721 APS maintains flight excellence during COVID-19

Passengers depart from an aircraft in the Ramstein Passenger Terminal at Ramstein Air Base, Dec. 9, 2020. As part of COVID-19 guidelines, all visitors are required to wear face coverings.

With flight times, delays, and seating arrangements, travel by plane can be a monumental task to manage on its own. Add a global pandemic and one may just burst under the strain.

Fortunately, the Airmen of the 721st Aerial Port Squadron are here to help.

Since March, members of the 721st APS have worked tirelessly at the Ramstein Passenger Terminal to make sure the mission continues, and that their patrons and employees are kept safe from exposure to COVID-19.

The initial experience of COVID-19 at the terminal was described as “very fluid,” according to Tech. Sgt. Brandon Mabee, 721st APS non-commissioned officer in charge of passenger services.

“As we get information and implement a process, something else happens and it changes,” Mabee said. “Anything that we were doing today could be different by the end of the day.”

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christie Perry, 721st Aerial Port Squadron ramp services specialist, screens Staff Sgt. Domingo Gutierrez, 721st APS passenger services supervisor, at Ramstein Air Base, Dec. 9, 2020.

Managing the COVID-19 guidelines of various countries was a steep challenge for the terminal because different countries had different requirements for border entry. Coordinating those requirements with the Department of Defense’s stop movement order and host nation guidance made for a difficult but rewarding challenge for Mabee.

“Having to work out everything on the fly was crazy because this was a real-life scenario, making me as an NCO think logically about how I could solve the problem without infecting or cross-contaminating people,” Mabee said. “It was stressful but fun.”

Despite the lifting of the stop movement in May, Mabee emphasized that many of its rules are still in effect with space available travel limited to travelers with emergency leave or exceptions to policy.

The terminal also established new rules as the pandemic progressed. Tape was placed in queues to mark social distancing guides and hand sanitizer stations were installed. Patrons must wear face coverings and undergo a brief screening process before entering the building.

Ramstein Passenger Terminal patrons wait to be called to the check-in desk at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Dec. 9, 2020. As part of COVID-19 guidelines, black-and-yellow striped tape was established in queues to mark social distancing guides. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater)

“Please be ready to wear your (face covering) from the moment you enter this terminal all the way until you leave the building at your destination,” Mabee said. “There have been a few cases where people caused issues, and they could have been removed from their flight and placed on a no-fly list for a period of time.”

As important measures were taken to increase passenger safety, the terminal also helped ensure the health of their employees. Airmen from the 721st APS split into minimal manning shifts to mitigate exposure. In addition, night shift Airmen sanitize the terminal every night to keep people safe.

“It’s been a learning process for us,” Mabee said.

What makes Staff Sgt. Domingo Gutierrez’s, 721st APS passenger services supervisor, job enjoyable despite the challenge is guiding his Airmen through COVID-19 and showing them how important their position is.

“A lot of people go throughout their day and think, ‘Oh I’m just signing up passengers,’” Gutierrez said. “But then they see life come into someone’s eyes when they learn they can get on their flight and see their family members in critical care,” Gutierrez said. “These are real-life struggles and this is how you impact the mission.”

Mabee saw a silver lining in witnessing various units come together to combat the COVID-19 crisis.

“(We recognized), ‘Okay, this sucks, but we’re going to get through it,’” Mabee said.

Overall, Gutierrez shared some crucial advice for future patrons: show up early, check your flight numbers and make sure your pet is booked correctly.

“Most of us own pets,” Mabee said. “We couldn’t imagine being told we can’t get on a plane with them.”

For more information on flights, pet travel and other situations the Ramstein Passenger Terminal can be reached at DSN 479-4411 and commercially at 06371-46-4441. The latest information on flight departures can also be found on the Ramstein Passenger Terminal Facebook page.