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Travel routes connect South Korea, expand Japan services

by Capt. Amy Cooper
Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

2/10/2010 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AFNS) -- Pacific-based Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines will soon have more options available for traveling to and from the United States beginning this April, with the re-routing of current Patriot Express flights and the addition of a third weekly flight.

New routes include the return of Patriot Express flights connecting the U.S. West Coast to the Korean peninsula.

Patriot Express flights are operated by commercial airlines contracted by the Department of Defense to provide transportation for military members, dependents and civil service employees. The Pacific Patriot Express routes originate and terminate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Wash.

"(Pacific-based) wing commanders requested Patriot Express," said Yvonne Frazier, the Pacific Air Forces traffic management chief. "We then worked with (U.S.) Pacific Command and U.S. Transportation Command, who said, 'We'll see what we can do to help.'"

The availability of the flights in the Pacific theater is much needed, according to PACAF officials.

"The problem with (traveling in) the Pacific is you're dealing with a lot of islands separated by massive distances," said Lt. Col. Katherine Charecky, the PACAF distribution policy and vehicles branch chief. "It's not easy and it's expensive to travel."

Patriot Express flights have been available for Japan-based members since October and in April the service will connect South Korea-based members.

"One of our goals during this whole process was to expand service to Korea," said Larry Lorentzen, the TRANSCOM operations directorate's senior commercial air requirements analyst.

TRANSCOM contracts for commercial transportation on behalf of the DOD.

The new weekly flights to South Korea will depart from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and go to Yokota Air Base, Japan, Osan AB, South Korea, Kunsan AB, South Korea and then backtrack through Osan AB and Yokota AB on return to Seattle-Tacoma.

Additionally, one of the pre-existing routes connecting Japan and the U.S. has been re-worked to include a stop at Osan AB. That route will go from Seattle-Tacoma; to Misawa AB, Japan; Osan AB, and then follows the same route back to Seattle-Tacoma.

The third route, also connecting Japan-based personnel to the United States, has been changed too. It begins at Seattle-Tacoma and goes to Yokota AB, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Kadena AB and then backward to Seattle-Tacoma.

"This is an important travel option for our Navy and Marine customers on mainland Japan," Mr. Lorentzen said.

People who've flown on Pacific Express to Japan previously might notice the new routes no longer stop in Anchorage for gas. Starting in April, the contract carriers will fly the Boeing 767 on these routes.

"These are newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft so they can fly longer without having to stop and refuel," Mr. Lorentzen said.

The new aircraft not only saves gas and time, but also it provides more seating capacity on the flights, he said.

More seating capacity means there's more room for customers.

"(Permanent change of station) travelers are our primary market," Mr. Lorentzen said. "They have a 10-day travel window, and by regulation, Patriot Express should be their first course of travel."

Additionally, four-legged family members are able to fly with ease.

"The Patriot Express provides pet spaces, a big plus for our servicemembers since shipping pets can be expensive and difficult, especially during the summer temperature embargos," Ms. Frazier said.

While the service is targeted mainly toward servicemembers and families traveling on PCS moves, it's open to members traveling on temporary duty and eligible for space-available travelers. This is especially beneficial for members and families stationed at Misawa AB and MCAS Iwakuni.

"Traveling to and from Misawa (AB) and Iwakuni (MCAS) is a nightmare," Mrs. Frazier said. "You have to go from the international to domestic airport in Tokyo, dragging your bags, kids, etc. Additionally, there are only foreign flag carriers over these routes who offer limited seat pitch and baggage space. It's just more convenient for a family to travel directly into and out of a military base."

Flying Patriot Express also alleviates some of the other headaches associated with commercial airline travel due to Transportation Security Administration and airport security regulations, Colonel Charecky said.

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