Boring Basics – Chapter 2, part 2 – Sign Up Strategy

Now that the basics of HOW to sign up have been dealt with, it’s time to talk a little sign up strategy.

First, let’s back up a bit … to the countries (destinations) you listed on your sign up form.  In all our time traveling space a, my sponsor and I have never been denied a seat because we decided to go somewhere other than the listed destinations (and, we have often changed our plans at the spur of the moment). But, just in case, to be sure all our bases are covered, we now routinely list the countries farthest north, south, east and west that space a passengers can fly to, and then throw Hawaii in for good measure. (Hawaii and Alaska are considered “countries” since they are OCONUS). This simplifies the decision, and includes any destination along the way in any direction.

Next, you need to give some thought to where to sign up and when to travel.

When you have a trip in mind, send a sign up to every terminal you may need to fly out of. There is no limit to the number of terminals you can sign up with, and you never know where you will end up along the way! Use your own email form, the official AMC form 140, or Take a Hop, and send them all at the same time. If you choose to use Take a Hop, you will be limited to five terminals per form, so you may need to submit more than one.

Here’s what signing up for a trip to Europe from the beautiful Pacific Northwest would look like: requests sent to McChord, Andrews, Dover, McGuire, BWI, Norfolk, Ramstein, Rota, Naples, and Sigonella. It’s possible a flight might pop up at McChord, going all the way through to Ramstein or other European location, but not likely. Much more probable would be a flight from McChord to one of the bases in the DC area, and then on to Europe on a separate flight.

And, here’s where sign-ups for the return trip would be sent: Ramstein, Spangdahlem, Naples, Sigonella, Rota, Dover, McGuire, Andrews, Norfolk, North Island, and Travis.

Remember that once you fly out of a terminal, unless you are manifested through on a continuing flight, your sign up there is finished. If flew from McChord to Dover, and then departed Dover for Ramstein on a different flight, your sign up at Dover is over. If you think you might need to use that location again for your return, be sure to send another sign up from your next stop. Arriving at a terminal does not affect your sign up, but departing does.

Most seasoned Category 6-ers try to travel somewhere between day 30 and day 50 of their sign-up. The idea is to have enough date/time seniority to stand a good chance of getting a seat, but not be so close to the limit that you risk your sign up expiring. If that happens, you will need to sign up again, and you’ll go to the bottom of the list!

If your journey will fall completely and comfortably within your 60 day window (you will be returning by about day 50), sign up at both your outbound and homebound terminals. You do not need to wait until you arrive at your destination to sign up to come home. However, if you will be away for close to or more than 60 days, sign up separately for your return. Allow yourself the same 30-50 day seniority for your homebound flights.

Finally, as with all things in outer space a, flexibility is a must. Plan where and when to sign up, but be ready to amend and adapt when it’s time to go. Flights can be canceled, alternate routing may need to be employed, and sometimes, even alternate destinations must be chosen at a moment’s notice. By all means, have a general idea and sign up accordingly. Then, hope for the best, but have other options at hand. Being flexible and adaptable is the key to space a success.

Happy flying!

Next time: Marking yourself present.

The Cold Blue Yonder

 

Long underwear shirt: Check.

Turtleneck shirt: Check.

Jacket: Check.

Fleece vest: Check.

Scarf: Check.

Hat: Check.

Gloves: Check.

Fleece blanket: Check.

Is Lady Cat 6 gearing up for some sort of Arctic expedition? No! I’m preparing to fly space a on a C-17!

There are many aircraft available in the AMC repertoire, from government-chartered commercial airplanes, just like civilian airlines, to executive jets, to tanker planes, to cargo planes of all sizes.

My most favorite is the C-17 cargo plane. It’s big and roomy, so I can get up and wander around during the flight without the bother of narrow aisles, taking advantage of the huge, cavernous interior space. Most of the time, it’s also possible roll out a blanket or camping pad on the floor and stretch out and sleep (and, I do!). But, it’s a nippy ride and it’s best to be well-prepared.

Savvy travelers are always ready for any type of aircraft! After a bit of trial and error, my sponsor and I have put together a small duffel bag which contains all the necessities for a comfortable flight – the items mentioned above, plus a nifty blow-up Klymit Static V (also available at Amazon and other vendors) sleeping pad that folds and rolls down to the size of a nalgene water bottle! This duffel, crammed additionally with snacks, sleep masks, and various electronics, is one of our designated carry-ons. We take it no matter what our initial craft might be so we are ready to take advantage if a C-17 should appear on our travel horizon.

