Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Flying the Patriot Express from Seattle

Mt. Fuji during our approach. 
 When we moved here from Hawaii in 2008 we flew commercial, but we weren't that lucky this time around. 

Bob and I made calls and searched online for any information that would be helpful in preparation for our flight to Japan. Air Mobility Command has a website but it's vague, somewhat outdated and, in our experience, not entirely accurate.

The AMC terminal is in the SEATAC Airport. We were issued commercial tickets to Seattle and then were told to check in on Saturday night from 11 pm until 1 am Sunday morning. Check in was next to the Hawaiian Airlines counter. On the SEATAC website it's labeled as "1." The car rental shuttle dropped us off right in front of it. The departure time was scheduled for 5 am Sunday. According to the person at the AMC desk that I spoke with over the phone, the earlier we checked in the higher our chances of sitting together as a family. 

Long line to check in by 11:15 p.m.
One would assume seats would already be assigned because all of the passengers are traveling on orders, but that wasn't the case. We were staying with friends at the sub base in Kitsap so we were able to leave for the airport that night. Other people in the line of hundreds had flown into the airport that afternoon and were tired, bored and annoyed with the arrangements that had been made by SATO and out of their control. Two lines were formed and we were told to get into the one with families and people traveling with pets.  

There wouldn't be enough time to check in and get a hotel room to rest and let the kids sleep, so we were stuck at the airport. A map we found showed 24 hour Denny's about a 10-15 min walk away (not a great area). Our other option was the USO. We read that it gets packed in there...it was. We were there from midnight until 4 am. Our flight was delayed a bit so we were sitting there for longer than originally thought.

Thank goodness for the SEATAC USO! Without it we would have been laying down on the ground in the
terminal. There were quite a bit of people doing that...some had spent the evening at the USO and some didn't know it was an option. When we got there they had milk, juice boxes, water, apple sauce, pre-made tuna sandwiches and some pastries. They had free wifi, some couches, a family room with cribs, a media room with recliners and a large TV and a luggage storage area. We got drinks and took advantage of the wifi while trying to stay awake. Our goal was to fall asleep on the plane since we would be landing at 9 am.

Fridge in the USO
Around 1 am food was brought in from restaurants that had closed. We had salads, wraps, sandwiches and fruit salad cups. The volunteer staffers were wonderful and were doing their best to make us all comfortable. Some people were laying on the couches and taking up the whole thing for themselves, so our younger daughter fell asleep on my lap at the table we were at. Jim, a volunteer, came over with a blanket for us. Our four hours in there seemed to drag on, but the volunteers made it much better. We really would have preferred to fly commercial or to have a military flight during normal operating hours when lounges and restaurants in the terminal would be open.

It took about an hour to leave the USO and get to the gate. Security opens at 4 am so we lined up a few minutes before. AMC doesn't participate in Pre-check, so allow for extra time in the regular line. The irony is that it's free to military members...the girls and I get it too. We took the SEATAC tram to the S terminal. The coffee place by the gate was opening up so I grabbed breakfast and a drink for each of us.

Beef stew
Boarding started with O6 and above and then opened to families and then single members. The plane was a commercial 767 flown by a charter company. Seats were spaced 2-3-2 and the entire plane looked like coach class. We were given breakfast around 8 am PST and dinner a couple of hours before we landed. 

The AMC website has a PDF claiming meals are "comparable to commercial airlines business class, and special meals such as kosher, children's, diabetic, and vegetarian can be ordered with a 24-hour advance notice." An announcement was made offering pancakes or an omelette for breakfast and dinner was a choice of chicken with pasta or beef stew. 
Omelette with sausage

We travel. We travel a lot and earned enough miles to fly in business class to Europe (this past summer) and SE Asia (summer 2013). These meals were in no way comparable to business class. The two meals we were issued could be compared to coach meals. If you've got younger kids I recommend a snack for them and/or getting a meal before boarding. We had both since our expectations weren't high and it worked out well. We used the ear plugs and eye masks from amenity kits we've gotten over the years. If you've got them, bring them. There were a lot of young kids on board and the crying was non-stop. Most on board were families so we had more kids on this flight than the average commercial flight.

After landing at Yokota everyone deplaned, but those staying at Yokota or going to Yokosuka had a short brief. The guy there stamped our no-fee passports, we signed up for a shuttle bus and then we headed out the door to a small baggage claim area. We waited about 45 mins in the lobby for the shuttle to board and then we were off for the two hour ride to Yokosuka.