Right now, I'm blogging from above the clouds on my way to Singapore! I know I haven't posted in a while, and it's because I was busy preparing for a trip down to the Southern Hemisphere. My friend and I are either really crazy, or really confident.... We decided that since our husbands couldn't take time off to travel, we'd just travel down to Bali, Indonesia without them - and with our (combined) four children, ages 5, 5, 3, and 18 months. And just how are we doing it? We're taking a free flight, courtesy of the military, from Japan to Singapore before flying from Singapore to Bali. It's called traveling, "space-A," and if two moms and four kids can do it, you can too!
So here's how we did it:
1) The first thing you'll need to do is scout out the flights offered from your closest Air Force Base. Many bases now have Facebook pages for their passenger terminals and it's easy to search for them online. And if you can find a Facebook page, you'll often find a listing of the most common flights.
2) When you know where you want to go, and when, you'll need to get a Space-A letter from your command. You'll need the names of everyone in your family wanting to fly, and their passport numbers. Usually, you can't get the letter the same day that you apply for it, so you'll need to come back the next day to pick it up. That letter is one of your most important documents when you're ready to head to the airport. And, it's only good for 60 days from the date you applied for it. So you need to make sure that both your travel to AND from your destination fall within that 60 days (or you'll have to find a way to get another letter while away from your base).
3) As soon as you have your letter in hand, you can fax it, or scan and email it to the passenger terminal that you'll be (hopefully!) using. Sending them your Space-A letter simply tells them to add you to the Space-A passenger list for the next 60 days. It doesn't sign you up for a particular flight. The date that the passenger terminal recieves your Space-A letter by fax or email is the "date and time of sign-up." When you are competing for a set number of seats on a flight, the earlier your date and time of sign-up, the higher up on the list you'll be. I would also advise you to call the terminal after you've faxed or emailed your letter, to make sure that they got it and you're on the list.
- It's a lot to go into here, (and since I'm in the air, I can't double check my information) but your reasons for travel will give you a ranking, specified on your Space-A letter. Because we were flying for liesure travel, we were the lowest category, categery V. If there are only 5 seats offered on a popular flight, or at a busy time of year (summer, major holidays), then you'll want to have a higher category and an early sign-up date. However, our flight had 32 seats, we're flying during low season, and there was hardly anyone competing for those seats.
4) When you want to travel, you'll need to head to the terminal and "mark yourself present" within 24 hours of the flight you hope to take. You'll need to bring the following:
- Your Space-A letter
- Your passports
- Your military ID
- Your orders to your current duty station (recommended)
- Your Family Entry Approval (recommended if stationed overseas)
- Copies of your children'ss birth certifications and immunizations (recommended for international travel)
We arrived at our passenger terminal at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan the afternoon before the flight we hoped to take. We walked in, said we'd like to mark ourselves present, told them what flight we wanted to be listed for, and showed them all of our paperwork. I highly recommend doing this ahead of time if you are traveling with children and/or will be competing for an early-morning flight!
Ask the attendent, or check online, to find out the time of "roll call" for your flight. Roll call is when they expect to start calling names from the Space-A list for your desired flight. IF YOU ARE NOT THERE AT ROLL CALL, YOU WILL NOT GET A SEAT. Have all of your luggage with you, or right outside in your car, at the time of roll call. If you are selected, they'll ask again for your paperwork, and they'll direct you to the check-in where you'll check and weigh ALL of your luggage (they want to weigh your carry-ons as well). Once your luggage is checked in, you'll be boarding the plane in 1-2 hours. :)
Our Experience with Space-A
Considering we were attempting to Space-A with four children ages 5 and under, I don't think our Space-A experience this morning could have gone better. Our roll call time was 4:15am, so we opted to stay in the Air Base's lodge overnight. We woke up at 3:00am, woke up the kids around 3:25am, and were leaving in our van by 4:00am. We had wanted to get to the terminal by 4:00, so we were running just a bit behind schedule. I don't want to think about it, but we BARELY made it to roll call. We opted to leave the luggage in the car and we dashed inside the terminal with the kids. We had walked in, set down our backpacks, and were walking towards to the counter when they came over the intercom and announced that they would begin the Space-A roll call! Whew! There were 32 tentative seats to Singapore, and maybe 15 people total competing for those seats. We were the second and third people called on the list! (By the way, we had signed-up for Space-A about 10-12 days in advance of the date we were hoping to fly.) The plane was a commercial plane, so we have already been served some snacks and breakfast.
And best of all, the flight is FREE! It's just mind-boggling, really.
So now we're on our way to Singapore and it's roughly a 6-hour flight. We were hoping to stay at a Navy Gateway Inn in Singapore, but we called last night (Space-A travelers can only book rooms 5 days in advance) and they are completely booked up. So our next adventure will be landing in Singapore and trying to find a hotel. Thankfully, Singapore is an English-speaking country! And hopefully, our return Space-A flight from Singapore back to Yokota will be just as easy. Fingers crossed!