Why You Should Fly SpaceA with the Military

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Why You Should Fly SpaceA

SpaceA travel gets you where you want to go for free or next to nothing. You can surf online for the best fares. Check out the local travel agencies. Or you can head over to the Passenger Terminal at many of the US Military Installations. See if there is an Available Space flight going to or near your desired destination. Space Available travel is a privilege (not an entitlement). It’s available to uniformed service members and their dependents. Here are the Basics of SpaceA travel.

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  1. The benefits of flying SpaceA
  2. There is no guarantee
  3. Have a Backup Plan
  4. More Time Than Money
  5. Timing is Key
  6. Command Sponsorship Letter
  7. Explanation of Categories
  8. How to Register
  9. SpaceA Destinations
  10. Major Hubs
  11. Seven Tips You Need to Know

Why You Should Fly SpaceA

Space Available or military hops free or deeply discount airfare for uniformed service members and their dependents. Eligible passengers can fill unused seats on DoD-owned or controlled aircraft. If and only if all the space-required (duty) passengers and cargo are accommodated. The majority of SpaceA flights are offered by the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC). And SpaceA seats are ordinarily free. There is a tax for AMC’s Patriot Express flights.

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For more information, go to http://www.amc.af.mil/Home/AMC-Travel-Site/ Air Mobility Command.


SpaceA is not Guaranteed

SpaceA should not be your first choice if you absolutely, positively have to be somewhere overnight. There is no guaranteed movement in the time frame desired. However, the primary purpose of military aircraft is to perform military missions, not to chauffeur you around. It depends on who you ask about SpaceA. You’ll either hear the good, the bad, and the ugly about military hops.

I spent more than a week in a hotel traveling back and forth to the terminals at McGuire and BWI. We were vying for 3 seats on several planes with 75 available seats and more than 200 bodies to fill them. In the end, I spent about $4500 on last-minute plane tickets, hotels, food, and a rental car says Amber Franciso.

Have a Backup Plan

Don’t dwell on it, but give some thought on a backup plan. You’ll also need one if the flight ends up going somewhere you hadn’t planned. Your plane may not end up going to your target destination or gets canceled. It was an expensive lesson to learn for Mrs. Franciso. She was grateful she had planned for the worse.

I can’t stress how important it is to have a backup plan. There were families there who didn’t have extra money. They had to sleep in the terminal because they didn’t think this could happen to them, she added. 

More Time Than Money

Nevertheless, if you’re like most, you have more time than money. Then SpaceA travel might be right for you. However, it’s a great way to see the world. But think of it as the proverbial “slow boat to China” rather than the Concorde.

Passengers on emergency leave and uniformed service members on orders must be on holiday or pass status to register for Available Space-A travel. They must remain on leave or pass status while awaiting travel. And be on leave or pass status the entire period of travel. However, passengers on emergency leave and uniformed service members on orders also have priority on all flights. So the following information only loosely applies to them.

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Timing is Everything

For everyone else, traveling SpaceA is all about timing, flexibility, destination, and your assigned category. Travelers are assigned a category (see below) at the time of travel. Passengers compete for seats within that category based on the date and time of registration.

Travelers may stand-by for any available flight to all the destinations to which they signed up. Signup in Ramstein for the US guarantees you access to any flight going to the United States. However, if you decide to fly to Italy, you will be assigned a new signup date. That may affect how fast you travel.

The Command Sponsorship Letter

Begin by acquiring a Command Sponsorship letter from your military spouse’s Company Commander. The letter is valid for one round trip and gives you the authority to travel on military aircraft, outlines your travel specifications, and, most importantly, dictates which category you’ll belong to.
The following documents are required for all parties traveling:

1. Military ID cards
2. Passports
3. Social security numbers
4. Emergency Contact Information at the final destination

A Brief Explanation of SpaceA Categories

1. Category I – Emergency Leave
2. Category II – Environmental Morale Leave
3. Category IIIa – Ordinary Leave (or traveling with family)
4. Category IIIb – Unaccompanied dependents of the deployed Service member (<365)
5. Category IV – Unaccompanied dependents of the deployed Service member (>365)
6. Category V – Military dependent (non-deployed Spouse)
7. Category VI – Retirees, Reservists In SpaceA terms, your “category” of travel is your priority.

