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Military Space A Travel FAQ

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Archive-name: military/space-a
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Version: 1.10
Last-modified: 8 April 1997

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Subject: 0. Disclaimer This is not an official publication, merely a guide to get you started. It was originally compiled by Paul Shave and Doug Oard, two people who have used Space A, and is presently maintained by Doug Oard. It only gets better if you send in questions (or, better still, answers!). Some of this is written from experience, but much of it comes from information submitted by others. When sending questions, all I ask is that you please not ask questions that are already answered here or on the Space A home page. It's hard enough for me just to keep up with things that I have missed and things that are changing. Speaking of changes, there are frequent changes to regulations, so you should check with a military passenger terminal for the latest information. I take NO RESPONSIBILITY for the accuracy of any information provided here (although I have certainly tried to get it right!).
Subject: 1. Introduction 1.1) What is Space A? Space A is short for "space available air transportation on government owned or controlled aircraft." Now you know why people shorten it to Space A :-) Basically Space A is a byproduct of military aircraft and commercial charter flights that are scheduled by the Department of Defense to perform military missions. When mission and cargo loads allow, there are often seats made available to eligible people. With a little bit of patience and flexibility, you can travel all over the world for almost nothing. 1.2) Is Space A travel a reasonable substitute for airline travel? That depends on what your goals are. Success with Space A travel depends on flexibility and good timing. If your schedule is flexible and you have the financial resources to cover the "worst case" scenario (paying for a hotel for several days and then flying home commercial), space available travel can save you money most of the time. In fact, if the place you want to visit is a remote military base that is difficult to reach by commercial flights, Space A might actually be more convenient than trying to arrange commercial flights. 1.3) Will Space A travel cost much? In general, no. There is a head tax on CONUS outbound or federal inspection fee on CONUS inbound international commercial charters. Meals may be purchased at a nominal fee (usually under $3.00) at of most air terminals. Meal service on Air Force commercial charter flights is free. And you might spend a bit on phone calls to find out about flights, a room for the night along the way, or a bus fare to get from one base to another. As a rule of thumb, figure that a domestic Space A trip will average between $25 and $50 each way, depending on how frugal you are (e.g. take a bus vs. rent a car) and how lucky you are (e.g. get a room on base vs. pay for a hotel room).
Subject: 2. Eligibility 2.1) Who is eligible for Space A? People identified in the following list are eligible for Space A under some circumstances. The specific eligibility details are quite complex, so check with a passenger terminal for the details or read the rules for yourself on the Space A World Wide Web page at <>. o Members of the Uniformed Services and their family members. o Foreign exchange service members on permanent duty with the DoD. o Retired members of the Uniformed Services and their family members. o Members of the Reserve Components. o Civilian employees of the DoD stationed overseas and their families. o American Red Cross personnel serving overseas with the U.S. military. o DoD Dependent School (DoDDS) teachers and their family members. 2.2) What are the "Uniformed Services?" The Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Public Health Service, and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The term is understood to mean people serving on Active Duty in any of those services, and includes officer candidates attending West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy. 2.3) What are the "Reserve Components?" The Naval Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Army Reserve, Army National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and Coast Guard Reserve. Members of the reserve components who are in an "active status" (which generally means that they attend weekend drills, but again the rules are quite complex on this) or are grey area retirees (people who are retired from the reserve components, are not yet 60, and are eligible to receive retired pay at age 60) are eligible for Space A. Officer candidates who have a reserve (red) identification card are generally also eligible for Space A. 2.4) Are ROTC cadets and midshipmen members of the Reserve Components? Many of them are. In general, ROTC cadets and midshipmen who are receiving any sort of financial assistance have signed enlistment contracts in one of the Reserve Components and have red ID cards. This includes cadets and midshipmen on scholarship, and those not on scholarship who are in their last two years of the program and receiving retainer pay. Other eligible officer candidates include members of the Navy's Nuclear Power Officer Candidate (NUPOC) and Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) programs. 