Space-A can be an amazing way to travel if you are a service member or a dependent. But knowing some tricks and tips can help maximize your chances to grab one of those available spots.
As its name implies, Space-available travel is only offered after all duty cargo and official passengers have been accommodated. All of the main AMC terminals have a Facebook page, where they document a lot of helpful information.
A terminal’s Facebook page is typically updated each day with the upcoming 72-hour flight schedule, which shows where flights are scheduled to go, as well as how many tentative or firm seats are available on each. Of course, flights and the available seats can change at any time.
Also found on a terminal’s Facebook page are the Daily Recap Logs, which show what flights went where, how many available seats were filled on each, and even the category and time and date of signup for both passengers who were selected and those who signed up for the flight. That’s a good way to see what your chances are in getting the flight you want.
Active Duty members traveling on official orders are in the highest category, while reservists and retirees and their dependents are in the lowest category. If you are on active duty and on leave, you and your dependents will be in Category III — right in the middle.
My family has flown several Space-A flights over the years, and when we finally took the plunge, we wondered why we hadn’t tried it sooner!
You can now fax, email, register in person, or mail a reservation request up to 60 days in advance. This can save you from traveling back and forth to the air terminal, as required in the past — and is very helpful if you do not live nearby. Keep in mind that you cannot sign up before your leave starts, if you are on active duty.
Once you sign up, your name will be place on the waiting list according to the Julian date your request was made. This number will be a part of your reservation confirmation number.
Be sure to print out a copy of your reservation confirmation and bring it with you to the terminal on the day of the scheduled flight. While you’re at it, be sure to have all of your leave paperwork on hand when you arrive at the terminal. If you are traveling outside of the United States, make sure you and any other members of your traveling party have passports or any other required documentation.
Keep in mind that Roll Call for an upcoming flight can be anywhere from 4 hours before the scheduled departure time to 30 minutes prior. The Roll Call for Space-A flights means the time when everyone who wants to fly on this particular flight is checked in and present at the terminal. Check with the terminal well before the flight to see when the Roll Call is scheduled, and try to be there ahead of time. Flight schedules and Roll Calls can change at any time, so try to keep on top of what’s happening.
As the flight time gets closer, the terminal representatives usually post the last names and number in a party of those who have been selected for travel on a television screen, and they also call out the names over a PA system, so be sure you are paying attention if you go outside of the terminal area while you are waiting.
One time, a flight was delayed for several hours, so we let our girls go see a movie in the exchange building across the street from the terminal. My husband and I stayed in the terminal and let our then-three-year-old son run around. All of a sudden, they moved up the flight time and I rushed across the street to pull my girls out of the movie — right before the climax, too. But we made the flight!
They Picked Me!
Things tend to move quickly once the passenger list has been announced. Make sure you and everyone in your traveling party is ready to go, ready to board, when your names are called. You will typically go ahead and get in line to check all of your baggage (and go through all of your documentation) once your name is called, so have everything ready.
Each passenger typically has to pay a nominal fee (roughly $15-30 each) to travel, to cover airport fees and taxes. If you would like a meal on the flight, you can purchase a boxed lunch or dinner (for around $5) while checking in for the flight. If you are traveling on one of the commercial charter passenger planes (such as the Patriot Express from BWI to Ramstein or from Seattle to Osan), you will have a more traditional flight experience.
A funny story: our family flew on the Patriot Express to Ramstein once, and just as we all fell asleep on the 11:30 p.m. flight, all the cabin lights came on and the flight attendants began serving a full meal to passengers — at 2 a.m.!
Many people prefer the more traditional flights for the familiarity, but our family actually prefers flying on the cargo flights — you can bring a sleeping bag (one guy we saw brought a hammock — genius!) and get comfortable once your plane reaches altitude — something you cannot do on a commercial flight.
One added bonus for us: it was so noisy (they do distribute ear plugs to passengers, but we tend to bring our own) on the C-17, any noises my young son made during the flight could not be heard by the other passengers, and I was able to relax more, not trying so hard to keep him from disturbing anyone else. He actually enjoyed the cargo flights more, too, since there usually was a lot more to see on the plane and he even enjoyed wearing his own special hearing protection!
Anything Can Happen
Be sure to pack extra snacks, clothes and toiletries in your carry-on bag, just in case your flight is diverted or you are bumped at the last minute. Of course, most people who fly Space-A understand that it is primarily for the military mission, and you are never guaranteed a spot—or even guaranteed your flight will land where it was scheduled.
One time, we had not had any luck getting a flight back to McGuire in New Jersey, where we had originated, so we decided just to try anything that was going to the East Coast. We made a flight to Norfolk, Virginia, and planned to just rent a car and drive to McGuire to get our vehicle. Halfway over the Atlantic Ocean, the crew chief came up to my husband and said that we would be diverting from our stop in Maine because there was an issue with the de-icing equipment in Maine. Where did we divert to? McGuire.
While we lucked out completely that time, we have had to use that plan before…but we made it home. Flexibility is key, so pack some patience and make sure you have contingency plans if you do not make a flight. If you are overseas, renting a car once you are back in the states is MUCH cheaper than trying to buy plane tickets back to the U.S. — be creative.Read comments