The numerical order of SpaceAvailable categories indicates the precedence of movement between groups. For example, travelers in Category III travel before travelers in Category IV. For a more detailed list, consult the Passenger Service Desk (PSA) or the official Terminal website.


How to Register for SpaceA

You can register at each Passenger Terminal via email, fax, or online. Or you can visit the website www.takeahop.org to register for five departure airports. You can also choose up to five countries at the same time. Travelers remain on the registry for 60 days or the duration of their leave orders or authorization, whichever occurs first.

Note, you are not signing up for a particular flight. You sign up for the opportunity to fly. When the PSA receives your signup request, they assign you a date/time. Your signup time determines your position/priority within each SpaceA Category.

SpaceA Destinations

Several destinations are harder to reach via SpaceA. Flights to the States, Germany, and Italy are frequent, but if you are trying to go to South America or Australia, you may have a longer wait.

SpaceA flights take off daily from Mildenhall, UK, Ramstein and Spangdahlem, Germany, and Aviano, Italy. You may have to visit several terminals in your pursuit of a SpaceA seat.

Holly Ruth, from Baumholder, Germany, started at Ramstein but ended up flying out of Spangdahlem. On the return trip, she spent three days in Charleston, SC, and three days in Dover, DE, before flying out of McGuire, NJ, on the second day.


Major Hubs For SpaceA Travel

Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon. BWI has many scheduled flights; however, it is also a significant hub and not only attracts flyers from up and down the east coast, but also passengers looking to connect to West coast destinations as well.

Dover, DE, McGuire, NJ, and Andrews AFB in MD, Norfolk, VA, and Charlotte, NC, are all within a few hours of each other. You can register for as many of them as possible to find a flight.


What You Need to Know About SpaceA Travel

Tip #1

Space Available (SpaceA) travelers should avoid travel dates around major holidays like Independence Day and Christmas, if possible. Summer and school closings are also very popular for obvious reasons. If you are traveling, expect delays and plan to travel a few weeks before and after to avoid heavy traffic.

I spent 4 weeks of my kids summer vacation between Ramstein and Spangdahlem, said Erica Gouty. I will never travel SpaceA without my husband in the summer again unless it’s unavoidable.

Erica never got out.

Tip #2

For detailed flight information, please contact the specific SpaceA Gateways. Most Terminals have recorded flight schedule, and you should monitor their recording (flight departures) to get a feel for possible destinations. The time given is “showtime” and not flight time.

Before 9/11, it was common to get SpaceA information over the phone or on the Web. Information regarding Commercial flights at BWI is usually the only information available over the phone. All other trips are via military aircraft and are not open to the general public and never more than three days before the flight’s departure.

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At the Terminal

Once you arrive at the terminal, take all documents to the Passenger Service Desk to sign in. Make sure to show up before roll call.

Roll call for SpaceA flights occurs just before boarding and will determine who gets a seat on that particular flight. Late passengers get rescheduled to the end of their initially assigned category. The same penalty occurs if you are on-time and leave the terminal B.

Tip #3

Make sure your car is legally parked in long-term parking, you have all your luggage, and you return your rental, if appropriate. This is considered “travel-ready,” and if you fail to comply, you will not be manifested (allowed to travel).

SpaceA seats are typically identified as early as 2-3 hours and as late as 30 minutes before departure and are subject to constant change. Each terminal maintains a SpaceA register (organized alphabetically, by priority, and the date and time of registration for travel) that is updated daily.

Flight Information

All flight information can be found on overhead monitors. It will include a call number, destinations, aircraft type, and the number of seats available. Terminals are equipped, more or less, like their civilian counterparts. Lounges with large-screen TVs and play areas often include bouncy houses or jungle gyms. Terminals may also have free WI-FI, food kiosks, or franchises like Subway. There is a USO office in most terminals. You may get access to the Internet, phone cards, coffee, etc. Information changes quickly, so you should be ready to react rapidly.

