CONTRIBUTED BY JARED DAYOUB
My intent in this article is to provide single service members information when PCSing to Okinawa via the Patriot Express, or AMC flight out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I scoured the internet for as much information pertaining to the flight as possible using sites like this one as well as a laundry list of blogs, youtube channels, and military websites. I am truly grateful to all the military spouses and others who chose to share their experiences, as much of it was invaluable. I simply wanted to share my own experience as a single service member in hopes of eliminating any confusion others may face in the future and provide insight to make your trip as smooth as possible.
Day Of Departure
I pinched myself as I rose from the slumber on my friend’s couch in San Diego to ensure I wasn’t dreaming. It was hard to believe…my thirty days of leave had come to a close. After some last minute packing and final goodbyes, I made my way to the airport for the commercial portion of the trip.
Upon arriving at SEA-TAC airport around 5:30 p.m., I immediately headed to the USO on the Mezzanine level with hopes of gathering more information on the Patriot Express and to kill time in one of the amazingly comfortable, new La-Z-Boys. I strongly recommend to singles and families alike, that if you plan on checking into the USO at all, do so as early as possible. Once you are checked in and receive a stamp, you are free to come and go as you please.
The newly renovated and enlarged facility was at max capacity at approximately 8:00 p.m. Arriving early will ensure you have a comfortable piece of real estate and an outlet to charge your devices before the entire military and their families arrive. You will also be able to store your luggage here. Make sure you get a yellow claim ticket for your bags, or you may have minor hiccups when it’s time to retrieve them. There are volunteers standing by the luggage room the whole time, ensuring nobody grabs the wrong bag. Another thing to note, is that if you want to avoid paying $5 for the luggage cart, there are plenty of abandoned ones scattered throughout the airport, particularly in the baggage claim areas and the parking garage just across from ground transportation.
Now, for the fun part. As silly as it is (welcome to the military), check in begins at 2:30 a.m. for the AMC flight, but it does not depart until approximately 8:30 a.m. Check-in and baggage check takes place on the ticketing level next to Hawaiian Airlines and is clearly marked AMC on the marquee. Trust me when I say that you want to be lined up with your bags no later than midnight. The entire queue was filled between 12:30 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. Military members with children line up in a separate line to the left of the AMC ticket counters. If you see someone with children in the wrong line, please do them a favor and point them in the right direction. Ensure you have a spare set of orders, military ID (for active members) or passport (for dependents/civilians). Also, if the combined weight of your 2 allotted check bags exceeds 140 pounds, you will be required to pay a hefty fee on the spot. To quote the AMC representative, “we will get our money, even if it means payroll deductions”.
There are two major benefits for lining up early: seating preference and free time. Seating is first come, first serve. This gives you the opportunity to request first class or business class, provided there aren’t too many Distinguished Visitors (O6 and above; E9). If not, you may at least be able to snag an emergency exit row, aisle, or window seat. This is a 10.5 hour flight and no one enjoys the middle seat! Secondly, being one of the first in line will allot you extra time for a preflight nap, breakfast, a shower, or an open outlet to finish charging your electronics before it’s time to go through security. If you made it this far, relax! The hard part is over, unless you lost your ID. Oops!
I read on several sites, including AMC’s facebook page, that there would be 5:30 a.m. roll call. This was not the case on our particular flight. We did not have to be at the gate until 7:30 a.m. for roll call/boarding. Ask on your particular flight for more information, as this may change week to week. Security moved very quickly due to the large number of lanes, but allow yourself ample time to catch the train to the S gates. I would suggest going through security at 6:30 a.m. for a 7:30 a.m. boarding time. I think that just about covers all things AMC to Okinawa. I hope this has provided you all with some useful tips and eases your minds as you prepare for your PCS to Okinawa!
Wheels up, I hope you made it! Next stops: Yokota, Iwo Kuni, and finally, home sweet home!
Very informative. Thanks. Sounds no different than the 60s, 70s and 80s. Hurry up and wait.
