We recently flew Space-A and it was our first time flying Space A on a cargo plane. I think this is an opportunity that many military families are hesitant to take advantage of because it is outside their ‘comfort zone’ because it’s not like flying on a ‘normal’ commercial plane. Don’t get me wrong you can also fly on a ‘normal’ commercial plane flying Space-A if you use the Rotator but there are also TONS of options out there if your willing to step outside your comfort zone. I’ll also be adding a post soon about what you need to do to fly Space-A (with specifics for Spangdahlem AB), this post is just about our experience.
I will say that while I was excited to try this (and be able to blog about it ) I also did my research so that I could plan, well as best as possible as you can plan when flying Space-A. I took my notebook and long list of questions to the Spangdahlem Passenger Terminal where my questions were answered by a super friendly fellow who did not mind answering all 101 of them 😉
Some of the perks of flying on a Cargo plane include:
Many more destinations are available, which means there are many more flights available to try to get on.
The cost, it is FREE while flying on the Rotator Space-A still requires you to pay taxes (around $25/person) which isn’t bad but free is still free.
You are not confined staying in a seat the whole flight, most often your allowed to spread out and lay on the floor.
There are less people on the flights.
The meals & snack are better than what you’d get on a regular flight…well if you’re like me and not a fan of ‘airplane’ food.
There are also a few challenges to flying on a Cargo plane as well:
It’s a bit loud and and ear plugs are needed (However I’ll share how we found this to be a perk).
There may not be regular airplane seats but instead jump seats against the wall.
There are not flight attendants, pillows/blankets, or in-flight movie (although for us this was not a big challenge but I realize that it may be intimating to some families).
It can get cold during the flight.
With all that being said I have to say that we had a great first experience flying on a Cargo plane from Spangdahlem AB to Dover AFB (Delaware). We flew on a C-17 and I’m glad that Boo got to experience it at least once, kinda fitting that his trip to college would be another one of our adventures 😉
For those who know me they know how challenging it is for me to have the hand’s off approach when it comes to traveling and I wasn’t sure how it would be with me not being able to ‘control’ the specifics of our trip. While admittedly it was a bit ‘uncomfortable’ for me I was able to just go with the flow and there were no major crisis. Another post will be coming about our return trip as well.
Now let me get back on track and share our story…
I had been stalking the Facebook pages of both the Spangdahlem Passenger Terminal as well as the Ramstein Passenger Terminal and knew that both would have flights on the day we were wanting to leave. We knew we would be able to get out of Spangdahlem easily and that people who were Cat 3 were having to burn a week of leave to get out of Ramstein. However the day before we wanted to fly out Ramstein was able to get out 405 people so we were told we would easily be able to get on a flight there as well. Since we are at Spangdahlem and their flight was leaving first we decided to try there first and drive to Ramstein later if needed.
We got up at 4:45 am so that we could have everyone up and ready for the 6 am roll call. I checked Facebook to make sure nothing had changed and we left the house at 5:45 am. When we arrived Mr. B ran in to see if everything was a ‘go’ and was told that they had just updated the Facebook page 20 minutes ago to say the roll call had been changed to 10 am! So I cannot stress enough the importance of checking Facebook multiple times! We headed home and we all went back to bed until 9 am. We got back to the terminal at 9:30 am and were competing for 19 seats.
We were 2nd on the list (we are a family of 5) and the family before us was first on the list (family of 6) so between our 2 families we took 11 seats. There were 22 people present for the flight and initially the last family of 3 (a mom with 2 kids) did not get on. However the crew did allow them to have seats and all 22 people got on the flight. For those of you who are like me and want the nitty gritty details we were Cat 3 and our leave had started 1.5 days prior to the flight, the family before us had started their leave only 1/2 day before us. The last person to get on was Cat 5. This was for one of the first weeks of July (high season).
After roll call & being selected they called each family up to check in their bags. When you check in you have the option of buying a meal box for $4.65 each, we bought one for everyone in our family. There is also a free snack offered on the flight as well. It took about 40 minutes to get everyone’s bags checked in. Then we all went upstairs and through customs and security. It was a fairly quick process for only 22 people.
I have to say that the staff at the terminal was fantastic. They were so patient answering everyone’s millions of questions and were quick to help the mom’s who were flying alone with their kids. I was impressed by all the staff there and found it to be a great experience.
After everyone was through security they took out outside and onto the buses to take us out on the flight line to the C-17. No hats or photography is allowed on the flight line. Ear plugs were available when leaving the bus as well as passed out on the plane as well.
Our seats were jump seats, which are the ones that fold down from the wall. While they weren’t horrible they probably wouldn’t have felt awesome if we were confined to them for them for the whole 8 hour 45 min flight, thankfully we were not.
Shortly after we got in the air the crew came around and passed out our boxed meals. Our meal boxes contained a bottle of water, a soda, 2 PB & Strawberry sandwiches, candy bar, cereal bar, and chips. We weren’t a fan of the PB sandwiches but the rest was good. Later on about an hour or so before landing we got a free snack as well. It was a bottle of water, raisins, & cookies. There were also several igloo coolers of water to get drinks from as well.
We tried to sleep because we were able to spread out on the floor space. There was only a little floor space available as there were to large vehicles tied down in the middle of the plane, but still some room. Mr. B was the most successful, occasionally waking up and peeking out from under his eye mask. I had the hardest time, my brain wouldn’t shut up, I may try sleeping meds for the flight back. He did say that the floor of the cargo plane got cold, and it was cold in the cabin, but we had worn layers and had blankets so that helped. We did buy some individual self inflating mats for the return trip.
Bea danced about half the flight, that’s one of the perks of flying on a cargo plane is that you can stand up and move around..even dance around for half the flight, LOL! At one point Bea and I sat together and shared headphones and sang along to some music on my phone, the best part was we could sing freely since it was so loud and no one could hear us anyways. Also wearing ear plugs meant that you could not hear the screaming kids…you could see them if you looked but you couldn’t hear them, which made resting much easier.
Also you didn’t have to worry about climbing over people to get to the bathroom. Although the bathroom did not have a working sink or paper towels so I have added hand sanitizer to the list for the return flight.
There are also outlets in the walls which are great for charging phones, iPads, laptops, etc. You don’t get that on a commercial flight!
The flights also may be a bit chilly so wear layers. I also recommend bring blankets and some even bring sleeping bags. We found on the first cargo flight to the States that the floor gets cold so bringing a foam mat or self inflating mattress can help with that as well. I packed 5 fleece blankets in ‘space bags’ and compressed them and put them in a beach type bag to carry on the plane. We also took a few small pillows. If your going to be using a commercial flight after landing in the States it may be wise to bring an empty suitcase to put all the blankets and stuff in as you won’t want to carry that all on a commercial flight.
At one point there was some turbulence and the pilots did turn on the seatbelt sign so we all got back in the seats and buckled up…well except for Boo. He had a bad migraine and had just fallen asleep on the floor so I didn’t want to wake him up. Luckily after 30 minutes we were released and again to spread back out.
We arrived at Dover AFB, Delaware with no issues. However we quickly found out at the terminal that it is NOT an easy place to get to and from via vehicles. There are no car rental places on base, the base shuttle to billeting stops at 4 pm (we found this out because another family (6 people) got stuck at the terminal), and only a few taxis can get on base. There was literally one guy who was able to come and get us! Luckily we had re-activated our Sprint cell phone accounts so we had phone service as soon as we landed, the other families were having to wait and use the landline on the wall, all were struggling to find transportation. The taxi (van) was $30 for our family of 5 to the rental car place about 10 minutes down the road. The guy was a bit crazy and started driving off with the van trunk open and one of our bags fell out. Luckily there was no damage.
There is a USO at Dover BUT you’re not allowed to take your luggage into the USO and not supposed to leave it outside unattended. This made it difficult for the few moms that were traveling alone when they were trying to get help with transportation. Seems like a crazy rule to me because many people were not able to use the USO due to this rule.
Overall it was a great experience and after flying on a few commercial flights this trip I’ve found that I actually prefer to fly cargo, so that is how we will be heading back to Germany, I’ll post about that later!
Have you flown on a cargo plane? What was your experience like?