By Stephanie Montague, Military Spouse
If you’ve been following the PCSgrades blog series on Space-A travel, you’ve learned a lot. You know the Space-A basics, what to pack, how to travel with kids, and what resources to access for more information.
Space A Flights
Before you claim expert status, here are some Space-A do’s and don’ts to know when flying Space-A.
DO your research.
If you haven’t read the articles linked above, start there, and keep reading. Space-A is a process, and like everything in the military, it comes with rules and regulations that you must understand and follow. Your travels will be a lot smoother if you’ve done your homework.
DON’T go in blind.
DO use Space-A flights for leisure travel when you have time and flexibility.
Your best friend’s wedding, a funeral, a family event: those are not the right times to fly Space-A. Space-A is never a good option when you have to be somewhere by a certain time because it’s too unpredictable.
DON’T use Space-A for emergencies or important events.
DO Make a backup plan (or two) when flying on Space-A flight.
Your backup plan could include catching a hop to a different destination and renting a car or taking a roundabout way to your target destination by patching together different Space-A flights. Your last resort is to fly commercial, so be sure you have enough money to pay for tickets.
DON’T fly Space-A unless you have the money to pay for commercial airfare.
DO ensure that all of your post-flight travel plans are flexible or refundable.
You shouldn’t book a hotel, tour, cruise, or anything else you can’t cancel when flying Space-A flights.
DON’T make non-refundable reservations based on your expected Space-A flight.
DO avoid the busiest travel times to increase your chances of getting a seat.
The summer PCS season and the winter holidays are the worst times to fly Space-A. Spring break isn’t good either, because it’s generally only 1 week. Yes, it’s possible you will get a seat, especially if you are Cat 3 (active duty on leave). But do you really want to risk blowing your spring vacation sitting in the passenger terminal?
DON’T fly Space-A OCONUS during school breaks.
DO stay in the terminal if you are selected for a flight.
Be sure to return your rental car and make that final commissary run before Roll Call. You will lose your seat if you’re not there when the passenger terminal staff finish manifesting passengers.
DON’T leave the terminal between Roll Call and baggage check.
DO stick around the terminal a while longer . . .
Even if Roll Call ends and you didn’t make the cut, there’s always a chance that more seats will open up. Most other Space-A passengers will leave if they don’t get a seat. If you’re the only one left when they release more seats, you just got lucky! Be sure to let the passenger terminal staff know that you’re still waiting.
DON’T leave the terminal before the plane departs.
DO treat the passenger terminal staff with kindness.
Space-A flights, better known as military missions, are changed, canceled, and delayed regularly. Planes break down. Pilots decide not to take Space-A passengers. All of these things are beyond the control of the terminal staff. Don’t shoot the messenger when you learn that you won’t get a seat on the flight you wanted (or that you have been bumped for a family of space-required passengers).
DON’T blame the passenger terminal staff.
DO remember that Space-A is a privilege.
Our job as Space-A passengers is to be as little burden to the flight crew as possible. Dress in layers so that you can adjust accordingly if the plane is too hot or too cold, and bring plenty of your own snacks and water in case there are no boxed meals available.
DON’T be ‘that passenger’ who complains or makes life difficult for the flight crew.
DO keep children under control.
No matter how much open space is on that C-17, keep in mind that you’re on a military mission. It’s not safe for kids to run around, and it’s not the crew’s responsibility to ensure that kids aren’t getting into trouble or bothering other passengers.
DON’T let the kids run wild.
DO approach your Space-A journey with a positive attitude.
Along the way, you will meet other travelers who will remind you how helpful and supportive the military community can be. Hitching a ride with a military mission is a privilege and, for dependents who have never flown in a military aircraft, a very unique experience. If you think of your journey in this way, you will be better prepared to handle any parts of the process that don’t go as planned.
DON’T forget that Space-A is an adventure!
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Stephanie Montague is the founder of Poppin’ Smoke, a website designed to encourage members of the military community to use their military benefits for travel. Stephanie and her husband have been traveling the world since he retired from the Army in 2015.