Saturday, July 23, 2011

Vacation Update: Attempting the Patriot Express

We had a lot going on during our vacation so I am going to break it all up in to small, hopefully, bite-sized pieces.  For the first update I am going to start at the beginning with trying to get out of Korea.

Catching a plane has never been more stressful.  I have never flown Space Available (SpaceA) before and Korea has a special version from Korea through Japan to Seattle called Patriot Express (You can fly this in reverse from Seattle).  This is how we were trying to get to WA.  We knew the chances were slim because it is PCS season here in Korea (I have no clue why they insist on PCS-ing EVERYONE in the summer but they do) but we tried anyway.  Unfortunately, it is a first come first served basis if you are traveling for leisure and if you are active duty you can't get your name on the list until you have signed out on leave.  Anyway, here is what happened and what we experienced in our attempt to ride the Patriot Express.

July 4th we packed our excited selves up and headed to Osan AFB.  We had a 3 hour drive and since it was the beginning of our vacation we were super excited.  I had never been to Osan before and everyone talks about how it is a shopping mecca so I figured there would be a lot to kill our time till our flight.

Once we got to Osan we checked in to our Air Force Inn, that apparently only has double beds (so small for two people - I felt like I was in college again cuddling in a small bed), and walked to the Space A terminal.  {I just have to mention that the Space A terminal at Osan is NICE.  Being that my husband is Army, I am well accustomed to all things on an AFB being WAY NICER than on an Army post but this was nicer than most commercial terminals.  I was impressed.}  At the Space A terminal, we gave the airman our paperwork and got our names on the list for the flight the next day.  He told us that we had a pretty bad chance of getting on but at least he was able to bump us to Cat 2 (we had to get a special form to do this) because they haven't been on to Cat 3 in 6 months.

Side Note: Patriot Express works on a 6 Category system.  I don't know the specifics of all the categories but this is what I could glean from hanging out in the terminal:
                 Cat 1: Anyone flying on PCS orders (there are a ton of them in the summer - PCS season - and they may not even be considered a category, I don't really know).  I think anyone on Emergency Leave with a Red Cross message is in this category, too, but not sure.
                 Cat 2: Active Duty and their dependents on leave with a special form filled out by their command. {This is where we were.}
                 Cat 3: People who could have been in Cat 2 if they didn't have the form from their command.
                 Cat 4-6: Not sure who gets put in these categories but they don't make the planes.

The rest of our Fourth of July was spent hanging out in our room getting ready to fly out the next day.  It was super hot and humid outside so we didn't want to go out to the Freedom Fest and sweat ourselves to misery.  I told Adam to visualize us on the plane and the positive thinking will help us get on the plane (yeah, that didn't work as you will see).  We had to put our car in the long term parking garage which was in a remote corner of the base and then we treated ourselves to a meal at Chili's (Chile Lime Shrimp Fajitas - Num!).  The airman had told us to show up at the terminal about 7am since roll call was at 8am so we planned on getting their earlier at 6:30am instead.

We arrive at the terminal and it is PACKED already.  Apparently the information the airman had given us was not completely right because those in the know had gotten there to check in when the terminal opened at 5:30am.  All we had to do after we checked in was to wait until roll call.  When the time came the people on PCS orders started moving through security since they had boarding passes and everyone else got to wait until they called your name.  The TVs around the terminal had been displaying how many Space A seats were available for the flight.  For Patriot Express there were a certain number available to go only to Japan and a different amount (a lot lower) to go all the way to Seattle.  For our first try there were 13 seats available to Seattle and a family of 5 had checked in right before us... their named got called as the last ones to get seats to Seattle.  The next name called was ours but it was if we wanted to claim a seat to Japan since all the Seattle seats were taken.  My heart broke a little but I knew there was one more flight this week and I wanted to stay optimistic.

The next flight was in two days so we had to hang out in Osan and wait.  Our names automatically got bumped to the next flight roster to start over again when the time came.  We hung around our room and went out to the market that everyone raves about.  I just want to say I was disappointed with the shopping.  Yeah, it was a HUGE market but everything was knock off Coach and Affliction.  I can afford to buy a REAL Coach purse so I have no reason to buy a fake one and as far as Affliction goes... I think only douches wear it.  I was expecting awesomeness and got a whole lot of lame.

Fast forward to Thursday and our last attempt to get on this plane.  We arrived as early as possible and waited.  Roll Call came and there were 10 Seattle seats.  Our name was called for the 11th seat... to Japan.  My heart shattered.  I managed not to cry, though, but I was formulating a plan.  I wasn't not going to WA... I wanted to see my parents and puppies too badly... but I had had my heart set on Adam coming with me.  He deserved to be surrounded by family just as much as I did and I wanted him to be with me.  We had plans to go whale watching and do other things together that I just didn't want to cancel or do without him.  As soon as we got to a place with WiFi I hopped on my iPad and found tickets from Seoul to Seattle for TWO.  Amazingly, the round trip tickets for THAT DAY didn't cost more than usual (the planes were super empty, too, but the seats did have a lot of crying babies with parents who ignored them but that is another story).  So, I booked them and off we were to Incheon airport for a 6PM flight.  The excitement was back and the heartache a figment of our imagination.

Although, the trip cost a lot more than we had hoped (Patriot Express from Osan to Seattle is about $30 per person per way and a Commercial International Flight is magnitudes more) I am so glad it worked out.  We have learned some important lessons about Patriot Express.  The most important one is don't even try to fly for leisure to the US during PCS season on the Patriot Express (I imagine December is pretty bad too) but if you want to go to Japan that is always doable.

More to come from my Vacation Update including some amazing Orca pictures from our whale watching experience. We were busy in our home state of WASHINGTON!


Anonymous said...
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CO Meyer said...

Hi Megan, just saw this and glad you got home. Definitely , spacea is tough during the summer. Some places (like yokota can be better - where they take any empty seat before it gets to katana ( where few seats are left). And the pacific Is harder than the Germany to the us flights). If you ever attempt again, check out for all the ins and outs. For example if you husband had signs up by email or fax as soon as he was on leaven( usually 12;01 that day)! Anyone one who did this was ahead of you, signing up after your arrival.
Thebcategories can be found at as well
Psc folks don't have a cat, as they are funded pax with a guaranteed seat.
Cat I - emergency leave with appriate Red Cross letter
Cat 2 - AD on leave with EML papers ( these are certain amounts and times that you can use these. ). Hardship areas with few flights get them. Ie Germany does not, but naples and turkey do. Their dependents fly cat 2 with them
Cat 3 - AD on normal leave and their families , and PTDY for house hunting purposes
Cat 3b - unaccompanied dependents with sponsors deployed 365+ days (chosen after AD)
Cat 4 - unaccompanied dependents using eml or sponsored deployed 120+ days
Cat 5- command sponsored dependents traveling unaccompanied ( remember sponsor must be station oconus to be command sponsored, also PTDY if not for house hunting
Cat - retirees and their dependents. Reservists ( though they can only fly in conus and us territories, and their dependents can't fly with them until age 60.
Thought it might help your readers