2.5) When can family members fly Space A? The rules on this are complicated, but the general guideline is pretty simple. Family members may generally travel to, from, and between overseas destinations when accompanied by their sponsor who is eligible for the travel to be performed. Family members may also travel within the Continental United States (Alaska, Hawaii and all territories and possessions are considered "Overseas" in the Space A vernacular) when on domestic segments of overseas flights at the beginning or end of the mission, and on any flight when their sponsor is traveling on emergency leave or (under limited circumstances) when house-hunting at a new duty station. For example, if a flight originates in Texas, stops in California as part of the mission, and then continues overseas, family members may fly from Texas to the overseas area on the flight. Except when accompanying a sponsor on emergency leave or for house-hunting, however, they cannot travel on a flight going only from Texas to California (or get off in California from a flight that is going further). There are two exceptions to the rules allowing family members to travel. First, although members of the reserve components may fly to some overseas destinations, their family members may not accompany them. Second, some tactical aircraft which carry Space A passengers will not carry family members. Finally, the definition of a "family member" is quite specific (and again, quite complex). But the basic rule of thumb is that if they have a current ID card, they are a family member. 2.6) Can I bring young children? Yes, whenever travel with family members is authorized. But when traveling Space A with young children, prepare for possible delays along the way where baby supplies may not be readily available. A good supply of games and books is also recommended. Also, be aware that a baby's ears, like an adults, are sensitive to pressure changes when descending, and that by crying, babies help their ears to equalize the pressure. 2.7) Can my family members travel without me? Only in limited circumstances. Command sponsored family members of members of the Uniformed Services may travel to, from and between overseas areas if they present a letter certifying command sponsorship or if they have EML or emergency leave orders. 2.8) Can disabled people travel Space A? Every effort is made to transport passengers with disabilities who are otherwise eligible for Space A travel. Except on Coast Guard airplanes, disabled veterans are not eligible for space available travel solely on the basis of their disability. However, retirees are eligible, and that category includes people who have received medical retirements. Passenger service personnel and crew members will generally provide all practical assistance in boarding, seating and deplaning passengers with special needs, although travel on some types of tactical aircraft may be precluded. If you need to travel with a personal assistant, the only people permitted to accompany you are other persons who are eligible for Space A travel. 2.9) Can Canadian Forces members fly Space A on U.S. military planes? Yes, on the same basis as any other member of another nation's military forces. The two requirements are that they be on permanent (not TDY) foreign exchange duty with the U.S. Department of Defense and that they be in a leave status. Family members of foreign exchange service members are also eligible for Space A, generally subject to the same limitations as family members of U.S. Uniformed Services personnel. 2.10) Where can members of the Uniformed Services fly Space A? Almost anywhere in the world. Examples include Europe, Japan, Alaska, Hawaii, South America, Australia and Africa. Of course, travel to some destinations, such as isolated islands with no civilian population, can be restricted by theater commanders. 2.11) Where can members of the Reserve Components fly? Members of the Reserve Components with a DD Form 2 (Red) identification card and a DD Form 1853 authentication of travel eligibility may fly to, from, and between the Continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa. When on active duty (but not when in a drill status) members of the Reserve Components may fly anywhere that other Active Duty members can. 2.12) Where can retired members fly? Retired members with a DD Form 2 (Blue) identification card may fly anywhere, subject only to the same theater and international restrictions that affect all travelers. 2.13) What restrictions are there on Space A? You can not use Space A privileges for personal gain or in connection with business enterprises or employment. You also can't use Space A travel to establish a home, to transport dependents to an duty station where you are or will be serving an unaccompanied tour, to transport dependents to a TDY duty station, or when international or theater restrictions prohibit such travel. 2.14) Who determines eligibility to fly Space A? The four military services jointly establish Space A eligibility for Department of Defense aircraft, and the Department of Defense promulgates the policies and procedures in DoD Regulation 4515.13-R. Policies and procedures for Space A on Coast Guard aircraft are patterned after those in DoD Regulation 4515.13-R, but because the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Transportation there are some differences. Coast Guard Space A regulations can be found in COMDTINST M3710.1C.
