CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
Rotator [ˈroʊˌteɪtɚ-] – Noun. A military contracted flight bringing service members and their families to foreign locations with regularity. AKA: Freedom Bird; Patriot Express.
The Department of Defense prefers to bring service members and their dependents on these flights, rather than independent commercial flights and this will often be the way most of us PCS to Germany or back to the States. There are multiple rotator flights from Baltimore (BWI airport) to Ramstein weekly. Times, flights, and some conditions change, but here is our experience to give you a little head’s up.
We had chosen to arrive in Baltimore a day early to break up our travel and give us a little chance to explore the area. We stayed the night at the Four Points by Sheraton on the airport grounds. We wore ourselves out the day of the flight by walking all over the National Mall in Washington DC. It seemed like a fitting way to spend some of our last hours in the USA.
We arrived at the airport at 1830, which was our stated check-in time on our SATO-generated itinerary. There is a Air Mobility Command (AMC) check-in counter in the international concourse (Concourse E). The line to the counter was kind of long, but we were able to move through without too much wait.
You will need to have your no-fee passport with dependent ID (dependents) or CAC (active duty on orders). We were also asked to see a copy of our orders. At the beginning of the line they asked for our body weight, which I always find odd since they don’t do that for a commercial flight.
For luggage, each passenger is allowed two checked bags weighing 70 pounds or less. The carry-on luggage is the same as on any other commercial flight: a carry-on sized piece of luggage and a smaller bag such as a purse.
After check in we had about five hours before our plane would take off. That’s a lot of time to kill! Our first stop was the USO table, which was located near the check-in counter. They had small care packages there and directed us to the USO room. It is downstairs, between concourse E and D.
I love the USO! Every one I have been to has been kind and hospitable. The volunteers go out of their way to help service families. The BWI USO is at the top of the list. Did you know their Operation Welcome Home has been there to greet more than 180,000 service members returning home from overseas tours?
The USO facility at BWI has a greeting area, free food, a TV and reading area, a sleeping area, free WiFi, computers for use and even a children’s book exchange! We spent the majority of our wait time here and took advantage of their WiFi and also recharged some of our electronics.
When the USO closed at 2200 we slowly worked our way over to security. Be forewarned, once you get through this security the only shops that were open were a Hudson News and a Duty Free Store. If you are looking for a warm meal or something with more substance than snacks, get it before you go through this security gate.
Our gate was not hard to find: follow the uniforms and more families with small children than you’d find on your average international flight. Once you are there, all you have to do is wait.
Boarding call first started with high ranking military and civilians, followed by families with children. For families, they even broke it into sections on the plane. This was followed by everyone without small children in their sections.
Somehow we lucked out and were seated in economy plus seating on our 747 plane! We were served a meal and a snack on our seven hour flight straight to Ramstein. Mostly, we just slept and the flight went very fast.
Upon arriving at Ramstein, we first went through customs. Again we needed no-fee passports with dependent ID (dependents) or CAC (active duty on orders) along with orders. My passport was stamped and then we could pick up our luggage and meet our sponsor. One great thing about the set up for the AMC terminal on Ramstein is that the main check-in for on-base lodging is directly across the street from the terminal.
Our final destination was Ramstein, but this rotator serves all services who are PCSing in and out of Germany and it is possible that you will fly into Ramstein even if you will be stationed on another base. If that is the case, you will have transportation to your base from the terminal. Speak to your sponsor about this process before you come. The plane also went on to other destinations with some passengers continuing to other locations.
Pets are allowed on the rotator, and if you can get your pet booked on this flight it is considerably cheaper than some other options. Your TMO office should be able to help you with your ‘PCSing with pets’ questions.
Space A is also allowed on the rotators and can be a cost effective way of getting back and forth from the USA to Germany. Some of the best new tools for navigating the ways of Space A hops are the facebook pages for individual terminals. Look up the Ramstein Passenger Terminal for current flights and further directions.
Further information: Ramstein AB Passenger Terminal Patriot Express
Phone: DSN: (314) 479-4440,
Comm. from Germany: 06371-46-4440,
Comm. from USA: 011-49-6371-46-4440
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: BWI USO pictures were republished from their website, with permission