Semper Gumpy—Let's Travel
If You’re Able to Be Flexible, Space Available Travel Can Be a Good Deal.
February 28, 2014 by David Khan
We’re celebrating Military Saves Week at Pioneer Services by sharing a trio of blogs that show you how to save money. This is the third and final one in the series, and shares how you can conserve your cash by travelling Space A.
One of the perks advertised to all service members when they join the military is the ability to “see the world”. While not all the promises made by recruiters come true, this is one of those entitlements that really can be a fun experience—as long as you’re super flexible and treat every step as an adventure.
Space A Travel Basics
Space Available Travel (Space A) is a really great and inexpensive way to travel and is coordinated through either the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) or through the Navy’s Air Logistics Office (NALO).
The cost to fly on military aircraft is typically free, while the cost of seats on civilian aircraft chartered by the military is minimal. The destinations can be varied and change regularly based upon military mission requirements. Some locations (like Andrews Air Force Base) have a higher number of Space A opportunities because there are more flights coming in and out, whereas somewhere like Mountain Home AFB in Idaho might be a very infrequent stop.
The important thing to understand about Space A is that there aren’t set flight schedules like with commercial airlines, and flights might not always have predictable takeoff and landing times. Space A travelers are given the lowest priority by an aircraft commander and may be bumped off of an aircraft if military mission requirements change, such as additional cargo or mission required passengers are added. So you’ll need to be flexible and patient.
Eligibility and Priority
There are six categories assigned to Space A travelers, where the higher the category the traveler is given, the greater the priority they have when it comes to seating. The specifics of all the categories can be found in the Department of Defense Air Transportation Eligibility manual but here are the basics for each one:
- Category I—Reserved for Emergency Leave Unfunded Travel or those who have an emergent reason to get to a location, typically for humanitarian reasons.
- Category II—For Environmental Morale Leave (EML) for active-duty military and dependents. EML would typically be granted to those who are stationed in remote locations and allows them to go to a more suitable geographic/cultural location to take leave.
- Category III—This is for Active Duty Ordinary Leave, house hunting TDY, Medal of Honor Recipients, and dependents of service members who have been deployed more than 365 days.
- Category IV—Reserved for unaccompanied dependents on EML, or dependents whose service member sponsor has been deployed 120-364 days.
- Category V—For Unaccompanied Dependents of active duty, Permissive TDY (non-house hunting), and students.
- Category VI— Retired service members and their dependents, reserve service members, ROTC cadets/midshipmen, and other officially sponsored groups such as US Navy Sea Cadets or Junior ROTC units.
Signing Up for Space A
Now that you understand the categories, the next step is to sign up for a spot. Every location has its own registration process, so it’s imperative you start there. For example, if you’re trying to get from Nellis AFB in Nevada to Hickam AFB in Hawaii, you’d first need to contact the air terminal at Nellis to find out if a flight to Hickam is scheduled, when it will leave, and the estimated number of available seats. Keep in mind that a location like Hawaii would obviously be more popular and, thus, the limited number of seats would probably fill up quickly.
Advanced planning online can also assist you in making travel decisions. Many terminals have Facebook pages that will provide schedule details, and websites such as TakeAHop.net can also provide you with the information. There are even smartphone apps to help you find the info. Even with these, however, a good rule of thumb is to give the terminal a call and ask because schedules can and do change frequently.
Know The Rules
Depending on the destination, the competition to get a Space A seat can be quite fierce. A great way to keep from being pushed to the end of the line is to contact the passenger terminal 24 hours in advance. You want to do this before the “Roll Call,” or the time that the selection process happens and passengers are categorized. This usually takes place two hours prior to departure time (also called “Go Time”).
Once you’ve confirmed you’ve been declared “Present” for the roll call at the passenger terminal, the only thing left to do is ensure you’re there before “Show Time” (typically 90 minutes prior to departure) so you can be “Manifested.” This means you’ve made the list of passengers to be loaded onto the aircraft (barring any operational requirements that could bump you off). It’s important to note that this process must be completed for each destination you reach; you cannot be manifested “round trip.”
A military aircraft might leave earlier than its scheduled departure time if there are no official passengers waiting and no Space A passengers have been manifested. The crews want to finish their mission and get home early if they can, so don’t trust that the airplane will wait on you.
It’s Not Luxurious
The military flies many different types of aircraft. Some large logistics transport aircraft, such as the C-17, are designed primarily for cargo, so humans may be required to sit in web seats on the outside of the cargo bay tracks. I can tell you, it’s not the most comfortable seat in the world. The military also flies other aircraft like the C-40, C-37 and C-9, which are military versions of commercial transport aircraft. While you might not know which aircraft you will be flying in until it shows up at the terminal, a little preparation will go a long way in ensuring you're as comfortable as possible no matter which aircraft show up:
- Load up on layers—The interior of a cargo plane is usually not very warm. Besides, it’s always easier to peel off a layer if you get too hot than it is to try to keep from getting too cold. Also keep in mind that clothing should be appropriate in fit and should not be revealing or include vulgar images or language.
- Bring ear plugs—If you’re flying in a turboprop aircraft such as a C-130, you‘ll be glad you did. Hearing protection will make the ride more comfortable by reducing the stress the body has to endure for potentially long flights.
- Pack some snacks and water—Some aircraft might have snacks available for purchase, but most do not. Having these on hand will help to fight fatigue and reduce the likelihood of getting airsick.
- Don’t over pack—The typical weight limit for military aircraft is 40 pounds because space and weight are at a premium. So the huge steamer trunk and collection of fancy bags need to stay at home.
The Price is Right
Despite the lack of certain creature comforts, Space A Travel is a free benefit. Those that do it regularly say it can’t be beat and prefer it to commercial transportation. If you approach your travel plans with a sense of adventure and flexibility, the experience can be a lot of fun on a budget—just remember to be Semper Gumby (or “Always Flexible”) and you’ll be hooked on Space A Travel before you know it!
For additional information, check out the following sites: www.spacea.net and www.baseops.net/spaceatravel/
Be sure to check out some of our other blogs on how to save money:
Time to Repay Debts
Simple Steps to Saving