Just Keep Going!

What to do when your planned southern Italy/Cretan vacation plan goes down the toilet when unceremoniously booted from your flight mid-trip?

Make some lemonade.

To be fair, Lady Cat 6 and sponsor were warned before boarding the old faithful C 9 (no longer in service, having been replaced by the FABulous C 40!) at NAS Whidbey that, due to duty passengers and gear scheduled to be loaded at McGuire, we might not be able to continue all the way to Sigonella. We decided to take our chances and hope for the best.

The best did not materialize.

As we waited for the bus to arrive at the US Navy hangar located out in the hinterlands of McGuire (JBMDL) to take us to the main terminal (thank you!), the strategizing commenced for Plans B, C, and whatever. We would call lodging and see if we could get a room, then, hike over there (it’s about a mile from the terminal and this was around 10 PM) for the night and assess our opportunities within the Andrews/Dover/McGuire/BWI qudrangle when we were fresh in the morning.

However.

When we walked into the terminal, they were in the middle of a Roll Call to Ramstein. Quickly heading for the desk, we discovered the plane was not full. “Let’s just keep going!” my sponsor enthused. We were already signed up to travel out of McGuire. The PAX Rep (bless him!) told us that as soon as they got done processing the other passengers, he would manifest us, too. We called Ramstein and secured lodging, and before we knew it, we were flying backwards in the dark on a C 5 to Germany.

Arriving in Germany rather than Sigonella did require changing our original itinerary. No catching the train from Sig to Naples and the Patriot Express from Naples to Souda Bay this time around – the flight links no longer worked. Instead, we developed a new plan: spend the night in Ramstein, catch a space a seat on the medevac bus to Vicenza, Italy (a beautiful 12 hour ride through the Alps!), lodge overnight on base, then catch the train the next morning for Rome. Instead of making our way to Greece, we decided to spend a few days in Rome, then another few in and around our old stomping grounds in Naples. After that, we’d catch the overnight ferry to Palermo and circumnavigate Sicily, visiting some sights we had missed on previous adventures on the island. When we got back around to Sigonella, we’d catch a flight from there to somewhere.

We thoroughly enjoyed the itinerary we cobbled together on the go! Piazza Navona, gelato, vino, Neapolitan pizza, fresh cannoli and ancient ruins, renewing old friendships, salty alici fritti with lemon spritz – who could ask for more?

From Sigonella, we ended up flying back to Ramstein with the same Whidbey crew on the same C 9 that had dropped us at McGuire. They were happy to hear we had a fabulous trip despite it not being what we had originally planned.

Two days after arriving at Ramstein, we caught a nice C 17 to Dover, where we rented a car and spent a couple of weeks visiting family and watching Facebook 72 hour flight forecasts. The day before a promising-looking 3-flights to McChord, we headed back to Dover, returned the car, lodged on base, and then caught the first flight home the next morning. Success!  Two commercial shuttle rides later, we were back home at Whidbey.

Two of the most basic rules of space a travel are: be flexible, and always take the first flight heading in the general direction you want to go. Works for Lady Cat 6!

Boring Basics Chapter 4 – Roll Call!

Isn’t it exciting to be in the terminal! A sense of nervous anticipation permeates the atmosphere as the announcement is made that Roll Call is about to begin!

Roll Call is when you (finally!) find out if you have a seat on the flight you desire. As people marked themselves present in the hours before, the PAX Reps began developing the manifest for the available seats. Now, that process is finished and they’re ready to announce the names of the lucky winners of the seat lottery. I hope you are among them!

The PAX Rep usually makes an introductory announcement to notify prospective passengers they must be travel ready when their names are called. What does this mean? It means you have all the necessary documents for all travelers in your party (ID card and, if traveling overseas, passport), you have all your luggage with you in the terminal, your rental car has been returned (if there is a rental key drop box in the terminal you may wait until your name is called before depositing yours), and you are appropriately attired – no open toe shoes, etc. Once your name is called, you will be checking in for your flight and can no longer leave the terminal. The exception is if you are at a location where you need to obtain a pass for long term parking. If you cannot get that pass until your name is called, you are permitted to move your car once you receive the pass. Otherwise, you are expected to remain in the terminal until boarding.

Passengers’ names will be announced based first on Category, and then date and time of sign up within each. That means that all the Category 1 passengers will be announced, then all the Category 2, then all Cat 3, etc. Fingers crossed they get to Category 6, and I sure hope you clarified your date and time of sign up when you marked yourself present!

