Your bags are packed, you’ve done your research, and you’re at the airport, ready to jump on a Space A flight. As the boarding process begins, you realize: there aren’t enough seats left on this military hop. You’re going to miss this plane and with it, your best-laid travel plans.
A Quick Guide to Space A Flights
It takes a little bit of time to learn the intricacies of Space A, but with some research and flexibility, you can take advantage of free (or nearly free) travel. Space A (or “Space Available”) flights are a unique benefit to current members of the military, retirees, some veterans, and their dependents. Those groups are organized into prioritized categories (called “cats”) that are based on the passenger’s reason for flying and military status.
Once space for all passengers with military orders and required cargo are accounted for, eligible passengers can grab seats on military flights. Space A flyers will be boarded in order of cat. Cat I (one) has the highest priority and cat VI (six) has the lowest. A variety of factors play into availability on any given Space A flight, so if you’re flying Space A for pleasure, know that you may need to be flexible and come prepared to be turned away at the gate.
Remember: you get what you pay for! Seeing if you’ll be able to get on a Space A flight (or if it will fill before you can board) can be a real nail-biter, especially during high-traffic times like PCS season. Space A isn’t an ideal option when you have to fly to an important event with a fixed date like a wedding, funeral, or graduation.
Getting Prepared for Your Space A Flight
To take full advantage of Space A flights, you’ll need to do a little homework.
- Learn more about the Space A process and stay up-to-date with changes that might be relevant to your travel situation through Air Mobility Command’s website. Get a handle on needed forms and methods of identification, weight and baggage restrictions, expected timelines, and other pertinent information.
- Ask questions and learn from seasoned Space A travelers through this Facebook group. (Please note: This is for military travel enthusiasts. It’s not an official military Facebook group.)
- Research the airports in your area and which destinations are commonly available via military hop. Once you know what’s available to you, get your name on the terminals’ lists as soon as allowed before your desired departure date. Sign-up seniority determines boarding preference within each cat. Keep your emails and phone call notes as a record of your sign-up; you might not receive a confirmation from the terminal.
- As it gets closer to your ideal departure, familiarize yourself with how to read Space A schedules and follow the social media accounts of your chosen airports. Know what procedures are required and what timelines to adhere to at the airport you’ll be departing from.
5 Tips for When Your Space A Travel Falls Through
In a perfect world, Space A would always have enough space for everyone who wants to hop on. In reality, you’ll need to be flexible and have alternate plans.
- Book the return trip. Space-A requires a little luck and a lot of flexibility, which often works for your outbound flight when you might have time to spare. If you must be home on a certain day, consider purchasing refundable commercial tickets for your journey back. It’s more expensive, but it will give you peace of mind.
- Check other terminals. If you’re within reasonable driving distance of other airports offering military hops, you might be able to grab a Space-A flight… if you signed up for those terminals.
- Try another flight. Check the schedule for other military hops that are flying from your chosen airport in the immediate future. It might be worth it to stay overnight in a hotel if it means you have another shot at a Space A flight.
- Consider other transportation. Depending on the destination and your budget, you might be able to purchase last-minute tickets via train or commercial airline. These are pricier options than extremely budget-friendly Space A, but if you’ve absolutely got to get to your destination, it might be your best solution.
- Use ID.me to grab great travel deals. Special offers from brands you know and trust can get you going when Space A isn’t an option.
Space A Travel FAQS
Want more information about traveling via military hops? Here are some commonly asked questions to get you on your way:
- Is Space A travel free? While you won’t pay for tickets on most Space A flights, you might spend money in other ways—like food, lodging, and alternate transportation costs. If you choose to fly on the Patriot Express (the name of chartered commercial military flights), you’ll pay a tax per person. The taxes are still extremely reasonable (in most cases, they won’t exceed $35) and are determined by your flight’s destination.
- Can disabled veterans use Space A? Veterans with a permanent service-connected disability rated as total are able to use Space A. Dependents of disabled veterans are also able to access Space A when accompanied by the veteran. There are some travel restrictions, which you should note when you’re planning.
- Can retired military dependents fly Space A? Dependents of retired military personnel with a blue ID card are able to fly Space A if their sponsor is traveling with them.
- Can retired military fly for free? Retirees can fly Space A for little or no cost, just like other eligible groups.
- Can federal employees fly Space A? Department of Defense civilian workers (including DODEA/DoDDS teachers) are able to fly Space A under certain conditions and guidelines. DoD civilians’ dependents are also able to fly Space A under specific conditions.
Joanna Guldin-Noll writes one of the largest military spouse lifestyle blogs online, Jo, My Gosh! Her writing has been featured in national and international publications. She is currently the social media manager at Military.com and the co-founder of PILLAR, a free virtual deployment retreat for military spouses and significant others. Joanna lives in Pennsylvania with her Navy veteran husband John and her puppy Albus.