For service members and their families, traveling Space Available — or Space-A — on military flights can be a great benefit, but you have to be flexible. Military flights are unpredictable and subject to delays and cancellations. You’ll need to be ready both financially and emotionally to change your plans at a moment’s notice. But for many Space-A passengers, traveling to places like Hawaii, Alaska, Germany, Italy or Japan at no or very low cost is worth the effort. The following information will help you understand how the system works.
Understanding Space-A travel
Military planes (and planes contracted by the military) have mission assignments throughout the world and often offer empty seats to eligible passengers. Space-A passengers can’t reserve seats; available seats are offered to registered passengers before the flight. Here are some things you should know before you try to find a Space-A flight:
- Eligibility. Available seats are offered to service members, retirees, certain DoD employees and their eligible family members. Guard and reserve members may also travel Space-A but with restrictions. Eligible family members can travel without their active duty sponsor under certain circumstances, such as Environmental and Morale Leave or when their service member is deployed for more than 120 days.
- Military terminals. Space-A flights leave from military passenger terminals on installations throughout the United States and around the world. You must sign up for flights on a register maintained at each passenger terminal. Policies and procedures for Space-A travelers vary by installation, so make sure you understand the rules for registration at each terminal from which you are trying to fly. You can find contact information for military terminals at Air Mobility Command.
- Flights. For security reasons, military flight information is not generally published online. The best way to find out about Space-A flights is to call the passenger terminal and ask. The busiest terminals often have regularly scheduled flights and offer the best opportunity for Space-A seats.
- Costs. In general, flying Space-A is at no cost to eligible passengers. However, some contracted flights charge Space-A passengers a small fee, and you may be required to pay a departure tax if you are traveling internationally. On many flights, meal service isn’t provided, but you may have an opportunity to buy a boxed meal before the flight.
Signing up for a Space-A flight
In order to fly Space-A, eligible passengers must register (sign up) at the military passenger terminal from which they want to depart. Uniformed service members must be on leave or pass status when they sign up. Registration can be very competitive at some busy terminals, so be sure to sign up as early as you can.
- Passenger registration. You can sign up on the terminal’s register up to 60 days in advance. You may sign up for more than one destination and at more than one terminal. When you sign up, make sure you have your military ID and leave papers (if necessary). Some terminals accept fax or email sign up, but procedures vary by terminal. For contact information on military passenger terminals, visit AMC. When you get to your destination, be sure to register for a return flight.
- Categories. Once registered, you are assigned a passenger category. These categories determine how seats are assigned. Within each category, passengers are prioritized based on the date and time they registered. Available seats are assigned first to Category I passengers, continuing through the categories until all empty seats are filled.
- Category I. Active duty service members and their accompanying families traveling on emergency leave.
- Category II. Service members and their accompanying family members traveling on EML. This includes command-sponsored family members who are stationed outside the continental United States.
- Category III. Service members and their accompanying families traveling on ordinary leave or reenlistment leave status, and unaccompanied family members of service members deployed 365 consecutive days or more. This category also includes service members and their families on house-hunting leave.
- Category IV. Unaccompanied family members on EML orders and eligible family members of service members deployed 120 days or more.
- Category V. Students whose sponsor is stationed in Alaska or Hawaii and students enrolled in a trade school within the continental United States when the sponsor is stationed overseas.
- Category VI. Retirees and their accompanying family members. This category also includes Guard and reserve members who are traveling within CONUS, Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories.
For more detailed descriptions, go to DoD Air Transportation Eligibility regulation.
- Documentation. Make sure you understand what documentation you will need to travel, including:
- Your military ID
- A copy of your leave orders, if applicable (for emergency leave, EML or ordinary leave passengers)
- Unaccompanied family members of service members who are deployed for 120 days or more need a letter verifying eligibility from the service member’s commanding officer
- A passport and appropriate visas (if traveling overseas)
- DD Form 1853: Verification of Reserve Status for Travel Eligibility (for eligible Guard and reserve members)
- At the terminal. Plan to arrive at the terminal early. Space-A seats can be released two or three hours before a scheduled flight. Check with the passenger counter to be sure you are registered for the flight and your documents are in order.
Space-A travel can be trying — especially if you’re traveling with young children. Planning ahead will help things go a little more smoothly.
- Research where to go. The busiest military passenger terminals will have the most available Space-A seating.
- Figure out when to go. Try to fly when schools are in session. The busiest times to fly — which means fewer available seats — are during holidays and summer vacation. Visit DoD Education Activity for the Department of Defense school calendar.
- Prepare for long delays. Flights can be delayed for hours or even days. Sometimes flights make unscheduled stops or are rerouted. Be sure to carry plenty of snacks and reading materials. If you are traveling with children, pack extra food and toys.
- Bring cash or credit cards. You’ll want to have enough money to buy a commercial plane ticket home or pay for a hotel room, if necessary. Many passenger terminals close at night, so you will need to find lodging if you are still waiting for a flight.
- Pack lightly. Luggage allowance will depend on the type of aircraft. By limiting your luggage, you’ll be able to board any available flight to your destination.
- Be flexible. As a Space-A passenger, you could fly on a comfortable passenger plane or in the cargo hold of a C-130. To get the most out of your trip, you’ll need a good attitude and a sense of adventure.