Passengers are loaded into a C-17 headed for Dover Air Force Base, Del., April 21. Space-A travellers are given seats aboard Department of Defense-owned or controlled aircraft after all mission requirements, including cargo and duty passengers, have been met. Photo by Airman 1st Class Nathan Lipscomb
Cathy Walker, right, and her daughter Grace sit aboard a C-17 prior to take off from Ramstein April 21. Mrs. Walker and her three daughters are on their way to visit family while her husband is deployed. Photo by Airman 1st Class Nathan Lipscomb
by Airman 1st Class Nathan Lipscomb
435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
4/22/2008 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Many military members turn to space-available flights while overseas to save money when traveling back home to see family and friends. But knowing how the process works can save military members and their families from unexpected heartache.
"The key to successful Space-A travel is understanding how the system works," said Senior Master Sgt. Louis Smith, Ramstein passenger terminal superintendent. "Timing and flexibility in your travel plans are vital to exercising one of the best privileges afforded to military members and their families."
Space-A Travel is passenger travel on unused seats aboard DoD-owned or controlled aircraft after all mission requirements, including cargo and duty passengers, have been met. Passengers traveling Space-A are in a stand-by status and are not guaranteed transportation.
According to 2nd Lt. Melissa Thurman, 723rd Air Mobility Squadron passenger service operations officer, travelers should be aware that peak travel times are May-August and November-December.
"AMC terminals are especially busy during the summer months and average wait time for travelers can be anywhere from two to 14 days, depending on a passengers travel category and date and time of sign up," she said.
And since the facility is not open 24 hours, passengers are responsible for arranging overnight lodging when needed, added Sergeant Smith.
Air Force dependent Cathy Walker and her three children decided to take advantage of a Space-A flight to visit family while her husband is deployed.
"It's a little hard to get a flight sometimes, but I think it's a better way to go back to the states," said Mrs. Walker. "You just have to be patient."
Some things to remember when traveling Space-A: Have all travel documents, and baggage must not exceed two checked bags per person each weighing 70 pounds or less, and an authorized carry-on.
"It is important to have the right paper work when flying Space-A," said Lieutenant Thurman. "This includes having leave paperwork if active-duty, command sponsorship letters for dependents traveling without their sponsor, passports, any required visas, military IDs and any destination-specific documents."
The first stop for each travel-ready passenger arriving at the terminal is the passenger service center.
"Here passengers can sign-up for travel and mark themselves present," said Lieutenant Thurman. "Passenger sign up can also be done by e-mailing the passenger service center at firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxing DSN 480-2364."
Once passengers are marked present, they will have an opportunity to be selected for travel during the roll call.
Roll call is conducted on average three hours prior to aircraft departure, and passengers are selected for a flight based on their travel category and date and time of sign up, according to Lieutenant Thurman.
Space-A travel is broken up into six categories in order of highest priority.
-Category 1: non-funded emergency leave
-Category 2: environmental and morale leave with sponsor
-Category 3: ordinary leave or permissive TDY for house hunting
-Category 4: unaccompanied dependents of military members deployed for at least 120 days, including Reserve and Guard personnel
-Category 5: command sponsored dependents traveling without their sponsor
-Category 6: Retirees/Guard/Reserve
It is important to note that passengers traveling in categories four and five require a letter signed by the sponsor's commander authorizing travel. Sample letters are provided on the Ramstein Space-A Web site at www.ramstein.af.mil, then click on Space-A link.
If selected for a flight during the roll call, passengers will check-in their baggage, pay flight fees of $27.40 for federal inspection fees and head tax on contracted commercial aircraft, and $3.85 for meals on military aircraft, and receive boarding passes.
"For those interested in traveling stateside, we have weekly flights to various destinations," said Lieutenant Thurman. "Please keep in mind that our Patriot Express missions - contracted commercial aircraft - to Baltimore may require a longer wait on the Space-A backlog."
"Passengers may want to consider flights on military aircraft to locations such as McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, Andrews AFB, Maryland, and Charleston AFB, South Carolina," said Airman 1st Class Zach Harter, 723rd AMS passenger service agent. "These flights may afford you faster travel opportunities."
According to Lieutenant Thurman, the best advice is to have a plan when traveling Space-A. Flexibility and patience are a must as AMC missions may change or cancel without any notice.
"If you're not able to get a Space-A flight on the day you'd like to travel, ensure you have finances readily available to procure meals, lodging, ground transportation, and/or a commercial flight if necessary," she said.
Below are the top 10 tips for Space-A travel from the 723rd Air Mobility Squadron.
1. Ensure you are travel ready before arriving to the terminal for a flight. Do you have all required travel documents? If you're not sure, check out our website, give us a call, or come visit us prior to traveling.
2. Don't forget 3-1-1 for all carry-on baggage; liquids, lotions, and gels must be no more than 3oz.; 1 quart-sized clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger. Check out www.tsa.gov for more information.
3. Plan for the unexpected! If you're not selected for a flight, meals, lodging, ground transportation, and commercial flights can be costly.
4. Flights may change or cancel without any notice. For the most up-to-date flight schedule, passengers are advised to check with the terminal before arriving for travel.
5. Passengers should arrive at the terminal no later than 45 minutes prior to roll call. If you're not already signed-up for travel, you'll want to arrive earlier.
6. When signing up for travel via fax or e-mail, always print a copy showing the date and time of the transmission. Should you show up on your day of travel and find that you are not in the backlog, this copy can be used to back-date your date and time of sign-up.
7. If you are active-duty military, you must be on leave to sign-up for Space-A travel.
8. Make sure you travel with checks or cash. Federal inspection fees and head tax are $27.40 and flight meals are $3.85, and can only be paid for using cash or check.
9. When flying on military aircraft, remember that open-toed or open-heeled shoes are not permitted.
10. Travel with a set of clothes in your carry-on baggage just in case your flight delays and you have to stay overnight.
Visit the Space-A Web site, call 479-4161/4442, or visit the Ramstein passenger terminal, building 3333. Hours of operation are Monday-Saturday 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.