Two more words of great wisdom: Ear Plugs! Cargo planes are extremely loud, and ear plugs are a necessity! Kind and gentle passenger terminal personnel and flight crews will have enough to distribute to everyone prior to engine start up, but I find those quite hard and just a tad too large for my delicate, feminine-sized ear canal. I prefer to stock our own, and I prefer Mack’s®.  They are pliable, nicely sized, and very effective for surviving hours inside a shrieking aircraft engine echo chamber with hearing intact. Purchase a gross!  You never know where, when, or under what circumstance – flying, snoring partner (not me!), paper-thin hotel walls, overly chatty fellow passengers, screaming children, your mother-in-law  (but not mine!), you just need some freaking quiet (PLEASE!), etc. – you’re going to need an effective set of earplugs!

Mack'simum protection on long, loud flights!

Mack’simum protection on long, loud flights!

After successfully completing roll call for a C-17, one further hurdle awaits. The mad scramble for the “warmest” spots on the plane! During the school bus ride out to the waiting aircraft, passengers begin eyeing each other–checking out carry-on luggage, comparing ages, noting who has children – anything that may affect the results of the “race”.  When the bus doors swing open, we’re off! There’s a tumultuous rush out the bus door, across the tarmac and up the plane steps! Like Wal Mart opening for Black Friday!  Elbows, purses, pillows, strollers, car seats and bags fly in every direction!  We–who have learned to travel light, are spry, and unencumbered by small children– pull ahead and score two seats near the front of the plane, the prime location to take advantage of the heat, if it’s working! Others sprint back to the emergency exits mid-plane and the giant heating ducts that blow warm air, if there is any, straight down on the seats directly below them.  The stragglers, some heartbroken and some ignorant of what is to come, settle themselves into the rest of the seats.  Pre-flight is finished, the emergency procedure brief is complete, the door closes, the engines wind up to a screaming howl, and, off we go!

As we reach altitude and the temperature plummets, some of us will be toasty warm. Some will freeze their patooties off. And next time, the frozen ones will know better than to laugh at those who suit up for winter in the 90 degree cabin on the ground. They, too, will kit themselves out like Nanook, and be ready to have a warm, comfy, restful ride on the wondrous C-17!

Morning, Mount Rainier, McChord, and my favorite ride!

Morning, Mount Rainier, McChord, and my favorite ride!

The Boring Basics: Chapter 2 – Sign Up Overview

Hooray! You’ve determined you are eligible to fly space a, Category 6! Everyone at Lady Cat 6 (me) is thrilled for you!

Now, what?

Before you can travel, you must sign up. The good news is, Category 6 AMC sign ups (some non-AMC affiliated Navy, Marine Corps,and other terminals are different) are good for 60 days!  The bad news is, Cat 6 is the lowest space a travel category. Outer space a, so to speak. As you can imagine, and may have unfortunately experienced, there are a lot of people who come ahead of Cat 6!

The first thing to understand is, what are you signing up to do? This basic concept has tripped up many a new Cat 6 traveler! You are signing up to fly out of a particular air terminal. It does not matter at all where you are bound to. You are also not signing up for a particular flight. You are only signing up to fly from. You may sign up at as many terminals as you wish. There is no limit. You must, however, submit a sign-up to each terminal you wish to fly out of. And, you may sign up for both your outbound and return trips, as long as your return will be within your 60 day window.

The sign up process may be completed in person (should you be fortunate enough to live near an AMC terminal location), via email, snail mail, fax, or, for a very few terminals, over the phone. There is an official form (of course there is!) – AMC Form 140, available at the AMC travel site: http://www.amc.af.mil/Portals/12/documents/AFD-140926-014.pdf that may be downloaded, filled in and dropped off, faxed or attached to an email. However, this form is not necessary. As long as you include all the information required, you may use whatever structure suits you. The sponsor of Lady Cat 6 has developed an email draft that includes the following:

Sponsor’s name

Sponsor’s Date of birth

Location at sign up – name of city and time zone (very important for establishing priority at roll call!)

Sponsor’s Service/Rank

Sponsor’s status: Cat VI

Seats (the number of seats being requested)

Dependent name(s)

Dependent date of birth

Emergency contact

Destination address (you may say unknown at this time)

Destinations (up to five countries may be listed – it does not matter what you list)

As long as you include this information, your sign up will be accepted even if you do not use the official form.

Where do you send this information?

