Newlywed PCS, Part 4: Flight from Seattle

For those of you planning a move to Okinawa soon, we hope Marie’s descriptions of the process of their travel and first months of settling in can help you with a few of the “unknowns.”  To read more of their story see links at the bottom of the post. 

CONTRIBUTED BY MARIE LEWIS

Ah, jet lag. As many times as I’d flown back and forth from New York to California when Kenny and I were engaged, I was totally unprepared for the disorientation that hit me like a rock when we landed in Okinawa. It had been quite a trip.

We started out by flying into Seattle the day before the Patriot Express flight. We had planned on sightseeing the rest of the day, but in hindsight I think that plan was a little too ambitious for us. After traveling for one month straight, all we wanted to do was sleep. (My advice – if you want to do the tourist thing before you leave Seattle, give yourself a couple of extra days there.) Our checked bags flew for free with AirTran because we were traveling on orders (I believe Delta and US Air have similar baggage policies for active duty military.) Before we headed to the baggage claim in Seattle we looked for the AMC Terminal we would be checking into the next morning. It was easy to find, next to Hawaiian Air. We also looked for the USO, which was up one floor on the mezzanine level. The volunteers there were extremely friendly and offered to make extra copies of our orders (I’ve learned you can never have too many.)

Next we checked into the Red Lion Hotel across the street from the airport. I was so grateful we had booked it at the same time we bought our plane tickets from Atlanta (using Orbitz) We ended up saving $80 on our room. A free shuttle picked us up from the airport and drove us to the hotel, which was clean and comfortable. It felt wonderful to get a good night’s sleep — well, half a night’s sleep. Our alarm went off at 2 a.m. It was go time!

Newlywed Pat Exp Line
Newlywed Pat Exp Line

We took the free shuttle back to the airport and were at the AMC terminal at 2:30 a.m., as soon as they started checking people in at the ticketing counter. I was floored when I saw the line. It snaked around…and around…and around. I learned a lot of folks had flown into Seattle a few hours after us and just camped out at the airport instead of checking into a hotel. An airport employee told me they started lining up at midnight. It took us about two hours to get to the counter for our tickets. The deadline for checking in was 5:30 a.m. before they started opening up the flight to Space-A passengers, so make sure you’ve got your tickets by then! The fee for our extra bags (one for each of us — two total) was $224.00! Yup. One hundred and twelve bucks for each extra bag. This fee applied even though our TOTAL weight allowed for ALL of our bags was UNDER the limit. So be prepared: pack light and fit your stuff into no more than two bags each. Otherwise you’ll end up like us. (Note: the weight limit for each bag was 70 pounds. Each of ours was no more than 50. So I wish we had packed our things into larger bags that could carry more weight and save us the two extra bags.)

After that minor bump, we proceeded through security as you would at any other airport. We had plenty of time to kill at our gate, so we had breakfast and charged any electronics that could use some topping off. It was a good thing we remembered to bring a power strip in our carry-on. Everyone around us was thankful too — there are not many outlets.

Our first flight was directly to Tokyo (Yokota Air Base, to be exact.) It lasted about ten hours. We were on an Atlas Airlines plane. There was more leg room than I expected and they played family-friendly movies throughout the flight (no individual TV monitors though.) We were served two meals plus one snack and non-alcoholic drinks. There was no shortage of food and it was decent, nothing gourmet. When we landed we had about a three hour layover at Yokota (no pictures allowed on flight lines.) Everyone got off the plane here and was free to hang out in the terminal while the plane re-fueled. They had a couple of computers with internet access but it was so slow that it was virtually useless to try to connect. I had better luck with wi-fi on my laptop. We re-boarded in the same seats. Next stop, Iwakuni.

Newlywed Iwakuni
Newlywed Iwakuni

This flight lasted about two hours. The views as we descended over Iwakuni were breathtaking. It reminded me of the scene in Jurassic Park when the helicopter is flying through the lush green hillsides of the island. Again, we de-boarded and spent another two hours at the base terminal. Kenny and I both slept on the floor for most of this stop.

Finally, we were on to Okinawa. This last flight was only an hour or so. It was dark by then, but the lights over Okinawa were spectacular. It looked like such a dense city! Not what I was expecting – much more urban. I remember flashes of neon and thinking, “I can’t believe we made it.” My foggy, sleepy mind was clear for a few moments as it finally hit me – we were not going back to San Diego. This was home now.

We stepped off the plane and breathed in the thickest air I’ve ever felt, like you could slice it with a knife. It’s true what they say about the humidity. And it was only April! But the steamy air felt like a blanket to me – I actually liked it. That is, until we walked into the first building I saw. It must have been one hundred degrees in that room. The good news – the line moved quickly. We made it up to customs and a man stamped my passport. Just like that, we were on our way. We retrieved our bags (this can take a while – be patient) and walked through another set of doors. The sounds of cheering met us on the other side. It was all of our sponsors, welcoming us to the island. I couldn’t wait to soak in this new paradise.  

Newlywed Sponsors
Newlywed Sponsors

Read all the posts in this series: Parts 1, 2, 35, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

18 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for your posts. We leave for Oki next month. This has been a very stressful process. We are traveling with our two-year old. I appreciate all of the insight!

