakland that has 150 seats tentative that takes off Saturday morning, so we make plans to get to the DC area that following day.

Friday 9/12/14: 
     We drive from Ohio to Northern VA to my mother's house for the night.

Saturday 9/13/14: 
     2:45am (ET) we arrive at Andrews PAX to find out right away that this flight was booked by Space-R (military unit chartered the plane) and there was really only ONE seat available for Space-A.  

Sunday 9/14/14: 
     We just spend some time with my family since there are no flights out to the west coast from any nearby terminals.

Monday 9/15/14: 
     4am (ET) we arrive at Andrews PAX again, for a flight to Travis AFB. We immediately ask about Space-R and there is none. We're relieved so we say goodbye for my mom and she heads home while we wait. Approximately 10 minutes later, they inform us the flight has been 'slipped' and we would have to try again tomorrow. So we go back home.

Tuesday 9/16/14: 
     5am (ET) we arrive at Andrews PAX for the third time. The flight is awesome. It hasn't been canceled and everything looks great! We mark ourselves present and settle into the kid’s area. 
     5:50am (ET) An announcement over the intercom informs us that the Travis AFB flight has been cancelled. We go home again.

Wednesday 9/17/14: 
     I'm stressed to the MAX. We need to get home so I start exploring our options. My mom offers to help so that we done drain our funds just getting Jay home. I find that Travis AFB has SEVEN possible flights to Hawaii on Friday. I decide we should try our luck out there instead of spending tons of money flying commercial straight to Honolulu. 

Thursday 9/18/14: 
     9:25am (ET) we take off from Dulles International. 
     11:30am (PT) we arrive in San Francisco, pick up our rental car and drive to Travis AFB.
     2pm (PT) we check in to our suite on Travis AFB. 

Friday 9/19/14: 
     4:45am (PT) we arrive at Travis PAX. 
     5:50am (PT) we’re not selected for the first flight to Hawaii during the roll call. 
     6:40am (PT) we are selected for the second flight to Hawaii! 
     8:45am (PT) we take off! 
     11am (HT) we land at Hickam PAX!! We are HOME!!

Information on Space-A flights:

Space-A - You can find what locations offer Space-A flights. The larger terminals maintain a Facebook page but even more of them keep a recording of what is flying out up to 72 hours in advance. You can also find eligibility, categories and plenty of other resources on this webpage. It has been an amazing resource for me while we were gone. I was able to find everything fairly easily and quickly just using this website and the terminal Facebook pages. 

In closing, I have learned quite a lot about this process from this trip. While I'm sure there is plenty more to learn, it's definitely a way I would travel again with a few exceptions. We will always have funds set aside to fly back to Travis AFB commercially since that seems the most efficient and less stressful way to get home with little to no hiccups. I will also plan to have plenty of time to get home. Of course we thought we had plenty of time by allowing ourselves a week but we heavily depended on a flight to take us from the east coast back to Travis, or nearby. BE FLEXIBLE! I tend to plan like a crazy person and have back up plans to my plans so this should be fairly easy for me to do. I just have to know when to call it quits. But this trip did not make me dislike Space-A travel at all. It honestly gave me a better understand of how to go about it. Before we fly anywhere else with Jay on leave, I will be sure I have a Command Sponsorship letter allowing the boys and I to fly home unaccompanied so that we do have the option to send Jay back alone and still be able to wait around for possibly (free/cheap) Space-A flights.

Do you have any questions? Feel free to leave me a comment and I'll try to answer them as best to my knowledge as possible!

No comments:

Post a Comment