Things just never change in the military. I retired in 1982 after 23 years in the Army. I had 8 overseas tours which meant travel by all means available. My time was well before jumbo jets except the first 747. In the 60s you might go by ship to the Pacific or Europe. I went via all types during my many crossings. I went first to Korea via C-121 Connie operated by the Navy and returned via troop ship. I also returned to CONUS via troop ship from Germany. All the rest were by air even 18 hours to Nam twice. In the old days, if you were going to Korea you reported to Oakland Army Base and waited for transportation which was 50/50 by ship or air. Air was usually via 4 engine piston aircraft. The jet age hadn’t caught up yet. Travis to Hickman to Wake and finally Tachikawa then waited for further air to Kimpo. The wait at Kishene Barracks Yokohama was great. It was like R&R. After two weeks we boarded a C-124 to Kimpo. This all took place in December 1961. My final trip was via Northwesr Airlines charter from Osan to Oakland. San Francisco was my hometown, so I was picked up by my mother as usual. She always met me when I returned from a Pacific area assignment. The one thing I want to know, can Category 6 retirees fly on Patriot Express flights?
Just updated notes on our experience with Rotator/Patriot Express: We traveled August 2017 and haven’t seen any new posts here since 2015. Even after reading various blogs/ posts on this trip, still had questions….
1. We arrived at Sea-Tac for the morning of flight at 05:00 am. We stayed 2 nights in Seattle. If you are a family, AMC will keep you together or seats will be together. Only advantage of arriving at 02:00 am is get through checking in your luggage sooner and will likely get boarding passes for front of airplane. That has advantages but have to do what is best. We couldn’t see ourselves waiting in line with 2 young tired kids well before the long flight ever left. Better to get a few more z’s…… The check in area is by Hawaiian Airlines. You weight all your luggage together….actually stack it on top of each other. You are allowed 2 70 lb bags each for family members and 2 carry ons. TSA line was long however and AMC/Rotator flights don’t participate in Pre-TSA?? That is something they should for sure!! Our luggage was checked in all the way to Kadena-Okinawa and you keep same seats even after you depart airplane at Yokota and Iwakuni. Seating pattern is a 2-3-2 configuration.
2. Once through TSA-security, you have to take the train to the S Gate for the flight. This where other international flights are. There is a Seattle’s Best Coffee there that has food along with some airport marts. The waiting area as couches etc but were all taken by the time we got there. That was ok, we found an area to lay out. You also check stroller at gate.
3. We boarded at 08:00 and had preboarding for family having kids under 5 yo. That was a plus! No first class on this flight, but as mentioned in # 1, only advantage of getting there early is front of the plane seats.
4. The airline is “Atlas” airlines…. Never heard of them. Airline is definitely “generic”. No frills for sure. We had individual entertainment seating modules with movies but was out dated and some audio didn’t work. Had several new movies to choose from but rest were old movies.
5. On flight meals we had 2-breakfast and a late lunch and dinner. I have to say they were some of the worst airline meals I have ever had. Flight attendants were ok and they had that appearance that they were just “there”. Weird airline or contract airline. There is no alcohol served on the flights. They have soda and juice. There were hardly any snacks given out during flight so good idea to bring your own snacks.
6. We had the 2 layovers in Yokota and Iwakuni. When we landed, there was absolutely no communication from the flight attendants on what we were supposed to do. Everyone was just looking around. It seemed like a long time to “taxi” to the exit gate. At Yokota, we finally got off and walked from airplane to waiting area for about 2 hours. Waiting terminal was old, cramped or no space with all passengers. No wifi. We finally boarded, same seats and landed again in Iwakuni. Iwakuni had newer terminal but only there for 30 mins before loading and flying off to Okinawa.
7. Landed in Okinawa and went through Customs. Finally went down to get luggage where there was chaos.
All in all 18 plus hours from start to finish. No frills but flight got us here safely.
-With family, arrive at 05:00 am, no need to get in line at 02:00 am unless OCD about front of plane.
-Bring plenty of snacks and toys/ videos for family.
-pillow/blanket a must for young kids.
– Be ready for the unexpected.