If you are chosen for the flight, you will proceed immediately to the passenger service counter for check in. This process is similar to checking in for a regular civilian flight, but does have a few quirks of its own. Your documents will be inspected, your baggage will be weighed (some terminals weigh everything, some only your checked bags), you will be asked your weight (tell the truth!), and asked if you would like to purchase a box lunch if those are available on your flight. If you are flying on one of the contract Patriot Express flights, you will receive a seat assignment. If you are aboard a cargo plane, seating is a free-for-all. You will then take your checked bags to the x-ray machine, where the Reps will tag them and take them for loading. After that, relax in the terminal – usually for about an hour or so – until the boarding announcement is made.

If you are not chosen, many experienced Cat 6-ers, including Lady Cat 6, advise that you not leave the terminal until boarding is complete. Some advise you not leave until the plane actually takes off. Occasionally – not frequently but more often than you would imagine – it turns out that more seats become available at the last minute. Perhaps because after the cargo gets loaded and the Load Master completes the weight calculations, there is room for a few more passengers. Perhaps the duty passenger manifest is not complete at Roll Call time and it turns out that some of those passengers have not shown up for the flight. If your name is called after you have left the terminal, you may be sorry. This actually happened to my sponsor and me a couple of months ago! The couple ahead of us left the terminal after Roll Call was completed, but before the PAX Reps realized they had miscounted the passengers. Thanks to that couple, we got to fly! Unless time is of the essence, it does not hurt to stick around and see what happens.

Of course, all this process is for busy terminals with more travelers marked present than seats available. There are other, not so busy terminals, or even not so busy days at normally busy terminals, where the process can be quite abbreviated. If there are obviously fewer passengers marked present than seats available, the Reps might just announce that everyone marked present may proceed to the Service Counter for check-in. Yippee!

One final Roll Call item: if you are selected for a flight, be sure you have your final destination printed on your boarding pass! This is very important to preserve your original date and time of sign up in case you need to catch another flight from an intermediate location (Travis to McGuire, and then another flight from McGuire to Ramstein) where you have not yet signed up. If you don’t have Ramstein (or wherever your final destination happens to be) on your boarding pass, you will need to recompete with all the other passengers at McGuire (or wherever you happen to be enroute) with very low seniority on the sign up list.

So, we’ve now gone through the whole process, from signing up to Roll Call: the basics of Cat 6 space a travel. If you got a seat at Roll Call, happy flight! If you didn’t, shrug it off and wait for another opportunity, or implement Plan B (you DO have a Plan B, right?). Flying space a is a dice roll, and you’ll have better luck with some other flight some other time – maybe even later today or tomorrow!

Pack Wisely, my dear!

All packed up and ready to go! Everything has fit perfectly into the carry-on suitcase, including togs for not one, but TWO dressy occasions! Alas, no red shoes…

Which reminds me…

Packing:

Leave the dress; take the skirt. Trust Lady Cat 6 – there’s nothing like standing in a corner in an Italian café full of, well, Italians– of the male persuasion– and trying to discretely hike up one’s dress to access one’s money belt! Between the molto vino the evening before, and the pre-caffeine stupor the morning of, someone forgot to transfer the five euro she needed for her cappuccino and cornetto vuoto from the belt to her purse. As I stood there, gripping the skirt between my teeth whilst attepting to open the zipper on the belt and extract the bills, the good signore were quite taken with my little spectacle! There was much not-so-sotto-voce whistling, clucking, and “Brava, signora!” going on behind my back as I wrestled with my clothing.  A fine time was had by most all– what a wake up!

Choices must be made when packing. Just choose the skirt. It can be dressed up or down, takes up less room in the suitcase, and, should you have need of your money belt, it is much more easily gotten to. Elastic waistbands are best.

On that note, my sponsor and I are off to Roll Call!

Trip report coming soon!

Boring Basics – Chapter 3 – Marking Yourself Present

You’re eligible. You’re signed up. You’ve found a flight you want to take. Hooray!

You’re now ready for the (almost!) final step before (maybe!) winging on your way – marking yourself present at the terminal.

