Saturday, October 26, 2013

Space-A from Singapore to Yokota, Japan

If you've been following along, you know that our first experience with utilizing Space-A (space-available flights in the military) from Japan to Singapore went as smoothly as possible. We had no problems getting a flight, the kids did great, and it was overall a very pleasant experience. [If you don't count lugging around kids and luggage when you're tired... that's never much fun.]

Now that our trip to Bali was over, we hopped on a plane and used our purchased, commercial tickets to get us from Indonesiia, back to Singapore. We arrived in Singapore around 6:30pm, had dinner at the McDonald's in Changi International Airport, and took a taxi home. We had already emailed Paya Lebar's passenger terminal in Singapore earlier in the week to check on flight schedules to Japan and were thrilled to see a flight the very next morning after our arrival in Singapore. The roll call was at 8:40am (sooo much better than 4:15am for our first Space-A flight), and our plan was to have breakfast around 6:45-7:00am, leave in a taxi at 7:30am, and get to the terminal around 8:00-8:15am to mark ourselves present for the flight.

On our way to the Navy Gateway Inn & Suites the evening of our arrival in Singapore, all the kids fell asleep in the taxi. We had been doing some online research and it appeared as though we might have the option to buy some boxed lunches for the plane the next morning. The plane was going to be a C-17 (a large cargo plane), so we knew it would probably be best to buy snacks to take with us since it wasn't a regular commercial flight. We headed to bed that night, adding a stop at a convenience store to our morning taxi drive to the terminal.

When we woke up the next morning, we got showers, and while still in a towel, I called McDonald's to get some breakfast delievered (we had NO food since we had just arrived to the hotel around 8:30pm the night before). I was on hold for a while and was told it would be about 30 minutes... meaning the food would arrive around 7:00am.... later than we had hoped for, but still manageable. The kids were just finishing up breakfast when I glanced at the clock to see that it was already 7:24am. Just two minutes later, the front desk called to tell us that our taxi was there! We scrambled to pack all the luggage quickly, get the shoes on the kids and start rolling the luggage down to the street. I went to grab the taxi from the front desk and show him where our building was. It took two trips to get our luggage, and the only reason it didn't take a third was because some wonderfully nice man staying the room across from us offered to help carry something. We got everything packed in the taxi and I went back inside to call the front desk and see if we could just leave the keys in the room (the main building where the front desk is located, and the buildings with guestrooms are not actually side-by-side). The girl working there was sweet, but she was new and couldn't figure how to tell if we had already paid for the room. She hung up, called the girl who had worked the night before to ask her, and then called me back. I did NOT have the time for that.

When I made it back to the taxi, the driver asked us which gate we needed to go to. As far as we knew, there was only one! So we had him circle around to the front desk so that I could go in and ask. The poor girl at the desk thought there was only one gate, but wanted to call the terminal to ask. Then, she couldn't find the number. After 5 minutes of waiting, I told her that I could not stay longer and needed to leave. It was already 8:00am! I ran back to the taxi and we told the driver to go as fast as he possibly could to get us to that terminal for the 8:40am roll call. I had a huge lump in the throat as I watched the minutes tick by on the clock.

He pulled up the Paya Lebar gate at 8:30am and threw all the luggage (and kids!) out of the taxi. The taxis aren't allowed to go up to the gate, so this meant we had to walk from the parking area, through the gate, and over to the terminal with all of our luggage. It wasn't happening. So we ditched the stroller, pack-n-play, and one carry-on (with no valuables in it) in the parking lot, hoping no one would steal them before we could get back to pick them up. We were walking as fast as we could with luggage and kids carrying their backpacks. We got up the gate, and had to show IDs, dig passports out of our backpacks, and walk through a metal detector. When we FINALLY got into the terminal, there was no on else hoping to get on the flight and it was 8:45am. I totally thought we had missed our chance.

However, the ladies working the desk, kindly asked for our documents and started processing boarding passes! We had made it!! I think we were about to cry from joy. But then....

We asked them if there was food we could buy for the flight... The answer was NO. A seven-hour flight and we had nothing but some chips, prunes, and yogurt-covered raisins for 4 kids and a pregnant momma (not me - my friend!). We then wanted to cry from pure heartbreak. The ladies assured us that we had time to order from McDonald's before the flight would leave. So they handed us a menu and we started listing all the things we could get that wouldn't be terrible to eat if they were cold - apple slices, chicken nuggets, apple turnovers - but the ladies gently reminded us that only breakfast was being served now. Great. So we ordered lots of pancakes and hashbrowns. We would be able to take sealed beverages on the flight, so we asked McDonald's if they had any bottled waters. No luck there. So all we ended up with were some milks..

Then the desk ladies reminded us that there was a vending machine with drinks right outside. Great! ....Except for the fact that it took Singapore dollars. And how many Singapore dollars did we now have? About $2.20.... Still, we could at least get a couple of waters. Jessica went out to grab them and came back in carrying a chocolate energy drink (she thought it was chocolate milk) and some sort of orange juice. The machine was out of water. I'm sure we looked like crying for a third time, so the ladies went to the back room and came back out carrying a HUGE water that they had confiscated from another flight. Then they found another small water, and THEN, they offered us some of their own change to get a couple more drinks out of the machine. They refused to accept any US dollars from us to compensate.

I swear to you, no matter where you go, there are good people in this world.

We finally got our bags checked, our McDonald's delivered, our carry-ons checked through security, our immigration papers and passports stamped, and loaded up in a van to carry us out to the plane. After a minor setback from a maintenence issue (took about 45 minutes to get the plane parked again and fixed), we FINALLY got up in the air.

What a way to travel!

The crew was fantastic. One member in particular was great with the kids, giving them some candy, Oreos, and juice boxes, and they were incredibly accommodating. They gave us extra blankets and pillows, and because there was much room in the plane, we spent most of the flight spread out on the floor, sleeping, snacking and watching movies. I spent the last hour typing up this post and a couple more.

Honestly, though I've written a book above about the "ordeal" we had that morning, Space-A itself was a breeze. It wasn't difficult to get all our documents in order and processed. It wasn't difficult to get our luggage checked and even to get a spot on BOTH flights we've wanted. The only problem that morning is that we ran late - making us already stressed out - and we didn't know ahead of time to prepare a lot of food. If you remember, we had originally planned to stop at a convenience store on the way, but that went out the window so that we'd make it to the terminal in time.

I would totally fly Space-A again. And now that I know what to expect on both a commercially chartered and cargo plane, and I know what is available (or NOT available, I should say) at the Sinapore terminal, doing Space-A again wouldn't be difficult at all. I'm sure everyone has trouble along the way, either from missing a flight, not getting a spot, or even from having a flight cancelled all-together. But when I look at the money I've saved flying from Japan to Singapore, and back again...? It's totally been worth it.

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