Space-A travel can provide a unique, rewarding experience

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kenneth Morain
  • 730th Air Mobility Squadron
Picture this. You pack your bags and make your way down to the Air Mobility Command passenger terminal only to hear over the public address system as you arrive, "Sorry folks, the mission to Hawaii has been delayed twelve more hours due to maintenance issues". It may be frustrating to hear that your long-awaited vacation will be delayed but with a little planning, a flexible schedule, and patience the DOD's Space Available Travel Program for military personnel, retirees, and family members can be a rewarding experience.

Every day hundreds of military and military-contracted commercial aircraft travel the world delivering troops and cargo. These missions allow hundreds of thousands of Space-A travelers to fly at almost no cost. Space-A travel is free with the exception of customs and head tax fees on these aircraft.

Space-A flights, often called "military hops," are a unique benefit to U.S. service members, retirees and their families. Under this DOD travel program, unused seats on U.S. military and military-contracted commercial aircraft are made available to non-duty passengers on a space-available basis once official duty passengers and cargo have been accommodated.

The question most often asked by passengers desiring AMC travel is, "What are my chances of getting on this flight?" And the answer is a resounding: it depends. While passenger service agents are delighted to assist all travelers in getting to their desired locations, realistically it isn't always feasible. However, if your travel schedule is flexible and you've saved enough money for a couple of overnight stays while awaiting airlift, then you'll assuredly get the most benefit out of space available travel.

Depending on your location, you may have the opportunity to fly on a Patriot Express mission, which gives you the comforts of a commercial aircraft with AMC hospitality. AMC passenger terminals also have regularly scheduled flights known as channel missions to certain destinations. These flights can run on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis and make several stops along the way to your desired destination. This is where it gets tricky and flexibility is the key.

Ms. Jones at Yokota AB might make it to her all-star nephew's high-school graduation in Seattle after signing up the same day. However, her neighbor, Ms. Smith, may have to stop in Guam or Hawaii on her way to California. This doesn't sound too bad for Ms. Smith if she's packed her swimsuit, snorkel and fins. But this could delay her in a potentially expensive area, cause her to extend her leave, and may ultimately preclude her from attending her best friend's wedding in San Diego. Remember the flexibility we talked about?

Part of the planning, is knowing where you stand on the availability list. Passengers are selected for travel on a first-come basis within a six-category system, resulting in a fair and balanced process.

Category I
Emergency travel on a round-trip basis in connection with serious illness, death, or impending death of a member of the immediate family of the following: United States citizen civilian employees of the DoD stationed overseas. Full-time, paid personnel of the American Red Cross serving with United States military services overseas. Uniformed service family members whose sponsors are stationed within the Continental United States (CONUS) and the emergency exists overseas.Family members of United States citizen civilian employees of the DoD when both sponsor and dependents are stationed overseas at the same location.

Category II:
Sponsors on environmental and morale leave (EML) and accompanied family members. DoD Dependent School teachers and their accompanied family members in EML status during school year holiday or vacation periods.

Category III:
Members of the uniformed services in an ordinary or reenlistment leave status and uniformed services patients on convalescent leave. Members on convalescent leave may not travel overseas unless their leave form is so annotated.

Military personnel traveling on permissive temporary duty (TDY) orders for house hunting.

Category IV:
Unaccompanied family members (18 years or older) traveling on EML orders. DoDDS teachers or family members (accompanied or unaccompanied) in an EML status during summer break.

Category V:
Students whose sponsor is stationed in Alaska or Hawaii. Students enrolled in a trade school in the CONUS when the sponsor is stationed overseas. Military personnel traveling on permissive TDY orders for other than house hunting.

Category VI:
Reserve components/members. Retired military members who are issued DD Form 2 and eligible to receive retired or retainer pay. Family members (up to age 23 with a valid identification card) of retired members when accompanied by a sponsor.
Where can we help? The best advice is to contact your nearest passenger terminal below to find out where they frequently fly and if that route can meet your needs. Keep in mind the more frequent the terminal flies to your desired destination, the better chance you have of scoring a seat.

Additionally, you'll want to take into account the time of year you take your planned vacation. Typically, summer months are high-volume times of the year due to members that are in Permanent Change of Station status or other competing passengers seeking tropical getaways. In contrast, the winter months see less traffic and improve your chances for a free trip around the globe.

Oh yeah, and is that passport application still sitting on your coffee table? Don't forget to ask about border clearance requirements because you must be travel ready upon being selected for your flight. Blue Skies!

For more details on AMC travel and other useful references to equip you on your journey, please visit: