Now that school is out, many military families, especially those stationed OCONUS, are eager to visit family and friends. With airfares skyrocketing due to pent-up demand, everyone is looking for ways to save money on travel. Taking a free hop on a military aircraft seems like the perfect solution!
READ: How to prepare for your first Space-A flight following the COVID-19 shutdown
Before choosing that course of action, you should know some important things about flying Space-A during the summer. If you’re determined to give it a shot, you can improve your chances by following a few tips.
Beware the summer PCS season
With PCSing families occupying most of the spots on Patriot Express (also referred to as the rotator) missions and thousands of military families planning to travel while the kids are out of school, summer means more competition for fewer Space-A seats across all military flights.
With that in mind, one of the first rules of Space-A travel is that you must prepare mentally and financially to purchase commercial tickets if Space-A doesn’t work out. Worst case scenario, you must buy last-minute overseas airfare for all your family members if you can’t get seats on a military flight.
So, while you can save a lot of money on airfare by flying Space-A, you also risk paying even more than the expensive advance-purchase tickets. Fortunately, there are some ways to mitigate that risk.
Tips for flying Space-A during the busy summer travel season
Here’s how to boost your chances of success when traveling during one of the busiest times of the year.
Fly in the highest priority category possible
Space-A travelers are divided into six categories based on priority. Category 1 is the highest (Emergency Leave). Active duty on Environmental and Morale Leave (EML) are in Category 2, while active duty service members on regular leave are considered Category 3. Unaccompanied dependents on unfunded EML or whose sponsor is deployed are Category 4. Other eligible unaccompanied dependents are Category 5. (Visit Air Mobility Command’s Space-A Travel Page for a complete list of eligible travelers.)
If you’re in an EML-eligible location, this is an excellent time to use that leave!
Sign up early
Priority within each category is based on the signup date. Remember that if you are on active duty, you cannot sign up until you are on leave––not a moment sooner.
Don’t limit yourself to the Patriot Express
As noted above, during the summer months, most rotator seats are occupied by space-required passengers who are PCSing to/from duty stations. Many Space-A travelers like the Patriot Express because it’s a regular, full-service flight, and schedules are available a month in advance.
But when flying Space-A, you should take whatever flight you can get. So, if you’re starting at a terminal like NAS Norfolk, which has regular military cargo flights in addition to Patriot Express missions, throw your hat in the ring for any flight with seats (and prepare accordingly with the suitable clothing and gear).
Start competing early to come home
If you’ve flown overseas, you should start trying to return home at least five to seven days before your leave ends or you are due at your destination.
Have a Plan B and activate it early––even before you fly, if necessary.
If you have only a few weeks of leave, and after several days of trying, you have not been able to catch a hop to start your travel, salvage your vacation by activating Plan B. Your contingency plan could include flying commercially or going on a local road trip. Just make sure you have an alternate plan so you and your family can enjoy your well-deserved leave!
Flying Space-A during the summer is challenging but not impossible. Do your homework to ensure you fully understand how Space-A travel works and the costs you could incur if you don’t get seats. Then, follow the advice above to maximize your chances for success!Read comments