Subject: 3. Finding Flights 3.1) Can I fly Space A on flights from other services? Yes. Most people think of the Air Force, and in particular the Air Mobility Command (AMC) when they think of Space A. Actually, Space A passengers are eligible to travel on any suitable DoD-owned or controlled aircraft and on Coast Guard aircraft as well. Because passenger movement is part of their mission, the Air Force has by far the best system of passenger terminals which provide flight information and process passengers. But even at bases with Air Force passenger terminals, those terminals may not always know about or handle other services' flights. The smart Space A traveler will seek out information about every activity that provides flight information and processes passengers at every base near their origin and destination and then call them directly in order to get the best possible picture of what is available. 3.2) When should I call for flight information? If you've never traveled on a particular route before, you might want to call the passenger terminal you plan on traveling through a month or so before you plan to travel. At that point they will be able to discuss their typical flight schedules, Space A backlog, any movement forecast they know of for your desired travel period, and how far in advance they will know their schedule. This is also a good time to sign up for a flight, which you can often do by fax. Then call again a day or two before you are ready to travel to see how the schedule is shaping up. Most passenger terminals will have a schedule for the next day's flights, and some will know further in advance. But these schedules are subject to change, and often they change a lot. So once you're ready to travel, you should stay in close touch with the terminal in case something comes up on short notice. 3.3) Where do I get the phone numbers? The phone numbers can be found in guidebooks, on information sheets provided by the passenger terminals, and through the Space A World Wide Web home page on the Internet (see question 6.3 for the address). Several passenger terminals now have their own World Wide Web pages, and many of them also list phone numbers.
Subject: 4. Sign-up Procedures 4.1) How do I sign up? Passengers may register for travel at the passenger terminal in person or by fax, mail, or email. Travelers remain on the register for 60 days or the duration of their travel orders or authorization, whichever occurs first. For Active Duty members, the expiration of their leave, pass, or liberty status is almost always the limiting factor. Sponsors who register in person for family members traveling with them will need all the required documents for everyone in their family, but the family members themselves need not be present. These travel documents will need to be presented again when selected for travel. Travelers may select up to five countries. You should list "all" for your fifth choice so that you keep your options open if a flight pops up to a destination you had not previously considered or an intermediate stop that is part of the way to where you want to go. 4.2) What is remote sign-up? Remote sign-up allows passengers to enter the backlog by faxing copies of proper documentation along with desired country destinations and family members first names to the passenger terminal from which they plan to depart. If applicable, a statement that all required border clearance documents are current is also required. The fax data header will establish date and time of sign-up. Active duty personnel must ensure that the fax is sent no earlier than the effective date of their leave, pass or liberty. Submission by mail is also permitted, and recently several passenger terminals have established email sign up procedures. The Ramstein AB World Wide Web pages have the most comprehensive list of terminals providing email sign up. The list can be found at <>. 4.3) What is self sign-up? Self sign-up is a program that allows passengers to sign-up at a passenger terminal without waiting in line. Many large terminals provide self sign-up counters with easy to follow instructions for registration. Again, active duty personnel must ensure sign-up takes place no earlier than the effective date of their leave, pass or liberty. If you use self sign-up and your travel will take you to a foreign country, it is your responsibility to ensure that all border clearance documentation is up to date. If you are unsure, you should check with a passenger service representative. 4.4) Can I use the same sign-up next time I travel? No. Names of all originating space available passengers who depart on a flight will be removed from all destinations. If you return to the same terminal upon completion of your trip you can sign up again. 