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Today is the last day of May, and I’ve decided to tell you about what it was like to travel to a new country–as a civilian on orders.

So when I first got the assignment, I had to go straight to the Pax Terminal.  Like, EVERYONE hounded me about making my reservations immediately. In the front of the Pax Terminal–it looks like a regular airport with a counter along one wall and rows of seats.  But I had to go to the other side.  Back there is where the military fly in and out.  Because I had orders, I was considered a “space required” passenger as opposed to a “space available” passenger.  That meant that I could not be bumped off the plane for any reason.  Which was good to know because I had worried that an active duty Airman–or some other person in uniform–could take my seat.

So the young Airman behind the desk printed out an itinerary and another page that had very small words on it.  I’m still not entirely sure what  it said.

The itinerary had me flying one of the contracted planes the  Air Force regularly uses–but it departed from Baltimore International in the middle of the night Monday–so technically, it was very early Tuesday morning.  From Baltimore, I would fly to Ramstein and from Ramstein straight into the terminal at Aviano.

These contracted jets are also known as “Freedom Birds”.

plane

I had the option of taking a commercial flight (government paid) from Philadelphia or anywhere else and flying into Venice but I chose not to for several reasons.  For one, I had to ship the car from the VPC in Baltimore (see my post about that), and two, when you are dealing with these kinds of logistics, the smartest thing you can do is make it as easy on yourself as possible.

Sure, it would have been super cool to fly into Venice, but then someone from the base would have had to drive and come pick me up.  I would have had to go through customs and all that associated headache.  (Although my fellow travelers and I also had to go through customs at Ramstein, at least it was with Airmen.  And you know when you are tired, you can barely understand English, let alone a foreign language you aren’t really familiar with) So I figured, all things considered, I would forego the joy of flying into exotic Venice and land at the mundane Pax Terminal on base.

Additionally, I had already begged my way into a hotel room on the base, so I wanted to be able to just touch down, get my stuff, and be driven straight to my room and go to bed.  Smart, right?  I thought so!

I guarded those papers with my life because I knew I needed them to board the jet at Baltimore.

On the day I left McGuire, I drove straight to the VPC and dropped the car off.  Then I took a cab to BWI and hung out there until midnight.  Finally the moment of truth. From the USO, I went back to the AMC Pax Terminal counter.   A the counter I pull out those papers from the McGuire Pax Terminal and the Airman looks at me and asks to see a copy of….my orders.    Its a good thing I had extras on me or I’d have been in real trouble!

So, the moral of this story is:  you don’t actually need your itinerary to board the plane, but you do need your orders.  Also, after they check your orders, you will have to take off your shoes and go through security just like for a regular flight.

But do hang on to that itinerary.  You will need it when you go to process your travel voucher. Which is the subject of my next post.

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