There’s this perk to military life, known as Space Available Travel. The military runs planes all over the world, all the time. Sometimes those planes aren’t full. The Department of Defense allows Service Members, Retirees, and dependents to travel on these planes when space is available and the mission allows.
I’ve flown Space A numerous times with both of our children. The most recent trip was just a few weeks ago, and we’re actually getting ready to do it all again. This time, we’re traveling in the middle of summer and PCS* season, so I’m already expecting a
nightmare grand adventure.
Space A is not for the faint of heart, the impatient, or those on a tight schedule, but if you have a little time on your hands and don’t mind sitting around waiting for hours or days, it’s doable. Some might call it fun and thrilling. Some call it exhausting, but so worth it.
It is a privilege. One that can be revoked. One that is full of risks and waiting. One that doesn’t always guarantee results…
How do I sign up? Where can I get more information?:
I use the following websites for all my Space A research and planning:
AMC Passenger Terminal Locations
For OPSEC* purposes, the terminals can only give out flight times for 24-72 hours in advance, but will sometimes give you an idea of what their usual flight plans are. Make lots of phone calls and ask lots of questions.
Your sign up is good with the terminal for up to 60 days or until your sponsor’s leave is over, whichever may come first. Sign up as soon as possible, because your sign up date is your place in line when competing for flights. For example, if you’re CAT III and you sign up on 1 June, you’ll be ahead of someone who is also CAT III but signed up on 3 June.
What is a category? How do I know what category I am?:
When flying Space A, there are five categories. The categories are used to prioritize the list of people wanting to make a flight manifest.
What paperwork, if any, will I need?:
You’ll need your military ID and passport (if traveling overseas.) If you’re traveling with your sponsor while he’s on leave, make sure to have several copies of his leave papers on hand at all times. If you’re traveling unaccompanied, you’ll need a Space A letter (along with several copies) from his command.
What fees are involved? How much will it cost?:
The three of us have flown for as little as $8.50 and as much as $87. It depends on whether or not you’re paying for meals, or what other fees the flight might have. For instance, we paid $87 when we flew on a Patriotic Express flight, which is a government contracted commercial flight.
If you get stuck somewhere overnight, you’re responsible for lodging and food. Be prepared with cash. Be prepared to buy commercial tickets or rent a car if you’re running out of time.
What do I need to pack? Can I check bags?:
Yes, you can check bags. The rules might vary for each individual flight or terminal, so be sure to ask. On our last flight, we were allowed to check 50lbs. each, I believe. In our carry ons, I bring healthy snacks, empty camelback water bottles, a laptop with dvds, and each child gets their special backpack with special new toys. Hoodies, extra socks, and a blanket for each person also go on the plane with us. Remember these are military planes. C-17s are cold and loud. C-5s tend to be warmer, but are still a little loud.
What if I’m really confused and a little scared about the whole process?:
I was, too, the first time I did it… until I did it. You have to physically go through the steps to fully understand how the system works. Remind family and friends that there is no guaranteed flight schedule. Be patient and let the system work.
I’ve only skimmed the surface here. There are rules about where you can travel within the different categories. As a CAT III, the boys and I can travel to the U.S. and then anywhere within the U.S. But when we were CAT V, we could only travel to the U.S.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments or email me, greenenough4me at gmail (dot) com. I am not an expert; I do not have the system entirely figured out myself, but I will do my best to guide you in the right direction.
If you’re eligible for Space A and haven’t taken advantage of this system yet, I encourage you to do so.
We’ve had wonderful experiences and crazy adventures while flying Space A and have always walked away thankful for the opportunity.
*PCS: permanent change of station
*OPSEC: operational security