4.5) What documentation will I need? The answer depends on many things, so this is something you should discuss with the passenger terminal. For example, family members traveling alone must have a letter (or "leave" orders in the case of EML or emergency leave) from their sponsor's command. Reservists must have certification that they are in an active (e.g. drilling) status or eligible for retired pay at age 60. People traveling overseas will often need passports, immunization records and visas. There are way too many special cases to list here. You can read the regulations yourself, but some requirements may have changed since the regulations were printed so checking with a passenger terminal is usually the best idea. 4.6) How can I find where my name is on the Space A register? Major terminals maintain a Space A register, organized by category and within a category by the date and time of registration, that is updated daily. The register should be available to you in the passenger terminal. You can also call the terminal to find where you stand on the register. But bear in mind that only the people who show up for a specific flight will be competing for seats on that flight, and who will come is very difficult to predict. So being low on the list isn't always a problem. The list is most useful to people in the lower categories (retirees, for example) to see how many people are in higher categories at a terminal before taking a flight there. 4.7) Do I have to show up for every announced flight to my destination? No, you have the option to stand by for any flight on which you believe you may have a reasonable opportunity to travel. The old requirement to show up for every flight was eliminated long ago. 4.8) If it takes more than one flight to get to my destination, do I need to sign up again? When you register, you are assigned a category of travel and compete for seats within your category based on your date and time of registration. This date and time of sign-up is yours until you reach your declared destination. At each intermediate stop you will be entered in the register at the appropriate spot for your original sign up date and time. You will receive a new date and time when you register for your return travel. 4.9) If there aren't enough seats, who gets to go? Passengers are selected for movement by category, and within a category by the date and time of their sign-up. A complete listing of eligible passengers by category is contained in DoD Instruction 4515.13-R. The order of presentation within a category is not significant, though. The following list describes the largest groups of eligible individuals in each category: Category I. Emergency leave Category II: Environmental and morale leave (EML) Category III: Ordinary leave, pass, and liberty Category IV: Unaccompanied family members on EML Category V: Permissive (no-cost) TDY orders Category VI: Retirees and Reservists 4.10) When will I know if I'm on a flight? Space A seats are often identified as early as 2-3 hours prior to departure, but sometimes seat availability is not known until the plane arrives, which might be only 30 minutes prior to it's departure! Since planes often are early or late, it is difficult to predict when seat availability will actually be known. Almost all passenger terminals will establish a "show time" for passengers interested in a given flight, and then assign the seats to people who present themselves for processing at that time. People who show up after the show time are usually only accommodated after everyone that was there on time is taken care of, regardless of their category or date and time of sign up. Of course, if the plane runs very early, they'll just process whoever is there when it's ready to go. But usually, being there at the show time is good enough. If you choose to leave the terminal before the show time, you should make sure you have the latest information before you do. You should, of course, be ready for immediate processing and boarding at the show time.
Subject: 5. Other Questions 5.1) Can I get bumped from a flight I'm already on? Yes, although it's relatively rare. Space required passengers or cargo may require the removal of Space A passengers at any point. But mission details are usually known before departure, so the crew won't release seats that they expect to become unavailable part of the way there. Some types of flights, notably Areomedical Evacuation (Medevac) missions do experience frequent changes, though, so you might want to ask about this before accepting a specific flight if you are the last person to get a seat because you would be the first to be removed. If you are removed en route, you may re-register with your original date and time of registration. Passenger terminals will assign a new date and time to any country you change or add on your application at this point, though, so having that fifth one be "all" is a really good idea. And, at the risk of beating a dead horse, you should always be prepared to purchase onward or return commercial transportation, meals and lodging. 