‘All aboard for Patriot Express’: RAF Mildenhall to serve as gateway for PCS, pet transport

  • Published
  • By Staff Reports
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Starting Sept. 20, 2022, the Patriot Express flight, also known as the rotator, is scheduled to start flying into Royal Air Force Mildenhall for U.S. military and civilian members and their families permanently changing station to the United Kingdom. It will fly to and from Baltimore/Washington International only, and the first flight out of RAF Mildenhall, for those PCSing back to the States, is Sept. 21.

Mandatory for most PCS travel

Currently, all those PCSing to and from RAFs Mildenhall, Lakenheath, Feltwell, Alconbury and Molesworth must use the rotator, unless there is a mission impact statement justifying flying commercial. U.S. Air Force military and Department of Defense personnel stationed at other bases within the U.K. are not mandated to utilize the rotator, unless they wish to do so.

The Air Mobility Command rotator is a commercially contracted aircraft.

“The rotator will be for official and space-available travel, coming into and leaving the tri-base region of the United Kingdom,” said Capt. Cole Finnerty, 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron deployment and distribution flight commander. “This is a huge win for our Airmen and their families as it saves their personal time and money during an already daunting international transition. It has been an honor to lead this initiative for the tri-base region and it could not have been accomplished without the support of our host nation.”

Flying with pets

Flights will run twice a month – two inbound and two outbound – direct from Baltimore/Washington International Airport to RAF Mildenhall, and vice versa – and typically the outbound flight will be the day after the aircraft arrives at RAF Mildenhall. Those bringing pets must arrange their own travel from current duty station to BWI if allocated a pet spot on the rotator. The military member MUST be on the same rotator flight as their pet(s); no pet can fly on the rotator without the military member being present. If members cannot secure a pet spot on the rotator, this does justify members flying via commercial air.

Members can book flights without official orders. If Airmen/DoD civilians cannot secure a pet spot on the rotator, this does justify members flying via commercial air.

Facts and figures

The Patriot Express currently has a seating capacity for approximately 240 passengers, along with up to 10 in-cabin pet spaces, which must meet specific height and weight restrictions. Cats and dogs travelling in cabin must stay in their crate at all times, which will be located underneath the seat in front, and cannot be taken out at any time while on the aircraft or in the terminal. A maximum of up to 10 pets can be carried in the aircraft hold, depending on size on weight.

The maximum crate size for pets in-cabin is 20 inches long by 16 inches wide by 8.5 inches high, and it is highly recommended to utilize a soft sided carrier. For pets travelling in the aircraft hold, crate plus pet weight cannot exceed 150 pounds.

Per Defense Travel Regulation 4500.9-R, pet spaces are limited to two per family, specifically dogs and cats only, and are booked via members’ transportation movement office on a first come, first served basis. Those with more than two pets must ship the others commercial at their own expense, whether as cargo direct into Heathrow, or elsewhere in Europe.

Cost of flying to UK on rotator

“The Defense Travel Regulation states pet shipments are at the expense of the member, not on the Air Force. As it currently stands, military members will still come out of pocket when flying their pet(s) via the rotator, but at a cost significantly cheaper than flying them commercial,” said Finnerty. “The cost per pet will consist of two fees when coming into the UK: $125 to $375 for a rotator spot, depending on the size of each pet, plus approximately £300 (pounds) for a UK pet entry fee. Departing the UK back to the U.S. will only cost members the $125 to $375 rotator fee.”

Members who need to fly via commercial means will need a Mission Impact Statement, which is a memo that must be signed by the member’s squadron commander and submitted to RAF Mildenhall TMO. This memo will then be reviewed by RAF Mildenhall’s transportation officer to ensure its validity of impact to a unit’s mission.

Pet checks on arrival

RAF Mildenhall has paired with a UK pet certifier through the British government, based out of Cambridge, and their representatives will drive to meet each flight, specifically to check all pets have the correct documentation and meet all required criteria.

When flying into RAF Mildenhall on the rotator, pets still have to meet all legal requirements that they would for entering elsewhere within the UK. Border agents will also come to Mildenhall to ensure proper immigration procedures are conducted for each flight.

“We’ve worked with the Cambridge pet-checking company to establish a process where members will send their pet certification documents– directly to them, for an initial check to ensure the paperwork is correct before departing the U.S.,” explained Finnerty.

“In the instance that any pet does not have the required vaccinations, or does not meet all requirements for any reason, it will then be held at the passenger terminal where members will work with a pre-arranged quarantine facility to come and collect the pet. The quarantine agency will then keep it until all checks have been completed and approved,” the flight commander added. “That cost will be on the member to pay, which can be avoided if requirements are proactively worked and approved well in advance.”

Passenger and pet spaces are on a first come, first served basis on the rotator. To book a seat or a pet spot, military members must contact their local TMO office and can do so without having orders. Once members receive orders, they must be submitted to the TMO in order for any commercial travel before/after the rotator, to be booked for passengers. Anyone flying pets on the rotator must be on PCS orders.

Check-in early

Check-in time for AMC flights at Baltimore/Washington International airport is no later than two hours and 20 minutes prior to flight departure. Anyone checking in after this risks themselves and their pet not being able to board the flight. All pets must remain in their kennel or shipping container while in public or terminal areas.

Having the rotator eliminates the need for a pet shipping company within the UK, which will significantly lower costs. However, those needing to ship pets commercially direct to UK (for example if bringing more than two pets, or not able to travel on the rotator and having a Mission Impact Statement) will still need to use a pet shipping company and ship their pet as cargo.

“This is a flexible process and the first rotator in a long time, so things could change, but currently the process is that once the plane lands, members who have pets will remain on the aircraft while the rest of the passengers get off,” explained Finnerty. “Our pet checkers will then go in the cabin and begin checking pets – that’s because UK regulations state there must be two layers of containment, the cage being one and the plane being the second. Once the pets are checked – the main one being the microchip number against the one listed on the paperwork – then they will move on to check all the pets in the hold. After the checks are complete and approved, the pets will then be released to their owners.”

Finnerty added that having help from the sponsor is vital in ensuring everything runs smoothly and to help transport newly arrived military members, their families and pets to their accommodation.

Same rules apply as flying commercial

“We’re still abiding by all the UK rules, which can be found on the UK government website at www.gov.uk/bring-pet-to-great-britain. We’re doing exactly what our host nation requires, as well as utilizing our community partners to make Airmen and their family’s transition to and from the UK a little easier.” said Finnerty.

For more information, contact your local servicing TMO or the 100th LRS Passenger Travel Office at 100LRS.PAX@us.af.mil or DSN 238-2061/Commercial 01638 542061.