For all those years that we lived in Europe, flying to and from deployments was a very uneventful thing. The USAF picked us up, and they dropped us off at an airbase in Germany. Maybe there’d be a reception or something at our actual garrison when we got off the bus, but really, the travel itself was very straight forward and uneventful.
So, flying from Iraq to Hawaii was a bit of an adventure for me, for among other things, I was flying commercial airlines for 2/5 of the trip, and flying in uniform (which we never did on commercial airlines in Europe).
The entire way home, I felt like I was being treated like a rock star. Which, I’ll be honest, made me a bit uncomfortable. I am so very not-used to that. I am a staff guy, a solver a problems — not some hardened killer. So, the rock star treatment was a bit humbling — why would anyone treat me like this?
When we got to Atlanta, we left behind out chartered flight and entered commercial, domestic flight channels. I flew Delta from Atlanta to LA, and they treated us very well, but I think I need to tell you about flying American, for two reasons:
1. A ton of military personnel on R&R transit Atlanta. It is one of two main places where folks on R&R transit, before being injected into domestic commercial flights. The airlines there see us all the time, and yes, they do treat us all very well. Not so, in LA.
2. Holy cow, the treatment in LA was incredible.
My bags were checked all the way through to HI. So, when I landed in LA, I just needed to find an American counter in order to get a new boarding pass. I made by way out of security and to the American counters, but before I had a chance to get a line, I was accosted by an American employee, asking me where I was headed. She came out of nowhere, swooping down on me like a falcon, but with nothing but smiles and happiness. She looked at the counters there, and the long lines, and told me that this wouldn’t do; I needed to go down the terminal, to the red ropes, and see the American staff there. We do this for all the soldiers, she says.
And that staff, I was surprised to see, was the Business Class staff. Who was already helping two other R&R soldiers. No waiting, no lines. “I see that they have you in a middle seat. We know that they ticket you guys so late. Where would you like to sit?” the lady asked me. “A window seat would be nice,” I replied. “Is the flight full?” I asked. “Oh, yes. Very full.”
Great. Someone else is moving to the middle seat, and I am moving to a window. Seriously?
I head over to the entrance to the security checkpoint — a staircase headed upstairs, where the lines for TSA wrap all over the place. There were three others — two soldiers and one Army civilian — just arriving at the ticketing place, but I intercept them and direct them to Business Class. I get to the stairs, and the two controlling access in stop me — the line is kind of long, so I should go over there, to where 1st Class checks in. Where they’d already sent the two guys in front of me, where I tell the three behind me to go, too.
Once there, the TSA lady asks us if we’re wearing standard issue boots, or steel toed boots. Standard, we say. “Just leave them on” she says. How can I argue with that?
I find my gate, and then wander around some, looking for a semi-healthy snack. Until I hear my name called over the PA, and I report to the gate as instructed. “Just need to issue you a new boarding pass,” she says. Yes, First Class. And she pointed me in the direction of the Admiral’s Lounge (or whatever it’s called), so I could get a snack and some cold juice.
My flight to Honolulu had just two R&R soldiers on it, and we were both in First Class. And waited on, hand and foot. I was asleep when the came to ask about meals, so they saved me one of the salmon meals. My ice cream sundae seemed rather large, compared to the others. I was never without a full class, or a warm towel for my hands — part of that is, I’m sure, flying First Class, but part of it was being under the watchful eye of the two stewardesses for First Class.
In Honolulu, I did not wait for my bag – they brought it out separately. The other soldier had just his carry-on bag.
So, yeah. Rock star. I can’t see this being systematic treatment of soldiers and / or folks on R&R as if they are rock stars. I think it’s treatment at a number of levels, from individuals just being nice, to someone putting something into the computer (which I am convinced is what got me the first class upgrade). Top to bottom, it was fantastic treatment.
Thank you, airlines. Thank you, other passengers. Thank you, for making me feel appreciated and loved. It was pretty cool.