The Thrill & Chase of the Space-A Traveler

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Frank & Frannie  Cermak, USN Retired. Photo courtesy of the Cermaks.
Frank & Frannie Cermak, USN Retired. Photo courtesy of the Cermaks.

It all started on a beautiful Saturday morning in April, I was on leave and getting ready to hopefully catch the Tuesday rotator to Naples NSA. There was plenty to do prior to leaving, pack the bags, mow the lawn, clean out the fridge, clean the house and make sure our dog sitter had everything she needed to take care of the pups.

Tuesday rolls around and the other couple traveling with us tells me there is a flight out of McGuire AFB in NJ with 73 confirmed seats going to Rota NS. He asks if we want to make the 5-hour drive to NJ or catch the rotator out of Norfolk NS, where they would join us in Rota for the trip to Naples. We decided we would meet them in Rota since there was also a C-17 leaving 4 hours ahead of the rotator and two chances are better than one.

It turns out that his C-5 out of McGuire is delayed and our C-17 takes no passengers. However, there’s no need to panic. The 8:45 show time for the rotator is showing 61 seats and I’ve been on the Cat 6 list for 53 days now, so I’m right up at the top and we are ready to go. This is when it all starts to unravel.

The C-5 is still delayed in Massachusetts and they aren’t even sure it’s coming to NJ to make the trip to Rota. We were still hopeful to get to Naples, but that’s when we hear the announcement, “Your attention please, all seats have been filled for tonight’s flight.” Forget about Cat 6’s, they never got past Cat 3’s. It seems that there were 41 seats taken up by Cat 2’s personnel taking (Environmental Morale Leave) and the other 20 by Cat 3’s, meanwhile my buddy is still stuck in NJ.

I call him to tell him we are on our way home and hoping to catch the C-17 on Thursday to Rota to join them if they actually leave. I later find out that they caught their flight and made it to Rota only to miss the rotator to Naples because their flight left so late. On Thursday we head once again to the terminal at Norfolk NS. The terminal is deserted, so I prepared to check in for the flight only to be told no passengers were allowed due to plane cargo including hazardous material.

I text my friends, now doing a Spain vacation instead of Italy, to have a great time all while our planned European vacation has ended without ever leaving the ground. So far, we have gone through Plan A (the C-17), Plan B (the rotator), and Plan C (the 2nd C-17), all have failed. Now on to Plan D, a C-40 going to San Diego on Friday. Friday morning we headed off to Oceana NS to catch the C-40. What we found once we arrived was that the C-40 was going to San Diego but was making two stops along the way. First stop Columbus, Indiana to drop off a dozen sailors attending training and the remaining 60 or so sailors in Fallon, Nevada also for training. There were only 3 Space-A travelers, my wife, myself and one other gentleman who was going to Fallon NS. We made the flight and were on our way. The plane had a layover in Fallon for the night, then going onto San Diego on Saturday morning.

We land in Columbus to drop off passengers and refuel. The pilot approaches my wife and I and asks, “Are you the two flying to SD?” “Yes,” I said. He says, “I’ve got bad news for you. We have been given an OrdMod and our last stop is Fallon, NV and we head back to Norfolk first thing in the morning. Here are your choices get out of here.” Here! Where is here? It’s a cute little airport with a few little planes and one hanger in the middle of nowhere and every which way you look there are corn fields. Choice two was to continue with them to Fallon, which was the end of the line. We took choice two and went to Fallon.

NAS Fallon Air Traffic Control Tower. Photo courtesy of the DoD.
NAS Fallon Air Traffic Control Tower. Photo courtesy of the DoD.

In Fallon, the Space-A terminal is miles from the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites, where we needed a room for the night. The workers at the terminal were great. They loaded our luggage into their pickup and took us to the Gateway Inn to get a room. The driver waited for me to check in and then drove us to the appropriate building. We carried our luggage to the room, opened the door only to see a sailor standing there in his underwear.
Ok, how does this happen? We were assigned a room someone is already in. By now we are a good half mile from the check in point and have to return to get another room while dragging our luggage.

At this point we were exhausted and hungry, but thanks to some fantastic people we were able to get a great dinner and finally get to our room for the night. I called the local cab company to reserve a cab for 8:45 in the morning to get us to Fallon (the town) to pick up our rental car that I reserved for the drive to San Diego (approx. 550 miles).

Saturday morning the cab showed up right on time. This is the first thing that had gone right in 5 days. After a $30 cab fare, we arrived at Hertz to pick up the car. The drive goes off without any problems and we make it in time for dinner at our daughter’s house reaching our final destination.

Sunday through Thursday we take a 4 day Carnival cruise to Catalina Island and Mexico. We had a nice relaxing time not even worrying about getting home, because there are always Space-A flights going east, right? Wrong. Thursday I checked the NASNI (Naval Air Station North Island) schedule and the only flight they had heading east is a Sunday flight to Ft Worth, TX.

We didn’t want to get stuck in Texas, so we looked for another option. After much deliberation, we decided to book a commercial flight with Southwest airlines to get back east. Last minute bookings are not cheap from San Diego to Norfolk at $528.00 per person. No thanks. Finally, we found a flight from SD to Dulles for $192.00 each and an Enterprise rental car for $125.00. That’s the new plan. It all worked out in the end and we arrived safely at home in our own bed.

Through it all I wouldn’t trade our experience for a minute. The hunt, the thrill, the chase of Space-A flight, never knowing if you will actually get the flight you are hoping to get. I recommend you get out there and give it a try. It’s one of the best bennies we have as retired military. Many times it all goes off without a hitch as it has in the past for us. It’s a beautiful world out there, get out and see it. In my opinion, there’s no better way than the fun and adventure of Space-A flights. I will take Space-A to the moon if I’m still around when that flight becomes available.

Frank & Frannie Cermak, USN Retired.
frank70@cox.net

Reprint from September–October 2015 • Volume 45, No. 5