If you missed Part I of my “Flying Space-A, the Real Nuts & Bolts” you may want to start there for the preliminary how to’s. This Part II will detail what happened when I actually showed up to the air terminal to get on a flight.
Friday morning (Feb 27th) we arrive at the NASNI terminal early to sign up for the flight. The “show time” which is the time they start signing people in for the flight was 11 am, which means the flight most likely was scheduled to leave at 1 pm. We arrived at 9. Because we were going to be flying a C40, the luggage weight is limited to 40 lbs per passenger. (Usually it’s 50 lbs per passenger.) This weight can be shared if you are flying with more than one party. You also have a 10 lbs weight limit for your carry on. So once they began checking people in, they weighed both our carry on and checked luggage. Since I was flying with my two daughters I was allotted 150 lbs. I also had a stroller and car seat in tow which did not count toward the weight limit; however it was still weighed. The woes of a traveling mom!
Once they got us weighed, I had to visit a second counter where they entered my information in the computer along with my and my daughters’ weights. I had to present my Command Letter as well as a picture ID. As per my previous post, make sure you have some form of ID for everyone traveling. Everyone over 10 must have a military ID, and for my 3 year old, they requested a Tricare card. If you are traveling Internationally, you will have to present your passport.
Once we were checked in, the wait began. This is just my speculation, but I think, they take a count of people who are competing for a flight and then they tabulate the weight. This is given to the flight crew on the particular plane to determine how many seats are actually available (what is posted is usually a tentative count) and the C40 planes are usually carrying equipment so, based on the weight limits, you may or may not be accepted on the flight.
So after we waited about an hour, we were informed the passengers going to Pensacola would be put on the first flight and that everyone else going to Jacksonville would be on the second flight scheduled for an hour after the first flight.
HELPFUL TIP #1: PACK FOOD! We had been at the air terminal since 9am and our flight was not going to leave until after 3pm. WE WERE STARVED! There isn’t any real food in the terminal or anywhere nearby. I could have left and gone to McDonald’s on the base or another eatery, but you really don’t want to chance your name being called and you are not in the terminal. This will become clear why in a minute. There were vending machines in the terminal, but we wanted some real food. So outside of the hearty breakfast we ate before we got to the terminal, we survived the rest of the day on chips, cookies and soda….literally.
Around 3pm, the Pilot for our flight came into the terminal and announced that all passengers going to Jax should follow him. This is why I’m glad we didn’t leave. There was no notice and it was quite random even to the staff working the terminal. We didn’t get a ticket, our name wasn’t called, there was no ceremony about boarding. We all just grabbed our stuff and ran out to the tarmac to get on the plane. Some people actually put their bags in the plane’s cargo area themselves. . . ummmm I don’t play that, so we took our bags to the waiting attendant and let the professionals handle all that.
BabyGirl, my 11 year old was really excited because she heard that military planes take off straight up in the air. I can’t say for sure if they do, but it definitely was a different experience. The C40 planes don’t have a lot of amenities. No TV’s, no music, no free wi-fi. The plane had rows of 3 seats on each side, and our flight going out was not quite full so there were several people who had rows all to themselves. The flight crew was very nice. In fact there was a gentleman who got on the plane, made his way to the cockpit once the fasten seatbelts light went off and stayed and chatted the entire flight with the pilot and cockpit crew.
We landed in Jacksonville after 10 pm. The air terminal was closed and much to my surprise the temperature was FREEZING!! I guess I’ve been “west-coast-inized,” and forgot what real cold felt like. They took us to a hangar bay when we got off the plane and had to take us in groups to the terminal to retrieve our luggage. They informed us that someone would be there to open the terminal and help us find transportation to wherever we would be staying the night. Many of us, were headed to Virginia, so it was good to be able to all go to the same destination for the night. We got to the terminal and got our luggage and thankfully one of the staff members offered to take us all to the Navy Lodge or Gateway whichever we preferred. He had a 20 passenger van, so he could take us all. Please note, this is not common practice. It was a “nice thing to do,” as I’ve found with both my experiences flying Space-A. The staff is very accommodating, but don’t expect this type of assistance, as it is not required.
As we headed to the Navy Lodge/Gateway, I asked the gentleman driving what the difference was because I couldn’t decide which one to stay at. He explained the Navy Lodge was a newer facility and a little more expensive and that Gateway was cheaper, but still an okay place to stay. So, needless to say we opted for the Gateway.
The Gateway reminded me of the old barracks, turned into a hotel style room. I was given a single room (I guess because I left the girls on the van, the desk clerk didn’t know there was actually 3 in my party). For $50 a night, it was a great accommodation. The only complaint I had was that I was put in a building with no stairs and had to lug my luggage up a flight of stairs. Fortunately for me, the van driver insisted on bringing my luggage up for me. And THANK GOD, my girls were on their best behavior that day!
Because we arrived so late, we were not able to order in any food, so our dinner consisted of more vending machine junk and sodas. Hence, Helpful Tip #1 again: BRING FOOD! Thankfully the vending machines took credit/debit cards and there was an ATM at the Gateway. I guess the next time we travel I will have to remember to bring cash!
We settled in for the evening and made plans to get back to the terminal at 7 am for the early morning “show time.” While there were several flights leaving for Oceana the next day, the first flight only had 4 seats, the next only had 6 and I was determined to get on one of the early flights. There were approximately 9 of us that had flown in from NASNI that would be surely competing for those early morning flights.
The next morning around 5:30, I called the front desk to ask if there was a shuttle that would take us to the air terminal. The desk clerk told me to call the Duty Driver. So I did. (I found the number in the information booklet in our room.) The first time I called, I was told to call back in an hour and someone would be able to get us. So we showered, got dressed and lugged our bags back down the stairs. The duty driver pulled up right on time and as we were getting all loaded up, I saw another couple who had flown in with us who were trying to get to Oceana as well. Unfortunately, there was not enough room in the van for all of us and our luggage, but the driver said he would come back for them.
