One of the issues that new space-a travelers can find daunting is the ground arrangements before and after flight. Arranging for lodging, car rental, dining or other necessities can seem difficult with the uncertainty of space-a. But, there are ways to deal with that uncertainty!
Here is how we generally handle our arrangements:
As soon as Lady Cat 6 (or her darling sponsor!) sees the flight they want to try for on the 72 hour forecast, she contacts lodging at the departure (if necessary) and arrival bases to make arrangements. On-base lodging is generally very forgiving about moving or canceling reservations, up to the afternoon of the arrival date. Once a reservation is made, if the flight delays or cancels, it’s easy to call back and slip the start date to the next flight (if there is one), or cancel altogether.
If lodging is not available when we first call, we keep calling back daily – in the late afternoon when they open up the rooms that have been canceled – to see if anything opens up. We generally never stay on base more than a night or two, so it’s easy to slip in on a last-minute cancellation.
We have found it is always best to call the individual lodging direct, rather than relying on DODlodging.net. The local folks almost always have a better idea of whether they have rooms available or not. The local number can be found on the AMC GRAM.
Unless we know there is an exercise or other event (like drill weekend, or NASCAR event near Dover) going on that’s really going to affect lodging chances, we don’t bother to make commercial reservations. And, even when we do, we still check on base when we arrive to see if there has been a last-minute opening before heading out to commercial facilities. We are successful getting on-base reservations about 90% of the time.
For commercial accommodations, we look first for establishments affiliated with our rewards cards that are close to the base. There is a list of nearby lodging on the terminal’s AMC GRAM, and also usually at the check-in desk at lodging. Otherwise, we just wing it. We may end up paying more than we would like to get a room, but for just one night, we’ll do it – the flight, after all, is free, so we’ve got commercial ticket money to play with ;).
As with lodging, we make arrangements for car rental as soon as we see the flight we want posted on the 72 hour forecast. Like lodging, car rentals can be cancelled or moved if necessary, with no penalty.
We generally rent from Enterprise, simply because that is the concession on most of the bases we travel into and out of. That makes it easy for one-way rental drop-off, which is sometimes required if we return to a different base from where our car was left, or if we have to drive between bases for a few days to catch a flight. Just leave the key in the drop box in the terminal when you’re ready to head out to the plane. At some bases, like Norfolk, Enterprise will even stage a car in the terminal parking lot if your flight is arriving after hours (requires emailing or faxing them a copy of your drivers license and ID card).
For other rental companies, sometimes the rental concession on base will come and pick you up at the terminal; sometimes you’re going to have to walk to the BX complex to pick up the car. At some bases, there is no car rental concession on base, and you’re going to have to find a way to get to the rental office on your own. Most outfits will either have drivers who have ID cards who can pick you up on base, or you will need to walk out to the gate to get picked up. In the situations where the walk is necessary, I generally wait at the terminal with the luggage while my sponsor goes to get the car. If we’ve got on-base lodging, we usually wait until the next morning to pick up the car. Lodging is usually closer to the gate than the terminal is, and why pay for a day you’re not going to use :)?
There are some bases that have good dining options near lodging on post (like Pudgy’s, at McGuire, and the Deutches Haus, on Ramstein). With others, we’re stuck with the food court at the BX, when open, fast food joints, the USO, or even the mini-mart. We’ve done them all, depending on when our flight departs or lands. We are resigned to not having many great options on flight day, and roll with it – that way we’re not disappointed ;).
Having a rental car upon landing does make things easier – we have access to off-base locations with a better variety of food. So far, though, the only places we’ve found that make it worth the extra day’s charge are Sebastian’s Schnitzel Haus near the Fort Dix gate at McGuire, and The Lanai at Mamala Bay which is actually on Hickam, in Hawaii, but miles away from the terminal. Otherwise, we tough out our first night – and then treat ourselves royally the second! We also carry plenty of snacks aboard when we fly, so in a true “emergency”, we’ve got those to eat.
The folks you meet in terminals and on planes are a great resource – take advantage of them! If you’re flying with someone who has experience with your destination, ask them if they have any recommendations – they’ll be happy to share ! Frequently, rides to lodging, car rental, hotels, or even other bases can be shared. Make the most of your fellow travelers, and share your own knowledge and expertise. The Cat 6 community is a wonderful group of people!
Of course, these general procedures sometimes need to be adjusted to the particular circumstances of our specific adventure. But, we find that having a plan that can be tweaked when necessary makes us feel more secure than not having any plan at all – at least we’re not going blind into a situation with no idea what to do.
Make lodging and car rental reservations as soon as the flight you want appears on the flight forecast – change as necessary within the no penalty period.
Don’t expect much in the way of dining when you arrive at your destination. It’s only one night, and it won’t kill you ;).
Always connect with your fellow travelers for assistance and information.
And, most important, after making whatever arrangements you can, try to relax and enjoy the adventure! No one can ever control every circumstance, and as you develop experience, you’ll become more and more comfortable with the uncertainties that make space-a such an interesting and exciting way to travel!