5.2) What if I don't get on any flight before I need to be at my destination? While you are not guaranteed a flight in the time frame you may wish, passenger terminals generally do their best to make available every possible seat. In case you must get to a final destination before they can get you there, you will need funds to complete your journey or return home. 5.3) How much baggage can I bring? On the larger aircraft, each passenger may check two pieces of checked baggage, 70 pounds each, up to 62 linear inches in size. Family members may pool their baggage allowances, but Space A passengers may not pay for excess baggage. Hand-carried baggage must fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment, if one is available. Smaller aircraft may limit you to as little as 30 pounds of baggage, and hand-carried baggage may be included in this limit. Since many of the available flights are on these smaller aircraft (C-21 or C-12, for example) you should limit your baggage to 30 pounds if at all possible. You'll thank me for this advice when you discover that it's a 2 mile walk from the terminal to the billeting office :-) Of course, you should not place valuables, medicine, or important documents in checked baggage, and you should be sure your name and current address are on both the outside and inside of your bags. Passenger terminals usually have baggage ID tags available if you need them. 5.4) Do I have to be in uniform to travel? Each service determines their own policy on this. Currently all services except the Marine Corps permit appropriate civilian attire to be worn by their active duty and reserve personnel when traveling on DoD-owned or controlled aircraft. This matter is up to each service, however, and the Marines still require their members to wear a uniform. When civilian clothing is worn, use common sense. Attire should be in good taste and not in conflict with accepted attire in the overseas county of departure, transit, or destination. Some services are quite specific about this. Tattered or revealing clothing or T-shirts with risque slogans are a particularly bad idea, and some passenger terminals will not allow you to board a plane wearing shorts. One Navy terminal, for example, requires that passengers wear a shirt with a collar (or the equivalent for women), long pants or a skirt, and shoes with closed toes. Be sure to pack some sensible clothes so that you can meet any reasonable requirements that might be imposed. 5.5) Where can I fly into when coming back from overseas? While you may depart the United States from any airfield, reentry locations are sometimes limited. When traveling on a passport (family members, retired personnel, etc.) you may return to the United States only through authorized ports of entry where customs and immigration clearance is available. Active duty passengers who do not require immigration clearance have more reentry options open. The Air Force is working to increase the number of places at which reenter the country. 5.6) Can I bring my pet on a Space A flight? No. 5.7) What facilities are available at passenger terminals? Facilities at most military terminals are similar to those that you would find at smaller commercial terminals. Examples include television sets, snack bars, exchange mini-marts, barber shops, travelers assistance, baggage lockers or rooms, United Services Organization (USO) lounges and nurseries. The facilities vary according to the terminal size and location, and it may be as simple as a couple of chairs near the pilots' flight planning room! 5.8) Can I sleep in the terminal? Almost certainly not. Most passenger terminals close at night, and most of the rest have rules against sleeping in the terminal. So you should be prepared to defray lodging expenses at any overnight stops. The relatively low price of on-base billeting ($4 to $40 per night) makes this less of a burden than it might first appear, though. At Air Force Bases you can reserve rooms the day before (if you know where you will be), but at other bases billeting offices often won't release their available rooms to travelers who are not on orders until a specified "Space A show time." Some billeting offices will put you on a standby list by phone, though, so it's wise to call ahead to learn the rules at any bases you plan to visit. 5.9) What are the trends in the availability of Space A travel? A couple of years ago the Air Forceestablished an project to improve Space A travel in an effort to improve the quality of life for military families. But movement still depends on the number of unused seats. The dramatic reductions in the DoD budget in recent years have reduced both the number of eligible people and the number of flights. Actually, the reductions in the number of transport aircraft have been relatively small over this period, and an increasing number of within-theater flights overseas are being flown by CONUS-based crews. So some overseas destinations are actually easier to reach from CONUS than they were before the drawdown started. A number of domestic bases have been closed, but most major metropolitan areas still have at least one military airfield nearby. In some cases this consolidation has actually made Space A easier by reducing the need to travel from one base to another to catch a continuing flight. All in all, it's a mixed picture. The bottom line is that if you know what you're doing, you can usually get where you want to go. 5.10) What is the best time of the year to travel Space A ? In general it is wise to avoid peak travel periods when traveling overseas if possible because the number of dependents traveling, often with a quite high priority (PCS or EML), is highest then. The peak travel periods are December-January and June-July, which roughly correspond to school holidays when there are a lot of travelers on leave. There are also more PCS travelers on the AMC passenger channel missions during the summer because people prefer to move when their children are between school years. Domestic routes see less fluctuation in volume, but it is usually more difficult to travel during three day weekends (weekends followed by Monday holidays, for example) and near holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas because there are fewer missions scheduled then but more people with some time off who might want to catch a flight. 