The internet is your friend! There is a very handy website, called Take a Hop: www.takeahop.com that has an excellent sign up form! Simply fill in the information, then click on the bases you would like the form submitted to. There is a limit of five bases per form, but you may fill out as many forms as you wish. Take a Hop will send the sign up request to each of the bases you select. They will also provide you with an archive copy of the email they send.

If you wish to develop your own, personalized sign up format, you will need email addresses or fax numbers for each terminal you wish to submit your form to.  Again, the internet, and Facebook, are your friends!  You will find the web (Facebook) pages of all AMC, and several non-AMC terminals at the AMC travel website: http://www.amc.af.mil/Home/AMC-Travel-Site/ The list is on the right hand side of their page. The email address and fax numbers (if they accept fax sign ups) will be in the “about” section of each Facebook page. These pages are also indispensable because they also show the 72 hour flight forecast, which will be discussed later. My sponsor has copied the email addresses of many terminals into his contacts list. When he wishes to sign up, he pulls up his template, adds each terminal he wants to travel from to the “To” line, and sends it off. Done.

Two warnings:

  1. Very few terminals will send confirmation verifying they’ve received your email. They are just too busy.
  1. And so, it is extremely important that YOU keep a copy of your sent mail, or the archive copy of your take a hop sign up confirmation! You may print out paper copies if you are a paper person, but an electronic copy will suffice. When travel time arrives and you go to the terminal to mark yourself present (information on this step of the process coming soon!), you may need this confirmation mail to establish your date and time of sign up. If the terminal representatives have not entered your email into their system (this has happened to us with surprising frequency), and you have no proof that you’ve sent a request, your date and time of sign up will become the date and time you checked in at the counter on travel day. This could be disastrous! Be SURE you have a copy of your sign up with you!

Whew! Signing up seemed so easy and straightforward, but there’s a lot to absorb here! I think Lady Cat 6 will leave the rest until next week. Spend some time exploring the web links, perusing the forms, and reviewing the sign up mechanics. Should you have questions, I am happy to answer!

Coming next: Sign up strategy!

Watch your feet!

I love a red shoe! Glancing down at my feet and seeing that bright cheery color makes me smile!  My closet contains several pairs so when the mood strikes, I have an adequate variety to choose from: patent leather, sneakers, sandals, and a very special pair of Italian leather purchased in Rome, which I love love love! The shoes, that is. And, Rome, too!

But those lovely little crimson gems seldom make the cut for space a packing. The contents of the suitcase of Lady Cat 6 are akin to pieces of an intricate puzzle, where each item fits together just-so. This is how a trip to Italy, for two plus months, can be fit into one small carry-on bag weighing less than 30 lbs. Truly, this is the ONLY way such a trip can be managed with such a small amount of luggage. I digress. We will discuss packing in another post. For now, it’s sufficient to know that the strict two pairs of shoes rule (one – the clunky old lady walking shoes with the orthotics inside on the feet, one – a lightweight pair of sandals or crushable flats for fancy dinner attire, in the suitcase) is sacrosanct! Part B of said rule states that item of clothing in the case must go with everything else, so red shoes just don’t qualify.

Quite recently, though, a very small, very quick one-week trip was on the agenda. Several items normally slated to go into the bag for an extended foreign trip were not needed this time, and there was a small gap in the suitcase puzzle just perfectly sized and shaped for my beloved Italian slip-ons. In they went! With all the extra space available (!) in the suitcase, I could always buy something to wear them with if nothing already packed would work.

The next morning at the McChord passenger terminal, things were looking fine for the few people who had shown up and marked themselves present for a C 17 ride to Dover, DE. Oh, happy day!

Roll call began. We were chosen, and had just lined up to put our bags through the x-ray machine when a piercing cry of disappointment rent the terminal! A lovely woman stood, distraught, in tears. Looking her up and down, my gaze became riveted on her feet. Oh, no! She was wearing SANDALS! She had failed to note the restriction against high-heeled, open-toed, or “five-toed style” footwear aboard AMC cargo aircraft! She had no other footwear packed, her sponsor was wearing the only shoes HE had packed, and all seemed lost. Unlike earplugs, which terminal reps and aircrews hand out like candy, there is no ready supply of closed toe shoes to dispense. The couple had driven hours, only to be denied boarding because of prohibited footwear (and failing to properly prepare).

Suddenly, I remembered my precious little Roman shoes, nestled in the suitcase. Inquiring about the woman’s size, it was happily discovered that we were a match. The shoes were tried, and found acceptable, and the sandals were packed away in the woman’s suitcase until flight’s end. Lucky!