SpaceA For the Long Haul

Bring snacks, plenty of reading material, electronic devices, etc. You’ll need them for the flight and the waiting period in the terminal. While terminal personnel is generally very courteous and professional, they are often short on details. Finally, stay calm. Just to let you know, force protection has become a critical concern. And it often governs what information is made available. Remember, the mission of any flight takes a higher priority than accommodating Space-A travelers.

Tip #4

Also, passengers are never allowed on SpaceA flights containing weaponry or a fallen soldier. So occasionally, a flight will come into the terminal with a certain number of seats until its cargo is determined.

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On a SpaceA Plane

Great. You made it onto the plane. And you are likely aware of the minimalist conditions on most SpaceA flights. If you are traveling with your family, make sure they know what to expect. Sometimes the seating can best be described as “unique.” It can be anything from fold-down jump seats to your standard airline seat bolted to the floor.

Be prepared for the flight to be extra hot or cold, sometimes both. Always bring a jacket/ blanket for each passenger, no matter what the current weather. Due to the lack of insulation and other creature comforts, the airplane can get pretty cold,

Bathrooms only offer the bare necessities which don’t typically include running water. However, sanitized wipes are readily available. Similarly, different rules apply based on the aircraft type you are flying on.

Tip #5

Unlike other airlines, do not wear open-toed or high-heeled shoes on military aircraft like C5s or C17s. And obviously, this is for your safety. Military aircraft don’t have a lot of creature comforts. Baggage limits also vary too. Please don’t worry about overpack. Sleeping bags and blow-up mattresses are common carry-ons. You can stretch out once you reach cruising altitude.

Tip #6

You can charge your laptop or iPod in the electrical outlets along the cabin walls. My oldest son even flew back to Germany, swinging in a hammock strung up between connex containers.

Tip #7

Bring your food or purchase box lunches for about $4. Each meal contains a sandwich, chips, soda/ juice, water, a candy bar, and condiments.

AMC also contracts charters with commercial carriers. It is an economical and efficient way of moving large numbers of personnel where they need to go. Chartered flights are the only flights that require a small head tax. The tax ranges from $15-30 per person per leg. These flights have everyday conveniences such as in-flight movies and complimentary hot meals and snacks.

Baggage

Each passenger may check two pieces of checked baggage. And each bag can weigh up to 70 pounds each and 62 linear inches in size. Additionally, family members may pool their baggage allowances. Finally, hand-carried baggage must fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment, if available.

Your allowed baggage weight depends on the type of aircraft as well as other restrictions. To be a successful SpaceA traveler, you have to relax and be patient. If you cannot do that, you should reconsider your decision to fly SpaceA. Think of the whole thing as an adventure. Be open to changes in your itinerary. Your attitude and a bit of luck will make all the difference!

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Comments

  1. Elizabeth O

    Aren’t these only open to military personnel? They can be a way to get around if one has time to spare.

  2. Eloisa Saunders

    I intend to fly space A out of Osan to Singapore, Japan and Hawaii over the next year. I got a lot of time and flexibility; so I figured– why not?

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yup, its a great option to see the world on a discount. It frees up mo new to spend on other things like great food and wine, hotels and activities.

  3. Katina Davenport

    I learn something new everyday. And today I learned about taking a flight on a military plane. I didn’t even know there was such an option. The plane looks intimidating and exciting.

  4. Sondra Barker

    You always learn something new every day. This is a such a great option for travel as it is cost effective and safe! (of course, if you qualify) Great article, it was very informative!

  5. Mariana Abeid-McDougall

    Interesting stuff! I didn’t know you could fly on military flights on non-service business. I don’t believe we have this in Canada; though I could be wrong. When I was in the Navy, they flew us through commercial airlines.

    I think your post will help lots of service members and their families; thanks for sharing such a detailed account.

  6. Shannon

    My husband was in the Navy for 6 years and while we wanted to use Space A flights, there wasn’t enough information for us to be able to actually do it. This post is very informational and will help a lot of military members and their families. Thanks!

  7. Brittney

    This is great info! I always wondered how it was to hop a military flight. Sounds like an adventure. Thanks for sharing!

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