The travel gamble that paid off

A couple weeks ago I was checking the space-A trends to see what options I had out of the east coast bases.  Pickings were pretty slim – because of my status I’m not permitted to fly within CONUS so I had to find a flight from the east coast straight to Alaska or Hawaii to try for onward flights over the Pacific and back to Korea.  Well, it’s just not that common to go that way, and the few flights that did go during my research took a handful or no passengers – none as low category as us (IV).

So, I started looking into flying commercially to the west coast – a California or Washington base – and wasn’t having luck with prices.  On a whim I looked into going commercial to Hawaii and
Alaska, which is where I hit the jackpot.  For $200 (each) I booked the three of us from Washington DC to Anchorage.  At that time there were lots of flights heading over the Pacific with plenty of empty seats. August 4 was our departure day!  So nice to have it firmed up.
Of course, soon after I booked it there appeared to be no more Pacific flights from Elmendorf. I got a bit worried but contacted friends to hang out with if I needed to wait.  Then, on Friday, Elmendorf posted their next three day schedule and a miracle showed up. A flight straight to Osan with 26 seats on the 5th.  Wow!  I felt positive and lucky, but cautious because space-A changes all the time.
On the 4th Nan, PaJoe, An Beppy, Zoe, Avi, and myself piled into Dads truck and drove down to DC. It was a gorgeous day and nice drive.  Nan kept the kids happy with stories in the back while Beppy and I crammed together up front. At the Dulles airport I checked in for a LOOONG day of flying – from DC to Dallas, to Portland, to Anchorage, and then hopefully to Osan. With some time to spare we popped into the USO for some free lunch and snacks.  Then it was time for goodbyes; it’s always tough to be both sad and glad to go.  Zoe even enunciated this by asking me if she should be happy or sad; I told her both.  I feel both.  We’ve had an awesome summer with our family truly enjoying being near everyone for everything from free babysitting to trips to the store, but I’m super ready to get back to our own house and our own routines.  Happy and sad.

We flew American Airlines, which shockingly impressed me.  I have fond memories of spotting the “Scissors” airplanes from when I was a kid; we thought their old eagle logo looked like a set of scissors. I don’t know if I ever actually flew them as a kid, but I expected a sub-par, squashed, low-standards US airline experience.  Not so!  The flight attendants were nice, the seats were comfy, and there was more legroom than others.  Still no frills – if I wasn’t military I would’ve had to pay for checked bags, and it’s good we ate food at the USO, but it was nice and on time all day.

Our seats were split across the aisle, so Avi and I sat together and Zoe sat beside me on the other side of the aisle.  Well, the nice older Indian man beside offer her the window seat so she sat over there for our 3.5 hour flight to Dallas.  It was fun to watch her get out her own coloring book, order a Sprite, and take a nap beside a stranger.  I’m a bit surprised she didn’t strike up a conversation, but I think she was a bit sleepy.  Avi and I also napped for the last half of the flight.  In Dallas we had fun at a kids playland, took the sky train around the airport, and visited the big USO.  This place was super nice!  It has huge TVs, a few lounges, a café, a kid corner, and a quiet room. We had a real meal – burgers and pizza – and I lounged in an awesome leather lazyboy while the kids played with the toys in the kid corner.  We also borrowed the movie Bugs Life to watch.

The next flight boarded right on time and took us just under 4 hours to get to Portland.  For this flight we were all together; Avi got the window seat this time and had fun watching for our backpack and stroller to get loaded on the plane.  Both kids colored briefly before we got our free drinks and napped the rest of the flight.  In Portland we had a fast layover, so a quick visit to toilet was in order before walking 2 gates down to our Anchorage-bound flight.  By this time we were sleepy.  It was now 10pm Pacific time and we’d been in transit for 14 hours.  We boarded early, got settled and fell asleep.  I don’t even remember taking off!  This flight was another 3.5 hours and I didn’t wake until the lights came on just prior to landing in Anchorage.  The kids were out cold.  It took a lot of rousing, but Zoe woke enough to walk off the plane.  I carried Avi.  We stopped outside of the gate to wake a bit and let me send Bryan an email. 

The Anchorage airport was fairly deserted and we were in no hurry. In fact we had just under 3 hours to wait before we could taxi over to Elmendorf Air Force base.  So, we slowly walked to the baggage claim taking in the sites: lots of taxidermy here.  Our bags were waiting on an empty carousel; I guess everyone else from our flight were in a rush to get out.  We scoped a few options for spending time….some benches for relaxing, a few squishy seats were already occupied by sleeping people, and then there was the sign for the military lounge.  I decided to check it out even though the website said it was closed at midnight (this was 2am local time).  Well, the door was not latched but it was dark inside.  Much to my surprise, though, there were a few other guys in there sleeping.  So, we went in and quietly retreated to the family room which, luckily, had a door. 

By now the kids were very awake, but did great keeping quiet in the playroom.  Mostly we tidied it up while we played.  It was really a mess!  Avi helped me separate the legos from the other blocks, and made his own airplane.  Zoe helped organize the bookshelf, played dress ups, and collected the stuffed animals.  She even found a bunnicula book and little bunny identical to one we have at home. 

At 3:45am we walked out of the military lounge and followed signs for the taxis.  There were none to be seen at first, and then a mini van cab rolled around the corner.  Zoe hailed it, which made me smile. The ride to the base passenger terminal was uneventful.  It was dark, so I have no interesting info about Anchorage except that they have orange street lights and we almost hit a cat.  Avi fell asleep in the cab, so he was plopped into the stroller when we arrived. $46 including tip.  This was the only money I spent all day!

The Elmendorf passenger terminal was empty at 415am, just after opening.  I checked in for the Osan flight, and we settled in the family lounge.  This is a nice terminal with lots of seating, a vending-machine café, and more taxidermy.  The wifi was fast so we Skyped with Bryan.  There was also a shower in the bathroom, so Zoe and I took advantage of Avi’s nap and got cleaned up.  We had been transiting for 24 hours at this point, and were stinky and tired.  It was nice to shower, and when we got out the sun was rising.  I finally got a view of the cloudy mountains and drizzly day.

The whole reason for being here was that pending flight to Osan.  Roll call was at 0640, and there were still 26 seats available!  The terminal workers seemed a bit disorganized, and my name somehow had gotten off the Osan list.  But it all worked out fine as they verified who all was trying to get on before doing a loosey-goosey roll call.  Everyone there got on…. only myself, two other moms with kids and a single guy; 10 people total.  After checking us in they quickly decided to get us through security and load us onto the buses.  I barely had time to call and cancel my ‘if it doesn’t work out’ reservation at lodging.  The kids were great and excited that we were on our way home.  I had a good idea we would make the flight, but made sure the kids knew this was not a guarantee.  We sat in the bus for a good 45 minutes waiting for the air crew to finish loading and fueling.  Then we got on and it was setup for lots of troops!  Instead of gear and junk in the center of the C-17 there were central seats.

I found out why all the seats were there when a ton of Army Guard people loaded and filled the rest of the plane.  It was crowded!  I got to talking with their first sergeant who sat next to us and told me they had been trying to depart since Thursday and were on their way to Mongolia for an exercise via Osan. They were delayed twice for airplane maintenance (the door wouldn’t shut), and then for airspace rules over the weekend.  Apparently they ended up sending 26 guys on commercial flights Friday – so it was not a coincidence that 26 seats came available to space-A passengers, and it was super lucky for us that they were delayed!!  It is not frequent for a flight to go directly to Osan from Alaska without stopping in Japan.

Well, Happy Birthday for Avi.  He spends it again on an airplane going over the international date line.  Some of the guys on the flight razzed me for making his birthday a half day.  I guess he did get kind of ripped off.  oh well, we had fun at his party last month.  But, it was still fun to now say I had a 3 year old!!

Zoe was asleep as we took off.  Avi stayed awake for a bit, but soon dozed.  So, as soon as we reached altitude I got them comfy on the seats and laid my sleeping bag on the floor.  I settled in hoping to sleep for most of the 9-10 hour flight.  In fact, I was so deep asleep that I didn’t notice Zoe wake up and eat her sandwich from our flight meal.  She said one of the troops helped her open it.  I woke to see her returning to her seat.  I got her setup with a video hoping to sleep again while she watched, but Avi woke as well. So, after only 2 hours of sleep we had the rest of the flight to occupy time.  We watched movies, did coloring, looked out the window, played with toys, sat and stared, and played a bit with the kids from the other family.  One of the other moms had brought some bouncy-balloons and gave a couple to my kids, which bugged me because they are kind of an active activity and I really try to keep the kids doing calm stuff.  I don’t think its appropriate when other space-A families let their kids run all over the plane and these things seemed to encourage that.  Irritating. It’s nice to be able to spread out and walk a bit, but not run up and down the plane when there are 60 other troops trying to sleep on the floor!  I let Zoe and Avi play with those for a bit, but then we redirected our attention to sticker books and other stuff at our little campout on the floor.  Avi mostly enjoyed driving his cars on the floor and webbed seats.  Zoe did stickers and stared for a long time between her trips to check out the window.  Yep, there is but one window to look out!

Landing at Osan was such a relief.  Noon on the 6th.  I texted Bryan and realized we needed to rush in order to see him. There is a basewide exercise this week, so he is working in shifts and has limited mobility outside of work. It took a while to get through immigration, but we made it with time to have Bryan take us home and hurry off to work.  whew!!!!  What a trip.  Total travel time: 40 hours.  Not bad for a partial space-A.  Total cost:  $650… our commercial flights and Anchorage taxi.  Nothing spent on food or lodging as we ate and stayed in the USO’s.

We dropped our stuff at the house, watched Bryan go to work, had some bunny time, and went upstairs to nap.  Then we all woke up and it was dark!  Apparently we slept through a torrential flooding thunderstorm.  At 10 pm we were up and awake ready for dinner, or breakfast, or lunch.  Cheese and crackers.  We stayed awake until Bryan got home at 130am… I guess jet lag has been beneficial this time around. The kids discovered their toys and spread them all over the place.

It’s so good to be home even if it’s crazy humid and my garden has turned into a jungle. 

waiting for our flight out of Washington Dulles

Our American Airlines jet

playing at the Dallas airport

Dallas USO kids corner

Dallas USO café and lunch!

Riding the skytrain at Dallas airport

Avi watching for our bags on our way to portland

Zoe and bunny enjoying our free beverage

Avi and his coloring page from Aunt Beppy

No pictures from Portland to Anchorage – sleep!
Arriving in Anchorage

Anchorage military lounge family room at 3am after we cleaning it up

Elmendorf passenger terminal family room

daytime in Anchorage, and driving out to our C-17

waiting for them to load the plane so we can get on

napping on the C-17

movie time

looking out THE window with another little space-A passenger

doing some workbooks at our campout

inside the C-17 setup for troops. Zoe and Avi are on the bottom right watching a movie


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