Lessons from a Failed Space-A Attempt

I know I still have so many adventures to blog but I wanted to share a few space-a tips that we learned from our recent trip to Hickam AFB, Hawaii in early December. We specifically timed it before school let out in Hawaii so we’d have a chance at competing on the way back home flying into Yokota Air Base, Japan. We left Japan for Hawaii without too many failed attempts. I think it took us about 4 days of trying to get out of Japan because the flights moved, not because we were bumped from higher priority people. Hawaii was a whole different beast. We were in Hawaii for about 7 days before we started trying to make our way back and in that time there was only 1 flight out to Japan and that was shortly after we had arrived. So the first opportunity we had was on a Friday, 8 seats open to Kadena. We flew category 3 this time. which means we had hubby with us on regular leave so we were before the military spouses flying alone and before the retirees. Every other time we’ve flown this was never a problem. But, there were always 30+ seats open. The first 5 seats were filled with Cat 1’s and 2’s and then our name was called but we needed 4 seats. So we had to decline.

1st lesson…pack in case you need to separate. At this point there were still several options on the schedule for us and we thought we’d just enjoy an extra weekend in Hawaii and try again for Monday. From this point on though we packed as if hubby would take the kids and I would fly commercial home. Once hubby was out of the picture, I would drop to the bottom of a category 5, pretty much guaranteeing I wouldn’t get on any flights with a low seat number with how the roll calls were playing out.

Next flight open was on Monday. At this point the space-a blur sets in because another flight opened up on the weekend that we tried for and failed. Again, cat 2’s filled the spots. Starting to see a pattern though now. Most of the flights going out while we were there were 4 seats with a few that had 8 seats. Monday, Tuesday roll around and every night we’d go to bed with 1, 2 or even 3 options for the morning and we would wake up with all of them off the schedule. Hawaii doesn’t release seat amounts until the night before usually or even 4 hrs prior. So planning isn’t really an option. We had flights that would magically appear on the roll call reports (flights that actually made it out) that never appeared on the schedule in the first place, so only those sitting at the airport all day would have competed for those roll calls. Something we just aren’t able to do with two younger kids who can’t wait around at an airport all day hoping a flight pops up. Running out of options we started looking at ALL of our options for getting out of Hawaii and these are the lessons I’d love to pass on to you to save you our pain. :)

2nd lesson… Know all your available flight options for getting home cheaper, not free. For instance, United Airlines has a military leisure flight out of Guam for around $250 per person for next day flights. We could have been competing for Guam flights all weekend which seemed more plentiful than the Japan flights.

3rd lesson Planes break…all the time. When you start looking at the 72-hour schedule it may appear like flights are going out all week long. In reality though, those flights are being moved, and rescheduled, and cancelled. When you are actually waiting for a specific flight to happen the most frustrated thing is just seeing it disappear into thin air over and over and over again. At one point we made the roll call and were manifested on a flight to Guam even though the plane was broken. After baggage screening they cancelled the flight and we were back to square one.

4th lesson… If you are stationed overseas and have access to category 2 -EML (Environmental and Morale Leave) authorization, TAKE IT! When there are only 4 seats available on each flight, you will be bumped by people in this category.

5th lesson… Call or visit Hickam’s ITT office. This should be your first stop. Not only do they have tickets cheaper for most of the sites you are planning on attending, but they have access to reduced commercial military fares that we couldn’t find and most of them are 100% refundable. So, as a back up option, had we booked a commercial flight back home as our last resort date, we wouldn’t have spent an extra 5 days trying to get out on space-a and failing at it. For instance, ITT booked another mom going home to Korea for $480 one-way next day flight. Honolulu to Narita was $590 one-way next day flight. They may even be cheaper if you book one week out right when you get there. But, just in case you can’t get a flight back, you aren’t stuck paying the $800 United leisure fare rate or $1200+ next day rate the other airlines had published.

If you do get stuck for a few days, check out the lodging at Kaneohe Bay Marine Base instead of the Hale Koa in Waikiki. They have a new building that I would ask for a room in, very clean and comfortable with a free breakfast every morning. They had a holiday rate going for $99/night. The old Villa’s are pretty run down. Basically an old converted house. They have lots of room (3 bedroom 3 ba) but are dated. They can only get them so clean. The beds are newer and comfortable though. Both the rooms at the lodge and the villas have no view. It’s basically just a place to stay and wait out the time or go off and explore. We had a few nights at the ocean cottages which I would recommend as well. Here’s a view from the deck of the cottage we stayed at.

Kaneohe Bay Marine Base Cottages

The cottages are also a bit dated, but in an ocean front type of way. :) They have a full kitchen and two bedrooms but you’ll notice things like dated appliances that are starting to rust. We didn’t cook while we were there so it didn’t bother me too much. The view more than makes up for it and I think the holiday rate was around $130/night. Kaneohe Bay is on the windward side of the island though so you’ll hear the wind howling through the house. Also, forewarning you that you will find little lizard friends in the house all day long. It’s the price you pay for the view. :) The beds here are more comfortable than those at the Hale Koa. Also the drive to and from Hickam was easier with less traffic when we were making trips to the airport at least one a day. We had wonderful meals we’d pick up from Whole Foods from nearby Kailua and bring them back each night.

On a random note, check in also with the Kaneohe Bay Marine Base passenger terminal. They also have flights going out from here (less frequently) but they do not update their website as frequently.

If you are renting a car, do so from Hickam’s passenger terminal. The weekly rental rate is much cheaper from Hickam, than the main airport although the cars are in rougher shape as they don’t have the manpower to turn them over like they do at Honolulu International. If you do find yourself in Hickam after the rental office is closed, the offices at Honolulu International stay open later in the evening. The public bus picks up on the right side of the parking lot as you exit the passenger terminal.

I’ll update with our Hawaiian adventures soon!

Happy wandering!



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