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Popular Misconceptions About Space-A Travel

by John W. Jackson Jr. - May 5th, 2022

Popular Misconceptions About Space-A Travel

Military service members, Reservists, Retirees, and their families have an extraordinary travel option available to them. Space available flights, known as "Space-A," give military families a chance to travel all around the world for a fraction of the cost. But there are many misconceptions about Space-A flights, which we address below.

Space-A is a privilege, not a right

There are many misconceptions about traveling with Space-A. The first and most important misconception about Space-A travel is that it is a “right.”  It is not. It is a privilege, and it could be taken away from us at any time. That’s why it is important to be respectful and patient when traveling Space-A.

People have been known to complain about not getting on a flight because they think they are "owed" a spot aboard. That complaining is bad news for all of us. If the passenger service rep is following Space-A regulations, it is set up fairly. Be thankful that you have this privilege because most people do not, and never will.

Space-A isn't always free

Another misconception is that Space-A travel is free.  This is both true and false. 

It’s true that most Space-A flights are free. But it could end up costing money in other ways, such as lodging, dining, transportation, and activities. This is especially true if you are unable to get home using Space-A and have to stay in one location for longer than expected or book a commercial flight home.

The only flights that cost money are the Patriot Express (PE), where you must pay international taxes. All cargo flights are free, but they're not always reliable.  If they get canceled or delayed, then you might need to spend a little or a lot of money until you can get another flight. 

When traveling Space-A, you should always have backup plans and enough extra money to cover unexpected expenses.

Space-A is much different than commercial

A third misconception is that military Space-A flights operate like commercial flights. Some people believe that they can get on a military flight and it will bring them to wherever they want to go. Not true by a long shot. 

The mission ALWAYS comes first, even if you're flying home for a family emergency. The military is conducting their mission, and you are only along for the ride. You must go where they are going. Sometimes flights even get re-routed while in the air. 

It’s up to you, not the flight crew, to be prepared for that. If it’s not exactly where you want to go, it’s up to you to complete the rest of the trip however you can.

Flights are not first-come, first-serve

There are many websites about traveling on Space-A. There is really no reason to still believe that seats on a Space-A flight are on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

There are six categories of Space-A travel (read more about them here), and the better you learn how to use them, the better your chances of getting a seat. 

Let's say you're a Cat 4 with two dependents who have waited for two weeks to get a flight. Finally, a flight comes up with three seats available. If a Cat 3 with (or without) dependents* walks in the door five minutes before a roll call and checks in, that Cat 3 passenger gets the seats before you do. It's just the rules of the game.

*Families are usually not separated unless the remaining passengers are able to apply for Space-A on their own. Children under the age of 18 they not be separated from the family.  So, in this case, even if the Cat 3 was alone, there would only be two seats left and the family of three would not be able to be on this flight unless more seats became available. Everyone, even infants, must have their own seat assigned.

No, Space-A is not impossible

Another misconception is that Space-A makes it impossible to plan because you never know when or if you will have a flight.

Sure, Space-A makes it harder to plan, but not impossible. As mentioned, there are many websites dedicated to Space-A travel. Those websites cover a wide variety of topics, from lodging to transportation and restaurants, to hospitals. Use the resources available to you. Make those backup plans, and you should be able to accomplish what you need to do.  Maybe it won’t be perfect, but if you can get to where you need to go, that's all that matters.

The important thing to remember is to have fun with it. If you end up in a location that you were not expecting, relish the opportunity and explore a little bit. Getting stressed out is not going to help.  In fact, it’s probably going to make things worse. Think of Space-A travel this way: wherever you end up, that's the destination!

Ready, set, go!

Space-A travel can be a wonderful way to fly. If you temper your expectations and know the rules, you have no reason to be apprehensive about using Space-A for the first time. It might seem overwhelming at first, but once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’s not so bad. In fact, you might really enjoy it!

For more information about Space-A Travel, visit John’s website UJ Space-A Info.

PCSgrades.com is a review platform for military and veteran families. Leave a review of your prior duty station and read the reviews of where you are PCSing to. Home is where the military sends us and together we can make a difference!

John W. Jackson Jr.

John W Jackson Jr. retired from the Air Force in 1993. He’s been married for just over 38 years. They have a son and four grandsons and have lived in the Philippines for the past seven years. John is an avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys, John Wayne, Hank Williams Jr, and listening to older country music. When he is not involved with the Empire Builder series games or playing dominoes, he offers sage advice on using Space A travel.

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