Are you a military family? Besides being eligible for plenty of military discounts at hotels and parks, you can utilize the Space A travel system to fly for free (or really really cheap). These military flights range from seats along the side of a cargo plane to a traditional passenger airplane. It may seem overwhelming, but once you understand some basics, it’s more than worth the effort to be able to travel the world on a budget.
Those utilizing Space A are separated into 6 categories. For the purpose of this blog, we will focus on categories 3-5. (Category 6 is for retired members and reservists.) The lower your category number, the higher priority you have when seats are available. All US military branches can utilize the system. Flights can be found at Air Force bases and select Naval stations.
Category 3 is for active duty members and their dependents on leave, and unaccompanied dependents with a sponsor that is deployed 365 days or more.
Category 4 is for unaccompanied dependents when a sponsor is deployed (not TDY) 30-364 days, and unaccompanied dependents on Environmental Morale Leave.
Category 5 is for unaccompanied dependents*.
*Unaccompanied dependents stationed overseas may utilize Space A, as well as those CONUS with a member that is stationed overseas (to go to their location). Unaccompanied dependents stationed CONUS with a non-deployed sponsor are not eligible for Space A. Unaccompanied dependents with sponsors deployed over 30 days may also utilize Space A within CONUS. Dependent status is determined by DEERS.
|France was an easy drive from the base we flew to on our last adventure!|
Where can you go? The possibilities are extensive! Some of the most popular (and common) destinations are England, Germany, Japan, Hawaii, Spain, Italy, and Korea. Other options include Bahamas, Greece, Curacao, Australia, Singapore, Guam, Puerto Rico…the list goes on! If you want to travel to the Pacific region, your best bets are going to be West Coast bases such as Travis (CA), McChord (WA), and SeaTac (WA). For European destinations, your best bets are East Coast bases such as McGuire (NJ), Dover (DE), Andrews (MD), Charleston (SC), and BWI (MD). For South America and the Caribbean, try NAS Jacksonville (FL) and Charleston (SC).
*Pro Tip- You will have the best chance of being selected for flights outside of the busiest school break seasons- summer, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.*
Once you’ve determined where to leave from and where to go, you’ll want to sign up for travel. If traveling with the military member, you must be on leave (with the leave paperwork) at the time of sign up and throughout the duration of the trip. If you are a dependent traveling unaccompanied, you will need a Command Sponsor letter or a deployment verification letter for your member’s commander. You’ll need to send a simple email (find contact info here) to all potential departure locations FOR BOTH LEGS OF YOUR TRIP. If you are traveling from DC to Germany, you’ll email Andrews, BWI, and Dover, as well as Ramstein and Spangdahlem. Because it’s the date and time of your sign up that determine your placement within the category- the sooner you can do this, the better. Follow up by email/call to ensure your sign up was documented if you do not receive a reply. Save all of this paperwork (with date and time information) in an easy to access place for your flight.
Dear PAX Terminal at ____,
I’d like to sign up for Space A travel beginning today through _____. I will be trying to fly to ____. I will have a party of ____. Leave paperwork (or letter from commander) attached
|Packed up and ready for roll call!|
Ready to Fly
Each PAX terminal will have a Facebook page (like this one) that will list outbound flights for the next 72 hours. Within 24 hours of your selected flight, you can go to the terminal to mark yourself present (which means, let them know you are there to compete for the flight). Check your terminal’s policy, but you’ll want to do this at least 3-4 hours prior to flight time, and it MUST be done prior to roll call. Again, it’s the date and time of your initial sign up that determines your place within the category, not marking yourself present. The day of the flight, contact the terminal for frequent flight updates, as roll call time can change. Continue to call up to 3 hours prior about a flight, even if 0 tentative seats are showing on the Facebook page, as this can also change. You’ll need your leave or sponsorship paperwork, military ID, and passports. Be packed and ready to go!
*Pro Tip- The PCS (Passenger Service Center) personnel are your friends. Kindness and understanding will go a long way. They are the experts and will have the inside info on common flights, which categories are making it on to flights, and more.*
|Sleeping cozily on the cargo plane.|
On the Way
Flights can be on cargo planes (seats on the side, seats in the middle, seat pallet), or on a passenger plane call the Patriot Express (or Rotator). For cargo planes you’ll want to be in closed toe shoes and dress in layers. These flights can get pretty chilly. You can also bring your own ear protection and sleeping bags/blankets. Some people bring inflatable pool floats to act as a small air mattress. Cost for these flights is ZERO, although you can choose to buy a boxed meal for $3-$4. For passenger planes you’ll pay a small fee $17.80-$35.20 for OCONUS or $8.90 to Hawaii. These are like very basic typical airplanes. They’ll have videos on a big screen, but not in-seat entertainment, and seats, but not a ton of room.
While flying in a cargo planes sounds a little crazy, I’d say it’s my preferred way to Space A. Once the flight is going you can really stretch out and get comfortable. Our kids each had a small sleeping bag, changed into pajamas, and slept! There are typically other families along for the ride, and it feels like one big community. People are holding other people’s babies for potty breaks, covering up kids with blankets, sharing snacks, and generally being helpful. The exact opposite of what you find when you fly with kids on a regular plane! We met one family on our Germany trip that we really bonded with and still talk to! We’ve arranged for our oldest to marry their daughter. 🙂
Once you arrive, check for the AMCGRAM (or ask for it prior) for info on lodging, taxis, and food. We find basing ourselves at military lodging, and stocking up at the Commissary, saves a good amount of cash. Plenty of day trips can be done from bases!
|We decided just one day in advance to take this Space A adventure!|
This is Space A, that’s short for space AVAILABLE. Seats are not guaranteed, nor is your return trip once arriving at a destination. Worst case scenario, be prepared to purchase a one-way ticket to return home. You may also need to take extra leave or leave a bit early. While your desired location may not have a flight, if your expectations are flexible, you can often find a flight at a nearby location, or a flight to a nearby location. For us, we ended our Germany trip with a flight to Charleston, SC rather than DC. We could have rented a car, but lucked out with another Space A flight to DC the next day. Our expectations were just to make it to somewhere on the east coast- and it worked!
Additional resources: Spacea.net, Take-A-Hop App