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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The Patriot Express will resume service to Misawa in October, making official travel easier and offering space available seats that could save travelers thousands of dollars.

"I think it’s awesome," said Nicole Hanley, a member of a military family. "I’ll be using it."

The U.S. Transportation Command announced this week that Misawa and U.S. Naval Station Rota in Spain are the newest additions to the commercially chartered routes.

The military saves expenses on official travel — when families move between duty stations or when personnel go on temporary duty trips — by encouraging use of Patriot Express travel.

The service was suspended at Misawa and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, in September 2006 because there weren’t enough official travelers.

Iwakuni was put back on the route in April, with officials saying that the so-called "paying passengers," those on official orders, had consistently exceeded financial goals set for the Japan route.

Because of Misawa’s remote location — it’s situated on the northern tip of the main island of Honshu — travel to and from the United States can be difficult, expensive and time consuming.

Hanley said that the last time her family of five traveled back to the United States, they opted to make the 9-hour drive to Yokota Air Base to catch the Patriot Express because other overseas flight options were too expensive.

"We couldn’t afford it," she said.

The only charge for the space available seat on the Patriot Express is a $27.40 inspection fee per traveler.

Transportation Command spokeswoman Cynthia Bauer said in an e-mail response to a Stripes query that officials are reviewing contract proposals for the service to begin in October, so few details were available.

World Airways holds the current contract, flying a chartered DC-10 that can carry 315 passengers on the Pacific route. Flights now depart Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Thursday morning, arriving at Yokota on Friday.

They continue through to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Kadena Air Base on Okinawa that same day. On Saturday, the flight routes back through Iwakuni and Yokota and then to Seattle.

Bauer was unable to say how the schedule will change when Misawa is added. She said the command would have specifics on route changes after the decision is made on the contract.

She said the command expects about 50 passengers a week from Misawa.

The program has been "lauded as a great success" at Iwakuni, said base spokesman Capt. Lawton King.

King, who arrived himself on the Patriot Express about three weeks ago, said bringing incoming personnel straight to the base "streamlines the voyage and simplifies" what could be a difficult experience of arriving in a foreign country.

Rota officials said Thursday that they are awaiting details from Transportation Command on when flights will resume to the base, spokesman Navy Lt. Ben Tisdale said. "It’s going to very exciting when it does," he said. "Now we can get back to the States on a dedicated flight. A lot of people have been asking about it."

Stripes reporter Sandra Jontz contributed to this story.

Potential passenger savings

Currently, travelers headed from Misawa to the United States must go through Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. Round-trip options and prices include:

Shuttle bus: Misawa runs an overnight shuttle bus to Narita. Tickets for the 12-hour ride are $140 for passengers 5 years and older, and $80 for children who are younger.Bullet train: Adult fare to Tokyo Station is about $330. From Tokyo station, the round-trip train to Narita will cost another $65.Commercial Air: Adult fare to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is about $615. The round-trip shuttle bus to Narita is about $65 and takes about an hour and 15 minutes each way. A round-trip train trip will cost about $35 and take nearly two hours each way.Stars and Stripes


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