Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adventures in (Rugged) Space-A Military Travel


John has been active duty for a little over 12 years now and we have been married just over 11. In that time we had always heard about Space A travel for military, we had friends who were adventurous and just showed up at an AMC terminal and "went wherever an open flight was going". Japan, Germany, Iceland, Hawaii... whatever! Pack flip flops and a parka because you never know! We never did that as a young married couple with few responsibilities. Before we knew it we had busy jobs and a few kids and the idea of just showing up at an airport ready for anything was... yea, not gonna happen.

Until now.

So there we were, flying over the Pacific Ocean in a plane full of orange netting and ominous "DANGER" signs everywhere. Several layers of hearing protection, winter coats at the ready, closed toed shoes, and a countdown clock on my husband's iPhone. Hawaii or bust!

We started thinking about Hawaii this summer because it is a fairly common route out of California. Military planes transport parts and people across the ocean and often have seats available for military members and their families. It is a neat perk, but it isn't guaranteed and requires quite a bit of patience and willingness for things to not go quite as planned. Or not go. Type A persons need to pack their Xanax. If you have kids, include a bottle of Tequila.

We started researching flights out of Travis Air Force Base and North Island Naval Air Station about two months ago. We watched the flight tendencies (it seemed that most flights went out Thursday through Saturday) and the roll call reports (how many people "competed" for a flight vs. how many got on), and the types of planes that were flying. We decided to try out of Travis because they seemed busier and to have bigger planes going in and out.

However, I started to get cold feet after our trip to Disney last week. It was a fun long weekend but Disney drains the life out of you quickly and I was longing for a few quiet days.The idea of driving 6 hours to Oakland, California and hang around an AMC terminal for several days just sounded like sheer torture.

Occasionally when doing research over the months I would notice flights out of Hickam AFB (in Hawaii) to Point Mugu (where my husband is stationed, we live about 15 minutes from there). Point Mugu Naval Air Station is a very small air base, so to expect much coming and going from Hawaii is silly. But because of how exhausted I was feeling, yet how guilty I felt to say no to my husband's "I want to go to Hawaii" puppy dog face, I asked him to call the terminal at the National Guard squadron to see if they might have a flight going to Hawaii in the next week or two. If I'm honest I truly believed it was fruitless and didn't really worry about it working out.

Serendipity. We got home from Disney on Monday evening, John called the guard squadron on Tuesday morning, and lo and behold, they had a flight leaving from Mugu and going to Barber's Point in Hawaii on Thursday. One of the National Guard squadrons had just returned from deployment and they were flying a few C-130s over to Hawaii full of families as a homecoming perk. So, we crashed that party.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm pretty darn type-A. The idea of going on a vacation to Hawaii in the summer without a single reservation or plan was terrifying. However, life is an adventure and you only live once. I packed like a mad woman on Wednesday, emailed my best friend's parents (who thank goodness are a retired Navy family and totally on board with Space A spontaneity) to see if we could stay at their home in Honolulu, and showed up at the terminal dressed for Alaska yet headed to Hawaii.

When I suggested to my husband that call the guard station, I was fully expecting we would be flying to Hawaii in a typical jet engine aircraft. Never in a million years did I think John would come home and tell me that yes, we could likely get to Hawaii from Point Mugu, but it would be in a C-130. A prop. A loud, slow, work horse of an airplane that is not designed for comfort, but rather, for combat. I would need to prepare to be very cold. I would need to have lots of hearing protection; we couldn't talk at all on the seven hours flight. **record scratch** Seven hours. I moved to California and thought I got closer to Hawaii, yet we would be chugging across the Atlantic at a snail's pace. Essentially eating the dust of flights leaving LAX two hours after us.

But it's free! No TSA! Yes, I know, I fear you will think I am complaining and I'm not. I'm just trying to put you in my state of mind. Vacation weary, mom of 3 and 5 year old, one day notice for a very adventurous flight over lots of ocean. I was just a tad worried. Totally "first world problems", but still on my mind.

Here are some pictures of our Hercules Hawaii Adventure:
Many thanks to the 146th California Airlift National Guard unit for letting us join their post-deployment fiesta!
Kate and Connor ready to go!

Approaching the two C-130s from the Channel Islands terminal. Santa Monica mountains in the background.
Getting on the plane. Jump seats with cargo netting and seatbelts that reminded me of puzzles you get in vending machines.

