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Subject: Military Space A Travel FAQ
This article was archived around: 9 Aug 1997 14:59:03 -0400
Last-modified: 8 April 1997
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
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
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 <http://mobility.ramstein.af.mil/group/>.
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
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
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
5.6) Can I bring my pet on a Space A flight?
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
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 MilLivRnR@aol.com. 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
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
<http://www.glue.umd.edu/~oard/spacea/>. 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
To Doug Oard <mailto:email@example.com>.
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