During our current PCS (permanent change of station), John had more leave time than we had money so we decided to attempt a Space A vacation. For those of you not familiar with Space A, The United States Air Force offers Space-Available (Space A) travel as a benefit to all active duty, dependents (with restrictions) and retired Uniformed Services members. There are different categories during travel depending on the circumstances. For example, Cat 1 (highest category) would be for those on Emergency leave ~ they get picked first. Rank does NOT factor into category or selection. To find your category, check the link below.
Space Available travel is a great benefit for Military families if you have a lot of leave time (something like block leave), are flexible, are willing to be patient while waiting for flights and would like to save a lot of money on airline tickets. It’s not for the faint of heart. Ideally, you’ll have a place to stay with friends or family because making hotel reservations in advance is not an option.
In the 17 years I’ve been an Army wife, I’ve used Space A twice. The first time, it was just Logan and I taking a hop from Germany to the states to visit with my mom. It was in January 2002 and so easy to get on the flights because most kids were in school. The aircraft was a charter so it was just like flying commercial. It’s much harder to catch a flight when schools are out whether it be for summer vacation,Christmas, New Years or Spring break.
A lot of the passenger terminals are on Facebook and update their flight status at least twice daily. It’s also important to CALL and speak with an actual person at the desk for the absolute most updated info. For example: we were planning to travel from Hickam AFB, Hawaii to Travis AFB, California. Unfortunately, even though there were four flights scheduled and we were very optimistic we would make it to Travis that day, all four flights were cancelled and we ended up spending the day on the North Shore at the beach, paddle boarding.
Not only do you need to be flexible, have a backup plan. John has a PACE plan which stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency plans. Thankfully, we only made it to alternate plans or as I call it, Plan B. I can’t thank our friend, Heather, enough for welcoming us to her home in Oahu. When we landed in Hawaii there was a huge military exercise going on so there were no hotel rooms or rental cars available. We finally found a rental car after a long search.
Here’s a link for the FAQs re: Space A http://www.military.com/Travel/Content1/0%2C%2CSAF_faq%2C00.html
Lessons Learned from our Space A adventure:
- Things change frequently ~ check the facebook updates, call directly or hang out in the terminal. Sometimes unlisted flights go out and allow space A folks to hop on.
- All the aircrafts we were on (C5, C17 and a KC10) were COLD and loud. Be sure to wear lots of layers. I’m talking ski hat and gloves wouldn’t be inappropriate :). Ear plugs are a must. On most flights, the crew will pass out ear plugs but take your own just in case.
- You must wear close toe shoes.
- Luggage weight can’t exceed 2 bags and 70 pounds (less on smaller planes). Pack light!
- Buy the in flight meals for about $5.00 ~ they’re substantial. Our meals included a sandwich, chips, fruit, soda, water and granola bar.
- Be flexible ~ we got “stuck” in Travis AFB, CA but really enjoyed visiting San Francisco, Muir Woods, Stanford and UCDavis.
- Be prepared to rent a car one way in order to reach your final destination.
- Make sure you understand the sign up procedures. You’re put on the list according to when you sign up so it’s important to email all the terminals you may use during your trip.
- Don’t bother venting your frustration if a flight cancels. You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches. It’s all about what the mission requires not about transporting passengers. One thing I noticed while traveling ~ people were disappointed but no one got angry.
- Be prepared to spend money on a cab, rental car and/or lodging.
- Enjoy where ever you end up ~ whether it be California, Alaska, Illinois, etc… Enjoy the journey!!!!
If anyone else has done Space A and has additional lessons learned, please leave a comment with your advice. It’s such a great benefit but takes a little planning. For those of you who have never tried it, it’s a lot of fun and can lead to unexpected adventures.
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