  2. We are leaving for Okinawa August 27. We had been in limbo basically since February waitin on my husbands extension to be approved. So here we are no rushing to set up TMO and go through our house like crazy people. We will be traveling with three kids 3/4/7 our hotel is 15 minutes away because no where else could accommodate us. My youngest medical screening isn’t even until July 24. Did I mention we don’t even have a sponsor yet even though my husband applied for one back in April! We’re completely on our own it feels like!!!

  3. Absolutely love reading all your posts so far!! Thank you for sharing your experiences!! My family and I are moving to Okinawa in August this year (2013) and we will have a 3 1/2 yr old and 3 month old traveling with us!! Do the children each get 2 pieces of luggage to check in and each a carry on?? I believe my husband and I will be allowed this! Also, does anyone who traveled with children have any suggestion on what you should make sure to pack in the carry on bags to help the children have a smooth trip?? (Like snacks,juices, meds, toys, etc.) Can we bring ipads or laptop in our carry on bags to allow the children to play games or watch movies?? How about car seats, infant carriers, and strollers?? How does that work?? Thanks to anyone who can give me advice on this! The travel part on the plane and through airports is one of my biggest fears on this move!! 🙂

    • Tia,
      All dependents who are on the sponsor’s order to PCS to Okinawa will be authorized two bags each to check, as well as a carry-on and/or personal item. Be sure to check your orders; they will specifically tell you how many bags you are each authorized and the weight limit for those. You are each authorized your own seat on the plane as well. The flights are standard, so anything you could bring on a “normal” (non-military) flight is authorized on these flights, to include electronics.

      We have a post with some helpful tips for traveling with kids here: http://okinawahai.com/2010/07/packing-for-the-long-flight.html

      You can either choose to check carseats as luggage (along with strollers they are not counted against your baggage count) or bring them to use on the plane. We PCS’d there when our kids were 3.5 years and 12 months old and brought their carseats on the plane with us; we did not regret that additional headache when getting through the airport for the sheer convenience factor of keeping them contained on the VERY long flight.

      • Thanks so much for replying back 🙂 It was very helpful and made me feel a bit better about what to expect for traveling with my littles 🙂

  4. Marie, You mention only being allowed 2 bags each. Does that mean 2 (70#) bags to check underneath in addition to 1 carry-on and a purse? That’s what I assumed, but if we don’t get a carry-on bag, I want to be sure to squeeze it all in the 2 big bags! We also leave in April. Thanks!

    • Yes, we were allowed 2 checked bags each, in addition to one carry-on each. (I put my purse inside my carry-on because I was worried they might give me a hard time about it, but you might be okay with a purse separate from your carry-on.)

  5. I thought the flight getting to Oki was ridiculous. Two kids and absolutely no real reason to be at SEA-TAC at 1 am. There was not any reason to have families check in so early. We could have stayed in a nice hotel room with our infants,but instead we we slept In a terminal for 7 hours only to fly another 20+ hours. Most ridiculous flight ever! I would have rather flown alone with the kids commercially than fly with my husband. It would have been easier on the kids and we would not have had to make a return trip to the states to bring our dogs. If you have infants, not thebest trip and a ridiculously long one, fly commercial!

  6. There are 2 lines one with dependents and one for single service members. We got in line at midnight and we were probably number 5 in line?

  7. Getting ready to do this flight in July with a 4 and 5 year old. Not excited!! Does anyone know if everyone flies out of Seattle? The man who gave our overseas class said LA is also a possibility. Seems like everyone I talk to has gone through Seattle though….

  8. Regan,

    We ran into a problem with the line while we were checking in. I had fallen asleep with the two kids on a bench (6 and 2 year old)and hubby went on without me. They gave him trouble, and sent him back for me. The manager came out and told him that policy states that the service member can check in his entire family-and that he would make sure that his counter representatives were aware of this.

  9. Regan, in my experience, everyone has to wait in that line. I suggest putting them in a stroller or something so that they can nap (it will still be sleepy time for them) and having one person wait in line while the other sits with the kids. When you or your spouse gets to the front of the line the other one can take the kids up and join them. I waited in line for Space-A for about 45 min by myself with a 3 yr old and a 14 month old. Not fun.

    • Thanks, Lindsey. I guess I should have been more specific. I just wanted to make sure we wouldn’t all have to wait in line as a family the entire time. I figured it would be fine to allow one person to wait in line and have the rest of us join that person at the front of the line when the time came but I don’t want to assume anything.

  10. Thank you for your post. I had read some older posts about the Patriot Express but it was great to get even more information on what to expect. Just out of curiosity, did you see what families with young children did as far as the check-in process is concerned? I sincerely hope we don’t ALL have to stand in line that entire time. I can’t imagine ANYONE will be happy about being around a 3 year old and 8 month old for that long in a line!

  11. Yeah, no joke. I wish my sponsor had even showed up to the terminal. That would have been awesome of him. But, yeah, I remember my first few breaths on Okinawa – after being in chilly, dry, stale air-conditioned environments for about 2 days straight (ugh. : ) and then to step out of the terminal into a late August evening on Okinawa. Big change. My lungs rebelled for a split second.

    • Yes, we were lucky to have great sponsors. It makes such a difference to feel at ease after that marathon trip! Thank you to Ken and Melissa Melton!

  12. Your sponsor cheered when you arrived? Oh, it would be so nice if all sponsors were like that. Thanks for sharing your story, it’s fun to relive it all.

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