So you made it Seattle, what happens next?
We arrived in Seattle around 11:30pm the night before our 8am AMC (or Patriot Express) flight. If your flight schedule is similar to ours, I recommend you get off the plane in Seattle, get all your baggage off the carousel, and go find the AMC desk. Don’t worry, there are luggage carts for your to rent for $5 a piece right by the baggage claim carousels; we had 8 big suitcases and needed 2 carts. Take the elevators up one floor to the ticketing level. Come off the elevator and you are looking the airline check-in counters. Go all the way to the leftmost counter and that’s AMC (or Air Mobility Command). Our paperwork noted a check-in time of between 1-4ish am. When we got there around midnight, folks were already lined up; sitting or laying down on the floor with their luggage.
Tip: There are actually two lines to line up in (at least when we flew in Jan. 2015 there were). The one immediately at the desk that you see immediately is for single soldiers and families of 3 or less. Families with 4 or more people are to line up around the corner on the left side of the desk. There should be a sign.
We stayed with our luggage but some people chose to line up their bags and then go find food or somewhere quieter until time to check in.
Right before check-in time, an AMC clerk came around to everyone in the line and gave the sponsor (the soldier) a paper, on which they had to write the family members’ names and passport numbers. I also wanted to note, both our kids were so exhausted by this time they slept through the entire check-in ordeal. Our youngest slept in his stroller; so glad we brought that!
Our oldest fell asleep on his blanket on the floor. I may or may not have just dragged him on that blanket when the line moved forward.
Check in was fairly easy. Same as check-in would be with any other airline. They called families up much faster than they called folks from the other line. I was thankful for that. We were third in the family line and it only took us about 5-10 minutes to get called to the desk. The clerk at the desk asked us how preferred to sit so she could book specific seats for us. The AMC flight had seats in a 2-3-2 pattern so we chose to sit parent/child and parent/child one right behind the other (just like we had done on the previous flights) because it seemed to work well. She printed our boarding passes and weighed/took all our baggage and we were on our way! If you have a stroller that you will be gate checking (keeping with you in the airport and checking at the gate when you get on the plane), make sure the gate-check tag they put on it says “OSAN.” You definitely don’t want your stroller to get left in Japan! Also, I should mention that I was worried about the size and weight of our carry-ons and they didn’t even end up inspecting them. Actually, they didn’t even ask to see them.
After leaving the counter we went straight to the security checkpoint. As it was super early in the morning, there were only two lanes open but that was fine. It still didn’t take long and it was the same process as any other flight (no liquids over 3oz, shoes off, pockets empty, stroller and carry-ons through the conveyor belt thing). My three-year-old was sleeping and they let me carry him through with me, my five-year-old walked through on his own.
The TSA agent at the security checkpoint had told us about a Children’s playroom in Concourse A so that’s where we headed. We wanted the kids to be as tired as possible for the long flight so they would sleep. The playroom was very nice. Because it was 2am there were a few people in there sleeping on the comfy, padded floor but we let the kids play anyway.
AMC flights take off from the S-gates, which are in the South Satellite. You will need to take the Transit tram (kind of like a subway) to get there. This map shows a map of Concourse A, you can find the Children’s Playroom and the entry to get down to the Transit tram.
Source: Sea-Tac Airport Website
The tram does not open for operation until 4:30am so I recommend letting the kids play in the playroom for a bit, getting a snack and COFFEE from McDonalds or Starbucks (the only places that seemed to be open that early), and then head to the tram right at 4:30am.
When we got to the South Satellite, we found a quiet corner near our gate to relax/sleep in for a bit since we still had about 3 hours until time to board. I was worried about finding an outlet to charge our devices but there were plenty around the gate area. There are a few little stores and places to eat in the South Satellite too, if you are hungry or want to pick up a few magazines for the flight.
We boarded the plane right on time. They called for families to board first which was really nice. The airplane was pretty standard. Comparable to Coach class I would say, maybe a bit more legroom though. Television screens in the middle every 3 rows or so and a big one in the very front.