You must go to the terminal in person and let the Passenger Service Representatives (PAX Reps) know you are ready to fly. You can do this as far ahead as 23 hours and 59 minutes or as close as a few minutes before Roll Call begins. Lady Cat 6 and her sponsor generally arrive at the terminal about an hour before Roll Call to mark in.  The important point about this time frame is to mark yourself present before Roll Call begins. Once it does, if you have not marked present, you will need to wait until all passengers who have done so receive seats before you will have a chance to compete for any that may be left over.

A frequently held belief among early arrivers – the 23 hour 59 minute people – is that the earlier one is marked present, the more seniority they’ll have over those who do so closer to Roll Call time, and the better chance they’ll have to get a seat. Unfortunately for them, this belief is completely mistaken. The time one marks present has nothing to do with seniority. Seats are allotted to those who are marked present based first on Category, and then according to the date and time of SIGN-UP within each Category. All marking present early does is make for a longer wait in the terminal. No, thank you!

When you arrive at the Passenger Service Desk in the terminal to mark present, you will be asked to show ID cards for all travelers in your party, and Passports if traveling overseas. You will also be asked which destination you are marking yourself present for. Yes, I know you put your destination on your sign-up. You will be asked again. The most common reason for this is that the terminal personnel probably have not entered your sign-up into their system yet, so they have no idea what you submitted. As you remember (you do remember, don’t you?), it does not matter what destinations you listed on your sign-up form. You choose where you want to go now, when you mark yourself present.

Since the date and time of your sign-up is the most crucial set of data determining seat selection seniority within your category, have a copy of your sign-up at hand when you mark yourself present. ASK the PAX Rep if the date and time in their system is the same as the one that appears on your sent mail. If there is a discrepancy, show your email to the Rep to have it corrected. Never assume that your sign-up has been entered into a system correctly, or even at all! Always verify your date and time of sign-up when you mark yourself present! If you wait until Roll Call begins to find out there has been a mistake, it will be too late to fix it.

Once you are marked present, you wait for Roll Call – the final step before flight. You could spend your remaining time in the terminal counting heads, consulting the marked present lists if they are posted (some terminals post paper lists, some have TV screens) to see where you are on the list, chatting with fellow passengers to determine their positions on the lists, worrying about last-minute, higher Category mark-ins, and otherwise stressing over whether you will get a seat. Or, you could hit the USO for some coffee and a snack, chat with fellow passengers about space a adventures, spend some time online (most terminals have Wi-Fi!) writing a blog post or getting that mail hold you forgot in your frenzy to get out of the house in place. Or you could just chill in happy anticipation of your possible upcoming flight!

Next time: Roll Call!

Holiday Closure

Lady Cat 6 From Outer Space A will be closing for the July 4th holiday at 2359 on Thursday, July 2, 2015, and will re-open at 0600 on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. During this time there will be no outgoing posts, though personnel will be available to monitor and process incoming comments and queries.

Everyone at Lady Cat 6 (me) wishes you all a safe, sane Independence Day weekend!

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Boring Basics – Chapter 2, Part 2.1 – Sign up at non-AMC Terminals

Several faithful followers of Lady Cat 6 have noted a difference between signing up at AMC and non-AMC terminals. While the vast majority of space a opportunities occur at AMC terminals, there is a significant number of other locations from which to fly. Though mentioned in my original Sign Up post last week, few details had been provided.

Curious travelers want to know: what can one anticipate when attempting to sign up at these locations?

Well, quite frankly, when one steps outside the AMC universe, one never knows what to expect!

Some Navy, Marine Corps, Reserve, and Air National Guard terminals will allow email and/or fax sign ups. They accept regular emails and the AMC form 140.

Some only accept sign ups in person or over the phone.

Some smaller Navy, Reserve, and Air National Guard terminals have their own sign up policies and forms.

Some locations will allow sign ups as far as 45 days ahead of desired travel, and some only 24-72 hours before a specific flight.

A very few, with infrequent, irregular flight opportunities, require only that you appear in time to be processed for a flight.

There are many, many variations in policies and procedures out there! It would be nearly impossible, even for Lady Cat 6, to provide all the details without creating zombies out of my readers, which could be quite dangerous, especially in crowded terminals where passengers are enduring long, frustrating waits!

The best thing to do, if you are considering traveling from a non-AMC location, is to contact the terminal representatives directly to find out what they require regarding sign ups. This way, you will gain the information you need for your specific location without encountering the possibility of having sensitive brain cells overcome or destroyed by extremely dense and convoluted information overload.

Best of luck!