Update: On April 22, 2022, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense lifted all restrictions on Space-A travel. The restrictions had been in place since March 2020 to limit the spread of Covid-19. Please note that mask mandates and medical screening protocols may apply.
Space-available (Space-A) travel has evolved with the times. At one time, service members had to physically report to the military terminal or fax copies of orders and other paperwork to sign up. Today, you can sign up by email, and you can check your status by contacting the passenger terminal.
Flight schedules are commonly posted on the official Facebook pages of each AMC Passenger Terminal. Travelers who wish to fly Space-A must check in at the passenger terminal and participate in a roll call for their chosen flight.
The roll call includes selecting Space-A passengers by category (see below), then by the date and time of signup. Travelers using Space-A travel for emergency leave and environmental morale leave have the highest Space-A priority.
Factors Affecting Space-A Travel
Several things can affect your Space-A travel. If you have flexibility in your travel schedule and are going to a common military aircraft destination, such as Japan or Germany, your chances of a successful trip are higher than if you are traveling to a less common destination.
Even if you are headed to a country with plenty of flights, it’s best to determine how far away the airport is from your final destination. For example, let’s say you are trying to get to Berlin. If there are only Space-A flights that get you as far as Spangdahlem or Ramstein, you will still have to travel some 700 kilometers to your final destination. If that is an important factor, plan accordingly. Some need to get to a specific city, others just want to arrive in-country and let the trip take them wherever it leads.
Space-A Peak Travel Times
Yes, there are peak periods for Space-A travel, especially around the traditional family holidays. Military dependents can also travel Space-A, and you’ll want to take note of that when traveling overseas.
Department of Defense Dependent Schools, located overseas, have summer holidays and other vacation times for students. Many Space-A flights during their spring break and summer vacation time get more crowded with military spouses and dependents taking holidays away from the military bases they are stationed at.
Space-A Travel Considerations
The more complicated your trip is, the harder it may be to successfully use Space-A. For example, if you need more than two seats, Space-A becomes harder to navigate. For multiple travelers, it may be wise to limit your Space-A use to one destination rather than taking a chance on getting stranded halfway between Point A and Point B because of a lack of seats for your entire party.
How much Space-A “seniority” do you have? If you signed up for travel five minutes before the next flight out, you stand a good chance of getting bumped, depending on circumstances. But if you have been in the system for a while, your chances at an open seat get better as time goes by.
If you can travel light, your range of aircraft options increases. Some flights may have bag restrictions, while others may not. Under 30 pounds of luggage is ideal for maximum flexibility.
Passenger Terminal Issues
It is never safe to assume that 24-hour operations are available at military passenger terminals around the world. Your Space-A travel may require an overnight stay between destinations, depending on circumstances. Be prepared to sleep somewhere away from the terminal, since some facilities may not allow overnight stays or sleeping in the terminal area.
When traveling Space-A overseas, you will need to carry your military ID, passport and any other required paperwork showing your status as a military member or military dependent protected under the Status of Forces Agreement made between that country and the United States. This is crucial, even if you are flying back from an overseas installation to the U.S. You may be required to utilize off-base facilities, hotels, transportation, etc.
You may not be allowed to park your vehicle for an extended period at the terminal you depart from. There may also be a time restriction on how long you can leave a vehicle parked at the military air terminal.
Things to Remember About Space-A Flights
Space-available travel is exactly what the name implies. Getting your seat on the aircraft is dependent on whether or not the flight crew needs that seat for mission-related purposes. It’s possible to get bumped off a Space-A flight due to mission requirements, but other factors can alter your journey. You should keep the following factors in mind and plan accordingly.
Changes to the Mission
Here’s a fictitious example of how mission requirements and changes can affect your travel. An aircrew headed from Joint Base San Antonio to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii releases 10 seats for Space-A travelers 72 hours ahead of time, and Space-A sign-ups for this flight begin immediately.
But 24 hours before the scheduled departure time, the mission changes to include a medical evacuation to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The medivac requires six seats, leaving only four Space-A options. If 20 people signed up for Space-A travel on this mission, only the first four signups in the system would be considered for this flight.
A Space-A flight from Japan to the U.S. with 25 seats gets canceled because of heavy snow, leaving the Space-A travelers stranded until conditions are suitable for flying any aircraft in the area.
Mechanical problems can also cause delays. In this final example, aircraft maintenance creates a 15-hour delay in a Space-A flight while the aircraft is repaired and declared fit to fly once more. While it’s true that in such cases, Space-A travelers can sign up for another outbound flight, the option isn’t always available, depending on destination, traveler needs or mission requirements.
When you fly Space-A, you must always be prepared to adapt to changes in the mission.
Other Facts About Space-A Travel
Some Space-A travel is similar to flying in a commercial aircraft (with a few military adjustments). If, for example, you can catch the Space-A rotator to Ramstein in Germany from BWI Airport in Maryland, you will be provided with in-flight meals and beverages, just like flying commercial.
Other Space-A travel can offer harsh conditions, such as jump seats or other minimal passenger accommodations. Your flight may be colder than commercial travel. It’s important to plan ahead and bring bottled water to stay hydrated, as well as snacks and warm clothing.
Depending on the mission, time of year and other factors, you may fly Space-A with cargo, deploying troops and sometimes even live animals. Expect dust or other environmental issues, depending on where you’re going.
Smoking is not allowed on or near military aircraft or in military air terminals. Planning ahead also requires anticipating possible delays in getting to areas where you are allowed to smoke again.
That advice may seem targeted specifically at those with tobacco habits, but those who have needs for regular medication or issues that require consistency in care should expect delays and prepare accordingly. You may need to administer medicine or other treatment in the air or at a military air terminal because of delays or changes in flight plans.
There are six Space-A categories (CAT-I thru CAT-VI) with CAT-I being the highest priority, the first to get offered a Space-A seat. The Air Mobility Command website describes these as follows:
Category I – Emergency leave unfunded travel. Transportation by the most expeditious routing only for bona fide immediate family emergencies, as determined by DoDI 1327.06 and military service regulations. This travel privilege will not be used in lieu of funded travel entitlements.
Category II – Accompanied environmental and morale leave.
Category III – Ordinary leave, relatives, house-hunting permissive temporary duty assignment, Medal of Honor holders, and foreign military.
Category IV – Unaccompanied environmental and morale leave.
Category V – Permissive TDY (non-house hunting), students, dependents, post-deployment/mobilization respite absence and others.
Category VI – Retired; dependents; reserve; Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate program and Civil Engineer Corps members; veterans with a permanent service-connected disability rated as total; and surviving spouses of service members who died in active duty, inactive duty training or annual training status A.
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