Space-A travel: The A is for attitude

Space-A travel: The A is for attitude

by Jeana Coleman
Stripes Europe

A privilege to Uniformed Forces personnel, their dependents, retirees, and others who support the mission, the Space-Available travel program may be a great option for seeing the world on a budget … if the timing is right. The program is nicknamed Space-A, and although that A is short for “available,” it could also mean “attitude.” Learning how to navigate the program with a positive attitude, plenty of leave and a back-up plan is key for a successful “hop.”

What is Space-A?

The Space-A program allows authorized passengers to occupy surplus DoD aircraft seats after all space-required duty passengers and cargo have been accommodated. Most Space-A flights are offered through the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) or the Navy and are usually free of charge, except for a small tax (usually under $30) charged per seat and per leg, when seats are on commercial, Patriot Express flights. Common destinations include the Continental U.S. states, Hawaii, Alaska, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Japan and South Korea. Flights may even go to South and Central America, Africa and Australia. The best time to obtain seats is when DODEA schools are in session.

Have a back-up plan.

Because this program is a privilege and not an entitlement, it is imperative to understand the circumstances may change due to mission mobility. Flying exactly where you want to go at the time or day you want to fly is not always possible. The first obligation of the AMC is to fill seats for military missions, therefore available seating fluctuates and could change at any time on any part of your destination. So, if you have a specific itinerary, event or obligation waiting for you at your destination or on your return, you may want to reconsider using Space-A for those travel plans. This program is designed for those who have enough available leave, time and flexibility to wait or change their schedule.

For example, it may be a breeze to sign up and get seats on the first flight, but when you try to return, you could wait several days for available space. Or, you could even be dropped off in another country to wait for a flight. Remaining calm, positive and being flexible will help. Sometimes travelers attempt to catch a hop at neighboring base terminals. For example, it is not uncommon to travel between Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases to attempt to get a seat. Or, travelers drive between terminals in Dover and Baltimore on a regular basis seeking seats. When flying Space-A, be ready for anything. Create a back-up plan and have available funds in case you need to make other travel arrangements and accommodations when space just isn’t available.

Who can fly Space-A? 

The program was created as a way to enhance the lives of Uniformed Services duty personnel by creating an avenue of respite; recognize the careers of Veterans who have served; and extend a privilege to other categories of passengers such as dependents of Uniformed Services personnel, Red Cross and USO personnel who also support the mission. Passengers may not use the flights for personal gain, in relationship to employment, to find a house or for other prohibited activities. 

Qualified travelers of Space-A travel need to be sure they have completed the proper procedures to ready for travel and also have the required documentation. For instance, active duty must be on leave before they can register for travel. Dependents of active duty flying unaccompanied need an Unaccompanied Command Sponsorship from his or her spouse’s commander. The letter is valid for one round trip travel via military aircraft, describes the reason for travel and the category of passenger travel. The following are also mandatory for travel: military ID cards, passports, social security numbers and emergency contact information at the final destination.

How do you register? 

You may register in person at each Space-A passenger terminal at either the helpdesk, or through self-help kiosks. You may also register through email, fax or online, for up to five departure airports and five countries of destination. The website offers a free service to help you register for five departure airports as well as five countries at the same time. Recently, the site rolled out both a Take-A-Hop iPhone and Android app for smartphone users. For a few dollars, you have instant access to all Space-A terminal contacts, flight information and the ability to quickly sign up for up to five flights through your phone. You can also monitor available activity at the terminals through the app to save you time and keep you mobile. 

Once registered, your information remains active for either 60 days, or for the duration of your leave orders or authorization of flight, whichever occurs first. Print a copy of your registration to keep on hand at the terminal. The time and date stamp of your registration determines your position and priority within your Space-A category. 

Each passenger is assigned a passenger category for travel. These categories designate the order by which you may be boarded on Space-A flights. The following list is generalized. For a detailed list, please see the Space-A handbook link mentioned above:

  • Category I – Emergency travel on a round-trip basis in connection with serious illness, death, or impending death of a member of the immediate family.
  • Category II – Environmental Morale Leave (EML) and dependents
  • Category III – Active duty ordinary Leave and dependents; convalescent leave; permissive TDYs; Unaccompanied dependent of deployed Servicemember for more than a year.
  • Category IV - Unaccompanied dependent of deployed Servicemember on EML status
  • Category V – Unaccompanied military dependent of non-deployed Servicemember
  • Category VI – Retirees, Reservists

Baggage requirements 

Passengers may check two pieces of checked baggage, 70 pounds each, up to 62 linear inches in size. You and your family can pool your baggage allowances as well. Carry-ons must fit in overhead bins if they’re available on the type of flight) or under your seat. Hand-carried baggage must fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment, if available. As always, it is best to travel light because due to aircraft or other restrictions, baggage weight could be restricted for your flight. 

Getting a Space-A flight 

Decide which terminal you think would be the best chance for Space-A departure and head out. It helps to phone the terminals that you requested for departure and monitor their recent departure schedules. For OPSEC reasons, Space-A flight schedules were removed from many online resources. However, terminals usually record a short-term flight schedule, and information is slowly being released by electronic means again. Check with Facebook for your favorite Space-A terminals. Some terminals are creating fan pages to improve accessibility and help travelers plan their travel. 

Available seats are now identified as early as five hours and as late as two hours prior to departure. Being at the terminal early for a flight will help you vie for seats. As soon as you physically arrive at the terminal, visit the passenger desk to be sure you are indeed registered with the correct date, time of registration and number of seats. Use your previous printed email or documentation to help correct any discrepancies. Then, let the desk personnel know you are interested in available flights. Be “travel-ready” with the proper luggage, any dependents and paperwork, your car parked or rental returned, etc.

It’s show-time for the roll call

You now wait for the “show-time” of the particular flight you’d like to be selected (manifested) for, as well as the upcoming flight’s “roll call” of names of those who are designated for the flight’s Space-A seating. Based on the priority of your assigned category, the day and time that you signed up to travel and number of available seats, hopefully your name makes the roll call. Remember, be travel-ready. If your name is called and you are not physically present to hear the roll call and manifested (readied for flight and allowed to travel), your name will be put at the bottom of your category list, and may not make that flight.

Space-A parting tips

A hop flight could be either on a military plane or commercial airline. If you travel on a military plane, be aware that accommodations and services are different, from fold-down jump seats along the wall, cargo in front of you and a plane that is either pretty warm or cool, depending on the time of year of travel and location. Open-toed or open-heeled shoes should not be worn on military planes. So wear appropriate footwear, bring jackets, blankets, snacks, bottled water and things to keep you busy, like books, games or electronic devices. Available plugs for charging are along the walls. Remember to stay flexible. Travel during off-peak seasons (stay away from summer break and major holidays) and keep a positive attitude about this great privilege. If you look at the program as an opportunity to a new adventure, plan accordingly and have a back-up plan, you are sure to have a great time, wherever you land.

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