There’s a thrill to Space-A travel. A nice camaraderie often breaks out among the travelers, and who doesn’t like a free ride? Just make sure you’ve got enough flexibility to roll with the flight schedule and the funds to either wait it out if you miss a flight or to buy yourself a ticket home Space-A is a benefit that allows active duty , Department of Defense civilians, military retirees and command sponsored family members (“dependents”) the chance to fly at virtually no charge. This article is written from the perspective of family members traveling without their sponsors. (The process is similar for active duty members, but they can’t register at the AMC until the day their leave begins and you only need leave orders.) If you travel without your sponsor, you will be in a lower priority category. You can, though, move up a category if you take the trip as Environmental Morale Leave . Don’t be too pessimistic. Many planes leave here with seats to spare, and some of us have enjoyed multiple trips courtesy of Space-A.
Where can you go? The Patriot Express flies to Seattle and Korea. There are also flights to Okinawa and Misawa within Japan, Guam, Honolulu, Anchorage, Travis (near Oakland/Sacramento) and Singapore (not an EML location). Yokota-based families are allowed to fly Space-A to the U.S. and anywhere in the Pacific Theater.
To start off, ask at the Yokota Passenger Terminal for the list of scheduled flights for that month, and for the phone numbers and email addresses of the other terminals you hope to fly to. You can also check out the Yokota terminal’s Facebook page.
How to fly Space-A
The rules can get complicated, but it boils down to three steps.
Step 1: Get permission. This will be either in the form of a letter from your spouse’s commander saying that you’re “command-sponsored” for Space-A travel, or a form saying you’re on unfunded Environmental Morale Leave. Your documents remain valid for three months. You can find an example letter here.
Alternatively, you can get an EML form. EML travel is higher priority and you can do it twice a year. Inquire about either at your sponsor’s administrative section.
Step 2: Register yourself at AMC by signing up as early as 60 days before travel. The basic method is to go to the service counter at the Yokota passenger terminal. Bring your letter or approved EML form and your passport. You’ll get a stamp on your letter indicating the date and time you registered. This determines your priority within your category.
You can also email your form to email@example.com or fax it to 225-9768. You should get a confirmation message. Print it and keep it with your letter. (I met one woman who found out on the day of travel that her emailed registration wasn’t in the system. She was able to get on the roster by showing the confirmation message.) Either way, keep your original signed letter with you at all times when you travel.
Step 3: Show up ready to fly. Actually, you should call first (225-5660 or 225-7111), a day or two before, to make sure the flight is still on as scheduled. Ask what time the Space-A roll call is. Then, schlepping your luggage and travel documents, go to the terminal about half an hour before roll call. Tell the folks behind the service desk you’re present and want to get on that flight. This is known in AMC-speak as “being marked present.” Ten minutes before roll call they will put up a roster showing all Space-A candidates and their priority. Make sure you’re on that roster. Then cross your fingers and wait to find out if you made the flight.
–If you’re selected for a flight, get your boarding pass right away. Anything can happen. You don’t want it snatched away from by some late-arriving passenger with a higher priority.
–When you register for your outbound flight, register for your return trip, too. Contact the terminal you’ll be flying from to get back to Yokota. The Yokota Terminal can give you the email addresses and fax numbers. Why wait?
–You can also register with www.takeahop.org. This is a private organization that will send your request to the terminals you specify. Takeahop will send you a message confirming your request. Trouble is, you may or may not get a response from the terminal to confirm that you are indeed registered, so you may have to call or email anyway.
–Unless you know you’re going on an airliner, wear full-on shoes. Sandals aren’t allowed on military aircraft.
–Bring warm layers if you’re flying on a cargo plane. Some people bring camping mats and sleeping bags. Dress for comfort. It may be cold and loud on board.
–Find a bathroom before you board. All planes have a “latrine” but this could be rather basic.
–Be prepared to pay about $28 in head tax if you’re flying on the Patriot Express to Seattle.
–The Patriot Express was rerouted in 2010 so that Seattle-bound flights now fill up in Korea before they land in Yokota. That has lowered the number of Space-A seats to a mere handful, even when school is in session.
–A very good forum for the latest on Space-A travel is Dirk Pepper’d Space-A Message Board. (Thanks to Nancy F. for the tip.) This SpaceA.net is also a fantastic resource that is updated constantly.
–See www.amc.af.mil/amctravel for general information about Space-A, including luggage restrictions. Liz Ruskin, 2010
Short-notice flights (or unscheduled flights) are sometimes your best bet if you are in a low category. Many people leave the terminal and only return for missions that are listed on the daily schedule. With a short flight, you can endure any type of plane, even cargo planes where you have to wear earplugs. If there are no flights or few probable seats, you can try another base. Use the DSN phone in the terminal to call other bases. For example, if you are trying to get to Guam through Kadena, call Kadena and first ask what time the flight from Yokota to Kadena is scheduled to land, then ask if there are any flights scheduled to Guam after that landing. Also get the phone number for billeting there, in case you get stuck for a day. Ask how many people are signed up for Guam to get an idea of your chances. Most of the people you speak with will be frank and they will tell you if people are having trouble getting out to that destination. Sometimes “hopping” can be just as adventurous and beats sitting in the terminal for days.
But if you do get stranded, note some terminals have USO facilities where you can hang out. Fortunately, Yokota is a great place to catch flights.
Olney M. Meadows, 2002
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