Connor got to hang with the flight crew during the flight.

Typical commercial jets now are so cramped that the C-130 was actually more comfortable than coach. People had hammocks that they hung in various locations (I was totally jealous of those smart people), a young family had their baby sleeping in a pack 'n play in one of the more open areas, and there was room to spread out and sleep. I could even have my Kindle on during takeoff and landing! Glorious! It was truly a very laid back atmosphere despite the "Anti Hijacking" brief we got and the realization that if we the plane lost pressure we wouldn't get one of those civilized air masks that are released on commercial jets, we would get this:
A turkey bag, aka EPOS. **shudder**

Overall, when considering the cost to get there this way ($0), it was absolutely worth the sound discomfort. Plus, the few times Kate and Connor got whiney it wasn't a big deal because nobody could hear them. Including me! In the end, it wasn't cold at all, and the feather down jacket I dug out of a box in our garage was completely unnecessary. If you were at the Pearl Harbor NEX last Thursday and saw a glazed over person in sweat pants, long sleeves, and sneakers looking like I had time traveled from another climate completely? That was me.
All completely worth it for this:
If you are interested in Space A travel from your location, the best place to start is here: It lists all of the terminals worldwide, and if applicable their own websites, Facebook pages, phone numbers, instructions on how to sign up, and basics about the base (basically, are you landing in Siberia or Manhattan?). Typically, it is easier for retirees and non priority travelers to get seats during the less busy months (October-April). We learned quickly that some Space A terminals are better than others at being transparent about their operations and the realities of getting a seat. We really appreciated the ones that gave roll call reports of the daily flights like this one from Travis AFB: 
A typical daily roll call for flights out of Travis AFB

A typical active duty family traveling on leave (without orders) is a category 3. The rest of the categories can be read about in the spacea link above.
In the end, my only wish is that John and I had taken advantage of this long ago and long before we had children. It really is a unique opportunity to see the world without spending gobs of money. Plus, even though we experienced the rugged version of space A travel, I know that my children will remember this flight to Hawaii more than any other flight they have taken. Unique experiences should be grasped and appreciated. I don't think any of us will forget our time on the mighty Hercules any time soon.



Angie said...

How fun! My husband is always talking about taking a Space A flight, but I have been too nervous to try. We live in Jacksonville, and I know they have flights leaving from here.

I have heard the C-130 is nice because you can spread out. People will take mats to sleep on, and hammocks. I never would have thought of the pack n play!

Anonymous said...

yes, the netting isn't so bad. I am glad you weren't cold! memories... It certainly is unforgettable and I hope all were happy with the trip!

Katie said...

This is such great information!! My husband and I are trying to get to Hawaii via Space A in November… I AM a type A person… so this is great preparation for me!

Anonymous said...

As always I enjoyed your essay. You did give me a smile with your inadvertent swap of the Atlantic for the Pacific. An easy malihini error. Aloha nui loa.

robert hernandez said...

Williamsburg Brooklyn, which is a city with no time, you have some of the best hospitable people around at the hotel called Condor who are simply waiting to welcome you and render some of the best services at affordable prices. It is really one of the best brooklyn boutique hotel found. thanks

Anonymous said...

I am currently sitting in the Travis terminal reading your blog for my first time! What a coincidence to stumble upon something I'm experiencing a this EXACT moment! I'm killing time because our flight to Hawaii got pushed back 3 hours lol. Great blog. I will definitely follow this one from now on :)

John Jackson said...

Nice, well written article. The picture of the "turkey bag" doesn't show, but I've seen them before. I've taken that slow C-130 before, but it was only from Travis AFB to Little Rock AFB AR. I was actually the only passenger and it was freezing. I had my parka and I was still cold.
There are many Space A sites on the internet these days. I am heavily into the Space A scene now, at least on the internet, but not so much in the traveling part, although my wife and I have done some. We are retired and are Cat VI so we usually have to wait longer.
I have website, some groups and some pages on Space A, all free, and I would be happy to share their location to anyone that wants to check them out.
If you click on my name it will take you to my site. I started it because there really wasn't another site like it on the internet that I could find, and still can't. It was designed to help people plan their Space A trips.
Again, it was a very well written article and I enjoyed reading it. I've read many stories similar to this one over the past few years of looking into Space A. I've even experienced some of the some things you did.

Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

Popular Posts

Powered by Blogger.