We were on the plane for about an hour before the pilot finally came on the intercom and told us that we had to “de-plane” because there was a problem with the plane’s GPS system. Both our kids were sleeping at this point so it was a huge inconvenience, but what can you do? I’d rather wait and that be fixed than take off in a broken airplane, for sure! They did, however, let us leave our carry-ons on the plane if we chose to. We left most our stuff and only took our “snack bag” and our blankets and wallets (with the passports, IDs, and boarding passes in them) with us back into the airport. We didn’t end up getting back on the plane until 3 hours later. This was by far the hardest part of our trip. It had been such a long journey for most all of the passengers already; everyone was ready to get back on the plane and go.
Finally, we did re-board the plane and get in the air. They fed us breakfast shortly after takeoff (even though the delay had caused it to be closer to lunchtime). Breakfast was your choice of eggs or pancakes, a plain bagel with cream cheese, a fruit cup and whatever you wanted to drink. The flight attendants were great. They brought us drinks (free) whenever we wanted and were also very understanding of our children having to go potty every 5 minutes. (Okay, that’s a little dramatic… it was more like every hour. But, it felt like more often). They also fed us lunch, which was your choice of beef or chicken, pasta salad, a roll, chocolate cake, and crackers with cheese.
Tip: It seemed like they sat all of us families who had small children up front. So, if you are a family with older children or have no children I would suggest requesting to sit towards the back of the plane. (:
We landed in Japan about 10 hours after takeoff. They asked us to remain seated and a Customs Agent came on the plane to do a walk-through. They let the passengers staying in Japan off first. After that, they took all of us going through to Korea to a terminal (a holding area). There were not a lot of outlets available there to charge devices so if you need one, find one quickly upon arriving. There were also vending machines with candy, snacks, water, and soda and restrooms. We were there for about an hour. Our three-year-old ran laps around some of the chairs in the terminal and our five-year-old slept like a rock the entire time.
It was a pretty short flight from Japan to Korea. Two hours maybe? I can’t remember for sure. Everyone on the flight slept almost the entire time. Upon landing at Osan, Customs came on board again and did another walk-through and then we got off the plane and were taken to the 2nd floor of a building to get briefed and start filling out paperwork for Customs. The briefing was about 15 minutes and then we went down the hallway to stand in line and wait for our turn to check-in with our IDs and fingerprints. The line took about 45 minutes to get through. After that we went downstairs to get all our luggage and declare things for customs. There were people there readily available to help those of us (families) that had a lot of bags. The hardest part was digging through our bags to find the things we had to claim. The only things we claimed were two small foldable knives, my prescription medication, and the fruit we had brought for snacks on the plane. We laid all this out on the table and my husband (the sponsor) had to answer that he wasn’t hiding anything else. They let us keep everything but one of the knives. We had no idea this was going to be a problem or we wouldn’t have brought it. My husband had the option to stay longer and fill out paperwork for them to ship it back to someone in the US or give the agent signed consent to destroy it. He signed consent for them to destroy it so we could be on our way quicker. This whole part of the process felt very rushed and our kids were exhausted and cranky.
We stopped for (another) potty break after clearing Customs and then continued out to the busses to go to Yongsan. They were nice charter busses. Families and officers going to the Dragon Hill Loge hotel on one, and soldiers going to barracks on the other; luggage went underneath. It was about an hour ride to Yongsan.
When we arrived at Yongsan, we were taken to the 1st Replacement building just across the parking lot from the hotel. We were told to leave our luggage on the busses and had to sit through a 30-minute briefing there (with our children) and fill out more paperwork. Luckily, there is a small play area in 1st Replacement’s building and I took the kids out there while my husband (the sponsor) stayed in the briefing and the briefers didn’t seem to mind. After, we got all our luggage off the busses, took with us what we could, and crossed the parking lot to the hotel to check-in. Our children found new energy and were very excited that we had finally made it and we were too!
If you made it this far and you are still reading, then congratulations! If you can get through this ridiculously long post, clearly you are resilient and will do JUST FINE on this journey! Happy travels!