Well, my actual itinerary to Japan was probably the second-most ill-prepared aspect of the move for me. What I mean is that I really had no clue about the nitty-gritty details so I kind of learned along the way. (BTW, in case you’re wondering, the ultimate hiccup in the whole process was SMS’ DEA- dependent entrance authorization. It’s a story for another day but FYI, the personal property office WON’T LET YOU MOVE YOUR STUFF without it).
Anyway, the flight. First, I had no idea who was actually booking the flight. It turns out it’s SATO, the government travel agency. I was told they don’t issue tickets until 3-5 days before it what I didn’t know is that the itinerary is planned several days/weeks before that. When exactly, I’m not sure since I found out about my itinerary when an agent called on the 21st asking if I wanted a hotel room booked. “Sure,” I said, “but can you tell me what my itinerary actually is?”
So, rather than leaving on the 24th on a commercial flight to Japan like I was hoping, I was leaving San Diego on 26 Aug to Seattle, spending the night and leaving early on the 27th to Yokota AFB, arriving on the 28th. The Seattle flight was commercial and the Yokota flight was AMC- Air Mobility Command.
So, what did I learn?
* I probably could have known my itinerary earlier. Basically, I was put on the first AMC flight after my “leave no earlier than” date that I had put on my Transfer Information Sheet (TIS) back in May. But I’m still confused b/c I’ve always had SATO stuff emailed to me and they had both personal and professional emails on file but I never received anything until I asked the woman to send me a copy.
*I could (and did) change my flight from the initial one booked. The flight to Seattle was a full fare so there were no penalties to switch. Since I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my husband, I switched from a 1330 flight to 1930 flight. Just to be clear, this is regarding the commercial flight (on Alaska) that got me to Seattle in order to check in for the AMC flight). The AMC flight is completely fixed and missing it would have been bad.
Oh, and if you switch the commercial flight, make sure you do it through SATO, not the airline. Although now that I think about it, I actually made two switches and one was on the airline site. Hopefully, this won’t cause paperwork discrepancy issues although currently, my level of caring is low.
* In Seattle, there is an awesome USO that is always open. I think this is in part due to the fact that, according to one of the gate agents, Army and Marines are not authorized a funded hotel room so they stay overnight in the airport. I think that is totally awful if that’s true and another reason I’m glad I’m in the Navy!
*What I love MORE than the USO though is the “Luggage Annex.” On the Mezzanine level above the Alaska Airline ticket counters, the USO has a luggage drop-off where they will hold onto your bags. I left my three check-on bags and it was a god-send! The luggage check is open until 0300 so if you use it, you’re essentially choosing to check-in early. The USO is also on the Mezzanine level, but on the complete other side of the terminal.
* I stayed at the Marriott and it was awesome. Beautiful pool that I would have gone in if I’d actually been there longer. I was only there from 2300-0200
but it was totally worth it to get some horizontal sleep! And since I left my large bags at the airport, I felt fairly light and carefree! The Marriott shuttle is frequent and pulls into the courtesy vehicle lane (along with all the hotel shuttles and rental car shuttles). It doesn’t run from midnight-0400 so I did take a cab to get back for check in but otherwise, I used the shuttle with a 5-10 minute wait.
*Back to people sleeping at the airport- there are bunks and showers in the USO, but they fill up by around 2100. People arriving afterwards tend to scatter around, but a lot of people just start camping out in line for the AMC check-in. Check-in starts at 0230 and when I arrived at 0225, I was at the back of a VERY long line. Fortunately, I still got an aisle seat but if you have a significant seating preference like several seats together, I would recommend getting there no later than 2. You’ll still be pretty far back but nowhere near the end. Or, if you don’t mind risking a middle seat for a 10.5 hour flight, you could show up at 5/515, just under the wire for the 0530 NLT deadline.
* The AMC needs a copy of your orders, Active Duty ID and dependent no-fee passports. It looked like the sponsor could check their family in while they were off resting elsewhere but I’m not completely sure of that.
*Bags: There didn’t appear to be a weight limit since I saw several bags, including one of mine, that were over 60 lb. But they do charge for more than 2 checked bags/person. I didn’t care b/c my third bag is carrying my fold up bike which will be super awesome to have from the beginning but just so you know, it’s $116. I think I can get it reimbursed since part of the reason I needed bag space was for medical papers but even if I’m not, having the bike will be worth it!
*The flight: The layout of the plane was 2-3-2 for each row, which means only 1 out of every 7 seats is a middle seat. Also, if nothing else, bring earplugs. There were no crazy kids but over 10 hours, many of them seemed to have their own special melt-down moments. I know how they feel, but I’m definitely glad I could shut it out! Finally, the plane felt pretty cool to me and I was glad to have my wrap and little blanket.
*Finally, there’s a Butter salon near the beginning of the C terminal in SEATAC. A manicure is $21 with the military discount. Not the cheapest but since my hands were ragged and I ran out of time at home, I stopped by. It opens at 0600 and was a nice treat! I only wish I could pick an awesome color but since I’m checking in right away, only natural, “non-faddish” colors for me!