Moving to Japan is equivalent to time traveling to the future. I will be spending the next 26ish months living a day ahead of most if my friends and family. I kind if dig that.
I am writing this post on the plane to Japan – we think that we might only have an hour or two left. The flight wasn’t too bad because we slept a few hours. Rather then write an essay, here are a few thoughts about this experience.
The ins and outs of taking a military flight on PCS overseas:
– arrive early if you have to catch a military flight. Our orders said that we had to arrive at least 4hrs early. We checked-in 4.75hrs early, and we really should have been there at least 45-50min earlier. There is a line, check in takes longer then a typical commercial flight, and your seating is based upon your arrival. Early arrival = your choice of seats.
– to check in as a couple (active duty spouse + dependent spouse), you need a set of Orders for the flight people to keep, your original Orders, your military IDs, and your special spouse diplomatic passport thing. You’ll present those documents at the first check-in station and the 2nd (yes, there are two!).
– at the first check-in station, you’ll pay for extra bags and overweight bags (your orders stipulate the number of bags that you are allowed – we had to Pay $160 extra for our 1 extra bag. Leave it to the military to nickle-and-dime it’s own personnel). Here’s the ass-backwards part: you don’t know if your bags are overweight until you get to the 2nd check-in station. If they’re overweight, you have to return to the first station. THIS is probably why you’re required to arrive at least 4hrs prior to your flight.
– the 2nd check in station is similar to the typical commercial flight check in process. Your bags are weighed and tagged, and you’re issued your boarding pass. Hilariously, you’re also asked your weight, and sleep-deprived me thought that I had to get in the baggage scale. So there was that. You’re also assigned a seat. Michael and I lucked out with our seats because we arrived just before the onslaught of large families. Seriously – GET THERE EARLY!
– your Orders will also stipulate a weight limit per bag. We had an overweight bag that we were concerned about. The check-in dude had us pile all of our checked baggage onto the scale at once and they used the average weight! We came in several pounds underweight. Phew.
– in addition to our regular checked bags, they asked to check carry-ons if possible. We had planned to carry on another suitcase, so we happily handed that one over. Once I got on the plane, I realized why they check as many carry-ons as possible (more on that later!). You may also have a 2nd opportunity to check carry-ons at the gate, which seems super convenient for families with little ones.
– the military-issue gear bag doesn’t count as baggage. It’s basically a free bag, which was awesome for us because Michael had to hand carry ALL of his flight gear, and the bag weighed over 60lbs.
– active duty military personnel are now allowed to do express security screening. Unfortunately and unfairly, their dependents over the age of 12 do not get this privilege, even if they’re traveling as a family on Orders. However, all dependents can now receive slightly-express screening privileges by going through the first class line, and active duty can go through this line with all of their dependents. Do do do take advantage of this!! It is such a small but wonderful perk during an otherwise stressful day.
– the boarding process is much more orderly and relaxed then a commercial flight. Families with young kids board first, and then rows or sections are called slowly, which totally eliminates people jockeying for position to board first. Lots of active duty personnel carry on their huge military-issued backpacks, which is why the airline checks as many carry-ons as possible. The overhead bins are packed, so being as few things on board as possible.
– the entire airplane (I’m in a 767!) is basically steerage class. It’s even more cramped then commercial coach, and everyone is mixed together into one, huge, smoshed mass of people. The seats are actually smaller then coach and there’s absolutely nothing fancy on this plane. They’ve played 4 movies so far, but not all the TVs work. Come prepared to entertain yourself!
– here’s the great thing though – flying on this military jet is wayyy better then flying commercial because every single person on this plane is here for the same reason: the military. People have been very polite, helpful, and respectful toward one another, and the flight is quieter then any international flight I’ve ever been on (and I’ve traveled internationally a lot!). There are lots of kids of varying ages, but they haven’t been the spoiled, entitled, mini jerks that I’ve encountered often in long flights. Most of these kids have done this before and their parents have apparently prepared them for a 10hr flight.
– you’re fed often on these flights, but don’t expect anything healthy! We brought snacks and drinks from the terminal. The food has overall been par with commercial airlines, minus the Fritoes, Snickers, and candy basket that was brought around a few times. Also, all the food is paid for.
– out flight has 3 stops in Japan, and we lucked out with being the first. It sounds like the jet will pick up new passengers at each stop, too.
** now I am writing from our room at the Navy Lodge on base! 🙂
– our flight landed at an American Air Force Base. Since the plane continued on to other bases in Japan and South Korea, we were separated upon arrival based on our final destination. They disembarked us separately and took us by bus to a tiny arrivals terminal. At the terminal, we went through customs (super quick and painless!).
– since I now have a special Dept of State passport (required for all spouses of active duty American personnel here) in addition to my regular travel passport, I had both passports stamped by customs. I will probably visit michael in a Chinese port during a deployment. I’ve heard from a few wives that China will not honor my DOS passport, so I have to use my regular one, and in order to travel from Japan to China, I need a stamp from Japan in my passport. But, I have to use my DOS passport everywhere else, including to gain entry to Japan. Confused yet?
We had a 2hr trip from the AF Base to our new home base. I’m soooo glad that our sponsor picked us up – we were able to get lunch and get somewhat orientated through him. As soon as we arrived on base, we got our mailbox and cell phones squared away, and now we are in our room at the Navy Lodge on base. We are super jet lagged and time confused! Base looks fairly American and Japan reminds me of India, but with more cars and fewer cows. Our room is pretty spacious and our command brought us food 🙂 I’ll write more later … right now I am just extremely exhausted!!