June has passed by so quickly, filled with lots of inspiration for blog posts and no time to actually write. We hosted our first house guests, and I promise posts on those special memories soon. Since then, we have also gone on a whirlwind trip back to the States, taking advantage of military Space Available (Space-A) travel.
Imagine that a military cargo plan has some extra room. You just might be allowed to fill that extra room, if you are a member of the military, a dependent, or a retiree, and interested in flying when and where that plane has to travel. You won’t have a confirmed seat until it is time to leave, and there are definitely no in-flight movies. The upside is that in most scenarios there is no associated cost.
Dennis was going to the States for training the same week as my sister Becky’s bridal shower and bachelorette festivities. I couldn’t justify the expense and stress of flying commercially alone with the kids, but I also couldn’t imagine missing such important events in my sister’s life. She is my first true friend, beside me through every living and forgotten memory. She went through a phase where she would cry if I couldn’t go to school with her. She’s much more independent and cool now, but I am still her big sister. How could I not be there?
With a little bit of beginner’s luck, the kids and I grabbed seats on a C-5 to Dover, Delaware. I might have been traveling transatlantic with three kids alone, but it was a direct flight taking off five minutes from my house, bound for another small military terminal. Airmen helped me carry and install car seats, and we all had a row to ourselves. On a C-5, the seats are positioned backwards and there are no windows. In almost complete darkness, we passed nine daylight hours almost entirely by eating through a bag of snacks. Never under pack novel food items.
Our trip home was more complicated. Space-A seats are awarded based on varying levels of priority. Obviously, the children and I do not rank very high on the list unless accompanied by our active duty sponsor. Given that it is peak military move and vacation season, Dennis wanted to make sure that we got home without any major issues. So, when his training ended, he flew up to meet our family and get us home (turning down a commercial seat back to Spain…what a guy).
Flights are typically announced 72hours in advance, and the week we were ready to head home, few flights to Europe seemed to be scheduled. We made our first attempt to get back on a Tuesday, trying to get from Dover to Spangdahlem, Germany. They had tentatively planned on 34 seats on that flight, but by the time that we arrived at that terminal, only 19 seats were up for grabs. We ended up being offered seats 18 and 19 for our family of five. So, we rented another car and headed back to my parents’ farm.
The only flight to Europe on Wednesday was from Andrews Air Force Base to Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany. After hours of waiting, all five of us took off on a C-17. We would then take a commercial flight home to Spain bright and early Saturday morning. That gave us roughly 36 hours to explore the Kaiserslautern area of Germany, which I’ll save for a future post.
For now, I just want to capture a few quick reflections on Space-A travel, just in case we think we should try it again too soon.
First, Space-A travel is not free. We ended up shelling out a nice chunk of change between rental cars, taxi fees, hotel rooms, and while super cheap, those commercial tickets for the last leg home. What we did pay, however, was exponentially less than if we had paid for five commercial tickets home. In the most frustrating moments, I thought of it as paying for inconvenience. Not a good mindset. Instead, I’m trying to look at it as paying for adventure. Experiencing flight on super cool aircraft. As you might imagine, this was especially cool for three-year-old Henry. He made the day of the airman who got to watch his face light up as he boarded and saw all of the airmen in uniforms, and exposed buttons and latches and equipment. We were paying for memories, even if not all the ones I would dream up.
Space-A travel is not for everyone, or for all trips. It is probably not for you if you like to have control. If you need to have a plan. If you aren’t spontaneous. In our crew, some of us are more spontaneous than others. But it is hard to be spontaneous with a family of five and three car seats. Most places are not set up to easily handle us (especially in Europe), so it becomes very space prohibitive and expensive to get around.
Finally, being home underscored just how far we actually are from our true home while here in Spain. On a day-to-day basis, modern technology tricks us into thinking we are much closer than in reality. We FaceTime regularly with family and friends and use the internet and all different kinds of streaming to keep up with American culture and news. Yet, in all actuality, we are far, far away. Space-A or commercial, there is no easy way to get from here to there. We are going to be exhausted, and the kids are going to struggle. There is just no easy way to do it. And that realization made me feel the homesickness most acutely.
All in all, it was a neat experience, though not one that I am itchy to repeat too soon. But, I wouldn’t have changed it for a minute, especially the opportunity to be there with this girl at such a special time.