Unfortunately the military doesn't pay extremely well, even when you live overseas. So, flying home to the states is very rarely within our budget. However, the military thankfully does not leave us to fend for ourselves when it comes to transcontinental travel. They offer what they call Space A travel on military cargo planes for service members and their families. It is really very handy, but extremely unpredictable.
The first obstacle is that you have to have command sponsorship when traveling, which means going through the appropriate channels to get a letter saying "yes, they can travel on the plane". It isn't really a big deal, but something different then you would have to deal with when flying a commercial jet. Then the second problem is that you don't know when a plane is leaving until 3 days before it leaves. On top of that you don't know if you will actually get on the plane due to the fact that you don't know how many seats will be released on the flight and how many other people will show up for the flight. Then on top of that all the passengers are ranked based on priority to get onto the flight. It is a rigmarole, but it is FREE.
Last Sunday I found out that a plane was leaving for Tampa, Florida on Tuesday of that week. So, of course, even though school wasn't exactly dismissed for the summer holidays, I decided to try to take the flight. Executive decision. I mean really, what do kids usually do the last week of school? Report cards are already finished.
We showed up Tuesday morning at 6:30 and by 7AM we found out that we had indeed made the flight. I can't believe our luck! I have known people to show up three or four times before actually making it onto a Space A flight.
We got driven in a bus across the flight line (tarmac) to the KC-130 that would be taking us to Tampa. This was a tanker aircraft that refuels other planes mid-air. Our seats were jump seats situated on the side of the plane, made of nylon canvas with a nylon cargo like net for the back. They were actually a TON more comfortable than standard plane seats because we could stretch our legs out in front of us. Kind of like having a hammock to sit in for the entire flight.
Since the plane was mostly empty there was a large gap in the middle of the plane. The children on the flight were allowed to sit down on the floor and play with their toys or stretch out to take a nap. Some of the kids actually pulled out washable markers and were drawing pictures on the floor of the plane and then washing it off with baby wipes. There was also a lady who had a yoga mat and a sleeping bag who slept on the floor for the entire flight. The only downfall to the whole situation was that my feet were freezing cold due to the altitude of the flight and the heater at the top of the plane only reaches so far. A minor complaint really. Remember, this was a FREE flight.
The crew of the plane was amazing with the children as well. They took every single child on the flight (and some of the parents) up into the cockpit of the plane to look out the windows and then down to the place were they lay down in the back of the plane to look out of the window where they refuel fighter jets. My kids thought this was the coolest thing ever. Mind you, these were airmen who were returning from being deployed for 60 days who took time out of their day to show the children on the flight some of the cool things about the plane. These guys were amazing.
I have to say, as long as my family is allowed to use Space A travel, we may never make another commercial flight again. It was so much more relaxed and comfortable. I didn't feel restricted on the plane. My kids were made to feel special and not like they were a burden on the flight. Well done USAF, you know how to treat your passengers.