5.11) Is it easier to go to some destinations? Yes. Places where large numbers of U.S. military forces are stationed are much easier to get to than rarely visited areas. Travel to Europe or Japan is relatively easy, for example, while travel to South America or Africa is much more difficult. Infrequent flights to remote areas are often cargo missions, which may have few seats available for passenger movement. But with persistence it is amazing where you can get. 5.12) Do you have any other tips for Traveling Space A? Of course! Plan your trip, be flexible and be patient. As a rule of thumb, military bases offer more Space A flights than commercial gateways or Reserve Component squadrons at civilian airfields, but the advance planning made possible by charter schedules and Reserve Component employment plans that are known months in advance may make those locations a good place to start a trip. Be as flexible as possible in choosing a destination. For example, if you want to get to Germany, consider a flight into the United Kingdom as an alternative. Once there, try for another flight bound for Germany. 5.13) What if I have a problem? If something does not meet your expectations or if you have a question or suggestion that can't be resolved by the people you are dealing with, you should ask to speak with the passenger terminal supervisor (or their equivalent at smaller bases). At AMC terminals you can also use AMC Form 253, Air Passenger Comment, to bring your concerns to the attention of the terminal supervisor.
Subject: 6. Sources of Information 6.1) Where can I find out more? The best source of up to date information is a passenger terminal. The personnel assigned there should be able to answer most of your questions about regulations and schedules. To get some advice on how to plan a trip you can try siting in the snack bar and talking to some of the "regulars" there. There are many retirees who catch hops for months at a time and can tell you stories about their Space A travels and some of the best places to go! There are also some excellent guidebooks available that have been written by seasoned Space A travelers. 6.2) What's the best guidebook to get? The best known introductory guide is "Military Space-A Air Basic Training and Reader Trip Reports" by Ann and Roy Crawford. You can find it in many exchanges, and it is also available from Military Living Publications, P. O. Box 2347, Falls Church, VA 22042-0347. Their telephone number is (703)237-0203, and Ann and Roy receive Internet email at Their company also offers several other publications that might be of interest to Space A travelers, including maps, topic-specific guidebooks listing sources of flights and billets, and a bi-monthly newsletter. Other publishers also offer guidebooks and newsletters, many of which are listed on the Space A World Wide Web home page. Which one you chose will depend on a number of factors such as price, availability, currency, comprehensiveness, and compactness (remember that 30 pound baggage limitation!). The most compact and comprehensive guidebook available is the "Worldwide Space-A Travel Handbook", which is available from 2-10-4 Publications, P.O. Box 55, Hurst, TX 76053-0055 or by calling (888)277-2232. 6.3) Where can I find more Space-A information on the Internet? On the Space A World Wide Web home page you will find the relevant portions of DoD Regulation 4515.13-R and COMDTINST M3710.1C, extensive how-to information, a listing of every facility with permanently stationed fixed wing aircraft that can carry Space A passengers, some lists of phone numbers, reviews of the best known guidebooks, news articles about Space A, the latest version of this FAQ, links to every other known Space A resource, and a wealth of related information. Just point your World Wide Web browser to <>. Dirk Peppard runs a fairly active web chat page that is available from the Space A web page. Another source of Space A information on the Internet is Usenet News. The newsgroup <news:soc.veterans> is full of people with Space A experience, and that newsgroup is available on most systems. Another newsgroup with a more active discussion (but a somewhat less experienced membership) is <news:alt.military.cadet>. Your system may not carry that group, however, since many systems do not subscribe to the "alt" hierarchy. One thing that you should NOT do is send me (Doug Oard) a question about how to get somewhere. I maintain this page in my spare time, and there's not nearly enough of that! So I routinely refer such questions to the resources listed above. 6.4) Where should I send corrections and additional frequently asked questions? To Doug Oard <>. ----------------------------------- End ------------------------------

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