a beginners guide to flying space-a

a guide to flying space-a

I’m super excited to share this post today because before we flew Space-A last week, it was this unknown entity to me. Like many things in the military, however, once you tackle it once, it’s far less elusive and mysterious, and it becomes a completely attainable thing. Flying Space-A has been on my list for a while. It’s a cost-effective way to travel, so long as you’re willing to be flexible. When you fly Space-A, you’re trading your time for a free flight. If you’re okay with that, then Space-A is for you.

If you haven’t yet tried Space-A, it’s likely still a mystery. So, I’m breaking it all down today. I’m sharing who can fly, how they’re classified, the forms you need, and even what you should pack to prepared. Most of all, I’m sharing how to stay sane through the process. Just a warning, this is my longest post ever, but I’m excited to (hopefully) debunk the myths surrounding it. Here we go…

Who can fly Space-A?

Simply put, only servicemembers, retired service men and women, and their families are eligible fly Space-A. With certain qualifications, reservists, National Guardsmen, and familial dependents may travel without their active-duty sponsor.

What are the Space-A categories, and what do they mean?

When you fly Space-A, your place on the plane is determined by your category. Each time a mission is listed with space available, there is a set number of seats and, on flights to popular destinations, there are often a number of people vying for the seats. Because of this, people are grouped into categories by priority, which determines whether or not they’ll get on the flight. Here’s how it breaks down.

  • Category 1: Emergency Leave
  • Category 2: Accompanied EML (environmental and morale leave)
  • Category 3: Regular travel leave & househunting TDY, medal of honor holders & foreign military
  • Category 4: Unaccompanied dependents on EML – this was our most recent trip
  • Category 5: Permissive TDY, dependents, students, post-deployment/mobilization respite
  • Category 6: Retirees, reservists, Civil Engineer Corps, disabled veterans

Can I fly Space-A without my sponsor?

The short answer? Yes and no. The longer answer is that it depends on your situation. If your active duty sponsor is stateside, then no, you likely cannot travel without your sponsor. If, however, your sponsor is deployed for more than 30 consecutive days, you can fly Space-A alone. To fly, you’ll need a Deployed Sponsor Dependent Verification Letter signed, dated, and customized by your sponsor’s commander. Here is an example of what a dependent verification letter looks like.

It’s important to note that if you’re traveling unaccompanied, as we did, this letter is your lifeline. You must be able to furnish it at the AMC terminal where they will stamp and date it on the date of your Space-A travel. Also worth noting is that people often try to forge these letters, so they’ll scour it with a fine-toothed comb.

packing for space a

I’m eligible to fly…now what?!

You sign up! No, seriously. The first thing you need to do is fill out AMC Form 140. This basically registers you for Space-A travel for 60 days from the time of submission. You can either send the information via email to your preferred passenger terminal, fax it to the terminal, or visit the terminal and fill it out in person. I emailed the info and was signed up the same day. Do not expect a response or confirmation from the terminal. You won’t get one. Print out the submission of your information to prove the time and date of your submission, and it will cover you.

After that, start making plans! Scour the passenger terminal Facebook pages – you can find most of them on here – and be sure to check daily, as they’ll post their 72-hour flight schedules. These flights can change, but it’ll give you an idea of when and where you want to go.

How should I pack when flying Space-A?

The great part about flying Space-A is that you don’t have to deal with the extra costs and fees of bags like commercial airlines. That said though, you will trade some creature comforts. Passengers can each check two pieces of luggage, each up to 70 lbs. Each passenger is also entitled to one piece of carry-on luggage, which must fit in the overhead compartment of a traditional aircraft or under the seat.

You don’t always know what type of plan you’re going to fly on, so it’s important to adhere to these rules. We flew on a c-17, but even so, our “checked luggage” was strapped down in the middle of the plane and inaccessible in-flight. Therefore, we relied solely on our carry-on bags. In terms of those, I highly recommend all the following being in your carry-on luggage:

  • Snacks
  • Water/drink bottles
  • Chargers
  • Baby carrier and/or cot – we brought our Snuggle Me, and Mieke slept like a boss
  • Headphones/hearing protection – they will provide earplugs, but I recommend noise cancelling headphones
  • Laptop/tablet/books – there’s no in-flight entertainment beyond watching kids explore!
  • Your wallet and valuables
  • Your DoD ID, passport (if needed), kids’ dependent IDs if over 10, passports/IDs for children under 10 to prove dependent status

Joint Base Lewis-McChord Passenger Terminal was awesome and had an incredible family room that we basically lived in for a day and a half while preparing to fly. Not all passenger terminals are the same though. While we had multiple cribs, play areas, charging stations, and eating areas to choose from while waiting to fly, I’m glad we packed more than we needed because we were well-prepared.

flying space a with children

jblm passenger terminal family room

My ultimate tips for flying Space-A

I’ve been curious about flying Space-A for a long time, but not too many of my friends have done it, so I had to do the research and learn by doing. Even with the chaos of our flight, I will 100% do it again. That said, I think that there are definitely a few things people should remember when choosing to fly Space-A. I’m sharing my top tips, tricks, and recommendations for making it as smooth a travel experience as possible. Ready?

  • Dress in layers. If you’re flying in a cargo plane, it will be significantly colder than a traditional commercial flight. We knew this ahead of time, so the boys wore jeans, sneakers, a tee shirt, a hoodie, and each had a jacket, as well. Mieke wore a footie jammie, and I had her Nested Bean Zen Sack to ensure she was warm enough. I also had a couple swaddle blankets. I, too, followed suit with layers.
  • Be sure to have your debit or credit card on hand to purchase meals in-flight. The terminal will not accept cash.
  • Don’t count on the terminal WiFi. If you want to download shows to your tablet, etc., do so before you get to the terminal.
  • Be as flexible as possible with your travel plans. For example, I wanted to get to New Hampshire. Ideally, I would’ve found a flight to Pease or Bangor. The closest I could find was Stewart Air National Guard Base in NY. Just five hours from home, it was totally worth it.
  • Over-pack your carry-on bag. If you think you might need it, pack it. Like I said, you won’t have access to your “checked” bags in flight.
  • Avoid DONSAs or school holidays if you can; these are notoriously the busiest times for Space-A travel, and if you’re in a lower category, you may have a lesser chance of getting on the flight.
  • Show up before the scheduled “show time” and at least an hour before the roll call to mark yourself present.
  • Double and triple check your status on the Space-A registry, as well as the passenger terminal schedule, as things may change constantly. I actually went into the terminal the day prior to our flight to ensure we were registered to fly, and they confirmed it.
  • Check parking at the terminal; JBLM has a long-term parking lot, but you need to fill out a form. Most have the same, so it’s ideal to pick up the form and fill it out ahead of time, only entering your spot number the day of your travel. You’ll leave it on your dash and log your car in the book at the terminal.

My ultimate tip though? Expect not to fly. I don’t say this to be a fatalist. Rather, I say this to be a realist. Space-A offers zero guarantees. The mission could fly, or it could not. It could go on time, or it could not. Hell, it could do what it did for us, take off and turn around twice before leaving the next day. You never know. Be. Flexible.