Space-A Travel — How We Are Getting There and Back Again

Airfare is a huge expense when it comes to taking a trip around the world. For our trip, we plan to take advantage of Space-A travel for as many legs as possible in order to help mitigate that expense. So, I thought an explanation of Space-A might be helpful. This post might also clarify why our response is typically “I don’t know” when asked, “What is your departure date?” or “Where are going first?”

Space-A or Space-Available travel is the privilege of travelling on Department of Defense owned or controlled aircraft. When mission and cargo loads allow, often there is extra room on the craft for passengers and those seats are made available to those who are eligible.

Ray has been with Indian Health Services for just over 20 years now. Indian Health Services is a branch of the Public Health Service, which falls under the governance of the Navy. This means that Ray is a member of the United States Uniformed Service and, as a member of this organization, Ray is able to take advantage of Space-A travel.

For the first half of Ray’s 20 years, we knew a little about Space-A, but we really didn’t take advantage of it. It was difficult to find flight schedules; it was difficult to find phone numbers for passenger services at different bases; and we really had no idea how to make it work for us. Once passenger terminals began taking advantage of technology, however, flying Space-A became a whole lot easier. Most terminals now have a Facebook page and post their schedules daily. There are also several group pages where Space-A travelers can post questions about the process or destinations.

Military Cargo PlaneWe have now taken several trips using Space-A and we have a much better idea of the challenges that Space-A travel presents. First, you have to be on official leave and in possession of a signed leave slip, be retired, or fall into one of several other special categories in order to fly Space-A. Second, flight schedules are only released 72-hours in advance. You definitely have to be ready to go when you see flights come on the schedule. Third, flights can be cancelled or rescheduled up to the last minute and available seats can be changed up to the last minute. Flights can even be diverted to a different destination mid-flight! Finally, once you meet all of the above criteria, you still have to compete for the seats with everyone else who is trying to get out on the same flight. The bottom line is, if you have to be somewhere at a specific time or if your time off is limited or if you simply don’t like being in a constant state of flux, Space-A might not be the best fit.

For those that are willing to get past the obstacles, Space-A offers some definite advantages:

  • Flights are free

There isn’t any reason to list any more… all other advantages pale in comparison to that one. Last check, a flight from Bellingham to Guam (our planned first stop) was anywhere from $1,600 to $2,500 per person. At nearly $10,000 in savings on the first leg alone, free is really the driving factor for Space-A.

The only real disadvantage that we face with Space-A on this trip is that there are no U.S. military bases between South Korea and Europe, where a significant amount of our time will be spent. But, with time to spare and knowing full well what we are getting into, we hope to get as far as South Korea before having to use commercial airlines to get to Vietnam. At the end of the trip, we will return to the U.S. via Space-A from one of the many bases in Europe.

In just over 5 weeks, we will start the process of getting signed up for Space-A and watching flight schedules at nearby bases (Whidbey Island Naval Base, JB Lewis-McChord, and Travis AFB). With any luck and a lot of patience, we’ll reach Guam by mid-August and South Korea by early September. If we happen to get stuck in Hawaii or Japan for a few days waiting for flights, we’ll do our best to make the most of it!

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