Want to get away? Air Force says to plan ahead
June 30, 2009
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Three months into World Airways’ role as the Patriot Express carrier and heading into the peak of summer travel season, Air Force officials are letting travelers know that a little preparation can go a long way toward a stress-free vacation when traveling military space-available.
“Of course, summertime is the busiest time of year, along with the holidays,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Challe, the noncommissioned officer in charge of passenger services at Yokota’s Passenger Terminal.
The Patriot Express is the U.S. military’s only chartered commercial air service in the Pacific, with a weekly flight out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, flying to and from Yokota; Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan; and Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. And seats aboard many military aircraft are available to Pacific travelers eligible for Space-A.
Challe said that with students out of school and families looking to go on vacation — combined with the summer PCS season — seats on flights are limited. He said travelers should plan accordingly.
Each month, Yokota handles about 1,500 Space-A travelers who take advantage of free flights to other parts of Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Alaska, California and the popular Patriot Express destinations.
One of the biggest snags travelers encounter when trying to fly Space-A is not having their paperwork in order, said Tech. Sgt. Ted LaCroix, the passenger terminal’s operations supervisor.
LaCroix said travelers should make sure they have all of their entry paperwork with them if they are heading to the States, including passports, identification cards, orders and leave paperwork. And dependents without status-of-forces-agreement standing should be sure to have already cleared their paperwork through the local Government of Japan office.
Travelers on environmental and morale leave, or EML, often bring the wrong paperwork or have it filled out improperly, officials said, suggesting those travelers check with unit administrators to be sure paperwork is in order.
Servicemembers and certain authorized civilian employees are able to take EML up to twice a year, bumping their status from space available to a higher category of travel priority. The Air Mobility Command uses five tiers of flight priority, and EML travelers can decrease their chances of getting bumped from a flight.
LaCroix said passengers should show up for the Patriot Express at least 30 minutes prior to roll-call and at least 15 minutes prior for any other Space-A flight.
Challe said passengers on the Patriot Express and other larger aircraft are authorized up to two bags each weighing no more than 70 pounds each, while those on smaller planes, such as Yokota’s C-12s, are allowed up to 30 pounds.
However, Challe pointed out, even the best of plans can go wrong. Sometimes flights are delayed, diverted or even cancelled, depending on mission requirements, and travelers should make sure they have extra money for a hotel or other mode of transportation, he said.
“Just be flexible and prepared to have to stay overnight if your flight is delayed,” Challe said.