Once we got back to the terminal, there was one gentleman standing outside the door, waiting for them to open. After I got out, there was another couple who pulled up behind me. What happens next is important to note, because I lost my seat on the flight because of what transpired.
Once the counter opened we were told there were two morning flights with the 7 am showtime. The first had 4 seats and the second had 6. My girls were in the terminal play area, so when the agent took count of who was there for the 1st flight, there was a headcount of 4; myself, the couple and another young lady who showed up after us. Because I actually had 3 people, I decided to allow them to go on the 1st and flight and we would get on the second. However, if you remember on my earlier post which discussed category codes, technically I should have been ahead of the couple who were category VI as a retiree, the young lady who came in after me, I think was flying in the same category as us as she presented a command sponsored letter. I could have argued this point, but I decided it wasn’t a big deal since the flights would be leaving at the same time. BIG MISTAKE!
So they load up the first flight and we go to the play area to watch movies and wait to be called. If you’ve never been to a military air terminal, NAS Jax is a lovely one to visit. There is a play area with toys and books for the kids and you can borrow movies for them to watch. There is also a display of model planes and the history of the Naval Air Station and air terminal. Other amenities include an Enterprise Car Rental Desk (they are not open on Saturday or Sunday), an ATM, a vending area, and TV screens.
After about an hour of waiting, we were called back to the front desk and informed, the plane we were waiting for would not be able to take any Space-A passengers, but the good news was, there was another flight with show time at 11 am with approximately 12 seats. So myself, the older couple (the one the duty driver went back to get), another couple who were in Jacksonville house hunting, and two single guys decided to wait it out and see if we could get on the next plane.
Things were looking good. They actually asked us to bring our checked luggage to be scanned and we received actual boarding passes. I thought for sure we were going on this flight. However, remember my first rule of thumb, “NOTHING is guaranteed until your BUTT is in a seat!” Around 11:30 we were told, the plane couldn’t take any Space-A passengers because of the weight of what they already had on the plane and what they had to pick up. But we held out hope for the last plane that was due to leave at 3:30pm.
Thank God for the movies, free wi-fi, and books that kept my girls entertained. Sitting and waiting all day was exhausting. So when 3 o’clock rolled around, we were once again called to the front desk. I was beginning to learn that being called to the desk was never good news. We were given an option. The plane had seats available, but they were making two stops before Oceana. One in Pensacola and the other in a place in Florida that I had no idea where it was. We would make it to the second stop, however depending on the weight of what they had to pick up, we may get bumped off the flight and have to stay the night there. My hopes were deflated. As much as I wanted to be out of Jacksonville and in Virginia, I knew I couldn’t risk being somewhere I was TOTALLY unfamiliar with and hoping that at some point a flight would be going to Virginia that I could get on. Or worst case scenario, having to buy a plane ticket to get to my destination. The whole point of this journey was to save money on flights.
There was one last flight leaving for Norfolk on Sunday that we could try and as a worst case scenario, my “last resort” option, we could stay in Jacksonville until Tuesday and take the Patriot Express to Norfolk. I opted to take my chances and stay one more night in Jacksonville and try for the Sunday morning flight. Show time…..? 0700 of course!
The older guests who had ridden the Duty Van that morning called back to see if we could get a ride back to Gateway and were informed the Duty Van only takes uniformed soldiers around the base. A fluke that I was able to get them to come get me I guess. So we had to call a cab to come get us.
The driver who came to get us was a nice gentleman, Mark Duffy, former military who now had his own company, Elite Transportation. When we called, he was on another run, but told me he would call when he got to the base. He called when he was in route and was very kind when he picked us up. Because we hadn’t eaten all day, I asked if he would stop by somewhere we could get food. He took us to McDonald’s and waited (with my girls) as I ordered our take out. Thankfully, the girls were still on their best behavior!
So we checked-in once again to the Gateway in a single room ($50/night) and this time we were in the building that does have an elevator. What I didn’t realize until we got upstairs is that we were right on the water. It was a beautiful view!
So while, I was disappointed to be spending yet another night in Jacksonville, being this close to the Atlantic Ocean again was a great feeling! We returned to our room, ate, took showers and went to bed.
The next morning, I gathered all of our belongings once again and headed out to the air terminal for hopefully the final time. I was worried all night because when we got back to our room, I checked the Jacksonville AMC Facebook page again, and it listed “No Space A Flights” for Sunday. But we were assured by the terminal agent they had a flight departing Sunday with a 0700 show time, so I was determined TODAY would be the day.
When we arrived at the terminal there was a huge troop unloading gear and checking in, so I was hopeful. The agent said there were 29 seats available the previous day, but from the looks of this troop, I wasn’t sure. So once again, myself & 2 daughters, the older couple from yesterday, the house-hunting couple, and the two single gentlemen all checked in and waited to see if we were going to make the flight.
After waiting about 45 minutes, we were told we were getting on the plane and I literally ran down the tarmac to get a seat! This was another C40, so there were no thrills, but for a 1 1/2 hour flight it didn’t matter. When we arrived in Norfolk I had to call a cab to take us to my mother’s. I was sure because of how deep on the base the air terminal was, she would never find us. It took the cab driver about 15 minutes to arrive. While we waited, my daughters were excited to see all the snow. Me… not so much.
As a note if you ever fly into Norfolk air terminal and plan to take a cab off the base, just to get off the base the cab’s meter ran up past $20 so beware, taking a cab will cost you.
All-in-all, it was a great adventure and we look forward to doing it again soon!
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