A beginner’s guide to Bagram PAX terminal
Catching a plane at Bagram? This might save you some sweat and gnashing of teeth
PAX is just short for passengers, so your beginning point in catching a plane from Bagram is to look for this piece of abbreviation.
The night before your flight, go to the PAX terminal around 1700 and, if you’re extremely paranoid like me, at 2300, when they get the final manifest to check if a) your flight’s still running and b) you’re on the manifest. Don’t be surprised if a) they tell you your flight never existed or b) you don’t exist. Unless they specifically say it’s cancelled, it might still be running. Even if it is cancelled, still turn up the next day. This is Bagram. Nothing makes sense.
Bagram show time is three hours before flight. Turn up on time for this. Bagram is an extremely confusing place and you’ll need the time. Plus, after you’ve checked in, you can leave if you need to grab something from the dining facility.
Go down ‘Echo Way’, off ‘Disney Drive’ (named after a soldier killed in action, but still…) and look for an entrance on your left that’ll lead to a tent full of bags on pallets. Go through this and left to the PAX entrance. It’s not immediately obvious.
There’s a multitude of desks with harassed looking people behind them. Always, always go up and check your flight. If it’s an ISAF flight, they’ll probably look mildly confused, but don’t be put off. ISAF flights do run from there. They should be able to check it, but if not, there’s an office to the right where they have details of all the flights. Listen amongst the staff for a European voice – they will know.
If it’s not an ISAF flight (i.e. the flight number doesn’t start with ‘ISAF’) and they say you can’t possibly be on it because you’re a civilian, not military, smile politely and ask them to check again as this is not true. The STOL flights (little white planes) take civilians and if your flight number is something like ‘DASH 17’, it’s probably a STOL flight.
If you’re not confirmed on the manifest, ask about ‘Space-A’ (space available). These are standby places for passengers if the flight’s not full. You’re supposed to sign up for them before the day of the flight, but you can sometimes slip on.
Stay by the counter smiling if things still aren’t going well. Don’t become fussed or angry. But if you remain in their consciousness and eyeline, there’s a chance they’ll find space to slip you on a flight.
If this fails, there’s always rotary (helicopters). Find out the number from the desk and call them on the phone on the wall to your left. Ask if there’s a helo going to your destination today. If they say no, then hitch a ride with someone (I just smile, stick out my thumb and look useless) to the rotary pax terminal (aka ‘Falcon terminal’). Go in there and ask about helo flights.
If they say no and you can get out to the flightline, then I have had success in the past by going up to someone with a clipboard and asking if they’ve any helos going to my destination before. Again, smile and look useless. Try also not to look heavy. Bear in mind that there are numerous flights going in and out of Bagram every day. There’s probably one to where you’re going. You just have to find it.
If all fails, go to the PAO office and ask about convoys to your destination.
Checked in? You’ve three hours to wait for your flight. People often go to the nearby Dragon DFAC (dining facility) and get a take-out box to eat in the waiting room. However, civilians aren’t officially allowed boxes, although I often just take one anyway. I usually turn up to my flight with snacks galore and entertainment. Why? Because announcements at Bagram are not very clear. I usually ask around until I find someone military who’s on my flight then watch them like a hawk. More often than not, I’ll be in the loo when a flightline bloke wearing headphones like Mickey Mouse ears will pimp roll through the gate drawling ‘fliiy aaty nain? Pa’atize yo bagz’. Palletising is American for put your bags on a wooden pallet for hold check-in.
Call for boarding will be just as quick and missable, so make sure you have a human landmark to watch.
When you’re lining up for the final check, make sure you say civilian with your name. It makes it much easier to find you for some reason.