After deplaning at Dover, the shoes were returned and safely fitted back into their spot in the suitcase. It turned out I never did wear them that week: the weather was hot, there was no time for clothes shopping, I needed the walking shoes for chasing little people around playgrounds, and my sandals sufficed for dinner wear. But, there were 3 happy travelers who were sure glad I brought them!

Remember: when flying space a on a cargo aircraft (C-5, C-17, C-130), no open toe footwear (or high heels, or five-toe style)! SHOES, and shirts, of course, required.

Flight Plan

Just as all work and no play make Lady Cat 6 a dull blogger, all play and no work makes for unprepared Cat 6 travelers.

In the interest of striking a balance, here’s the initial flight plan:

At the beginning of the week, we’ll get to work with our AMC “bible study”. Eligibility as already been dealt with. However, since we are traveling  with a military organization there is a myriad of rules, regulations, restrictions, exceptions, and other minutia to be navigated for the best chance of success.

At the end of the week, in happy anticipation of the coming weekend, there will be lighter fare on offer. Stories, tips, personal experiences, whatever strikes the fancy of Lady Cat 6. TGIF!

In between, questions and comments are welcome! In the vast universe of outer space a, connection and communication are key!

 

 

The Boring Basics: Chapter 1 – Eligibility

While actual Category 6 travel is brimming with excitement and adventure, it’s a good idea to spend some time before takeoff practicing the art of delayed gratification as we explore some basic requirements and procedures. I will do what I can to spice things up a bit, but, honestly, while this information is important, there’s not much exciting here. If you are an experienced space a traveler, feel free to skim or skip over entirely. All this information, and more, is also available in much greater detail at the official Air Mobility Command (AMC) travel website http://www.amc.af.mil/amctravel/index.asp

To qualify for Category 6 travel, you must either be retired military or an active guard or reserve member. Those who are retired constitute the overwhelming majority of this category, and are the specialty of Lady Cat 6. The key for us is the blue retiree ID card – that’s the ticket to travel!  Those who retire from active duty will receive theirs immediately. Those who have retired from the reserves will need to wait, most likely until they turn 60, to win the prized piece of laminated blue paper. Incidentally,active guard and reserve, and those who have retired from reserve duty but have not yet reached the magic age of 60 MAY travel, but under different rules, which would be the purview of another Lady Cat. Eligibility details for all six categories may also be found at the AMC travel website.

Dependents may not travel unless accompanied by their sponsors. Lady Cat 6 is squired about the globe by her own intrepid sponsor who, out of respect for his abhorrence of social media shall hence forth be referred to as “My Anonymous Sponsor” (MAS), and only when mention is absolutely necessary.

Widows and widowers of retirees may not travel space a, except for one instance: if the sponsor meets their unfortunate end somewhere overseas or away from home (a condition MAS has come perilously close to fulfilling at Lady Cat 6’s own delicate hand on more than one occasion!), the dependent may travel to accompany the remains home for burial. Assuming she is not serving a life sentence in a foreign prison.

That’s it – if you meet these requirements, you’re ready to fly space a, Cat 6! Happy travels!

Coming soon: Chapter 2 – The Sign Up Process

Off We Go!

Welcome to Lady Cat 6, From Outer Space A, devoted to the adventures of Category 6 military space available travel!

Since becoming eligible for this FABulous privilege nearly 3 years ago, Lady Cat 6 has been an absolute flying fool! She has crisscrossed the US (CONUS) on numerous occasions to visit family and friends on the opposite coast. She’s visited Hawaii several times, mostly on whims when flights have appeared. She’s caught hops to Europe and the Far East. She has started out for one location and ended up somewhere completely different (Hawaiian vacation in Greece, anyone?). North, south, east, west, she’s been there, flying space available (space a)!

I’m amazed that she and I are the same person!

There is an abundance of sites related to space a travel, and some of them will be linked here. But I’m focusing on the nuts, bolts, information and experience of Category 6. Writers are always advised to write what we know, and I KNOW Cat 6! Come along and make use of my experience to get out there and just go! It’s an adventure like no other; it’s out of this world!

When actively traveling, details will be shared here. In between trips, you’ll find information, tips and tricks that can help make Cat 6 travel a (mostly) enjoyable adventure. And, there will be stories. “Seats” for this trip are unlimited, so, mark yourself present, show up for roll call, and come on along!

Finally, sincere apologies to any of you who may have come here on an insatiable quest for cute, cuddly kittens. Alas for you, pets cannot travel space a.