Space Available Flights (Recommendations for Military Retirees)
Inside a C-5A Galaxy going to Mildenhall AB, England
Primarily for the retired military members out there - here's a link to Pepperd's Space Available (using otherwise wasted seats on military or military contracted aircraft) travel:
If the Pepperd's link does not work, just do a Google search for "Pepperd Space Available" or any similar phrase. Pepperd's was formerly free, but Dirk had to start charging an annual membership fee to maintain the site. 'Around $30 per year now. Well worth it. His site shows posts from volunteers as to the expected outgoing flights from the Space A "PAX" (passenger terminals) around the world, shared trip reports, lodging recommendations, answers to questions, etc.
Military retiree eligibility for Space Available flights is at the lowest priority level, Category 6. Obviously, active duty personnel have the highest priority. Space A is also used by active duty families on house-hunting trips and PCS (permanent change of station) moves, etc. However, by avoiding the largely predictable high-usage periods of the higher category flyers, "Cat 6" users can usually travel with few problems. Try to avoid traveling between mid-April and mid-September. Likewise during Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday periods. Depending on what part of the world is involved, spring and fall school breaks might also be problematic because of active duty dependent children travel.
Regarding the common objection that "I feel more secure having a ticket": Hey, how many times have you been delayed on commercial flights? Or your commercial flight was cancelled altogether? "The next available flight is tomorrow at 1:00pm, sorry." Space A flights are certainly not guaranteed and are - admittedly - less 'schedule oriented' than commercial, but free is good. Strike that. Free (or the small fee for traveling on contracted civilian aircraft) is great!
Let me add another consideration/caution: If you want to fly to some isolated air base which only has semi-regular flights in and out every week or so, don't complain if the one-week-later flight you were counting on is cancelled due to mechanical problems and you are stuck there for two weeks. On the other hand, if you are in Ramstein or Spangdahlem or Travis or Andrews or any of the other high-volume PAX terminals and you are there during a low-usage period by the higher category passengers you are pretty sure of getting out. Maybe not to the next place you originally planned on, or maybe by waiting a day or so, but out. You can figure out how to get to where you want, OR you can decide that Hickam (Hawaii) might be as good a place to go as Sigonela (Sicily) after all. Several of the trip reports on Dirk Pepperd’s Space-A-Message Board are from travelers who had a limited time period they could be away from home, for whatever reason were stymied on their Space A way to their planned destination, and chose what was available.
You can mix Space A with commercial. We bought one-way (cheaper than round trip) tickets to near the starting city (Nuremberg) for a Viking river cruise on the Danube, traveled by train from the ending city (Budapest) to Aviano AFB, Italy (actually to the closest train station at Pordenone from which we took a taxi), and flew Space A back to BWI through Ramstein. So we had the more predictability, 'feel secure' benefits of the commercial flight to where we had to be by the fixed start date for the cruise and could relax on the ~$70-for-two-people-including-checked-luggage way back. Aviano, by the way, is a nice little Italian town. The on-base housing was great, and there is a free shuttle from the housing office to the Space A PAX.
Not really comparable to having a commercial ticket, but still a VERY good idea - sign up in advance of your planned Space A departure. If you arrive a few hours early at, say, Wright-Patterson AFB Space A PAX and personally sign the roster as a Cat 6 for flight X that may be all you need to do before the "show time" for that flight. At show time no one else can sign that roster and if three Cat 6 seats are available and four Cat 6 people signed the roster, the earliest three get seats. BUT, also considered at Wright-Patterson and almost all other PAX are those who signed up no more than 60 days in advance using Take-a-Hop Space A sign-up. In a really competitive situation only those with sign up dates slightly less than 60 days earlier would be seated. I've never been that close to not getting a flight I called about first but I always sign up as much in advance as possible, not to exceed the 60 day limit. Print the return e-mail confirmation from Take a Hop and show the hard copy to the PAX counter person when you physically sign in to prove the earlier effective date and time. I've heard of situations in which the time of day made a difference. For those of you who have mobile phones smart enough (which my old Blackberry Torch was not but my current LG Escape 2 [with an Android operating system] is ) you can download the Take-a-hop app which enables you to do the sign-up-in-advance process described above, even while you are mid-trip; provides current PAX telephone numbers around the world; zoom in and out Google maps of the area around each PAX; information regarding lodging and much more. You can show the PAX sign-up people your date and time confirming email right from your phone.
Polly and I use "Space A" for several reasons, only the most obvious being to save money. Others are security (always on military or military contracted aircraft, usually take off and landing from secured military bases, always surrounded by screened current and former military members and their dependents, long term parking in secured locations) usually reasonable lodging expense on or near the same bases we travel to and from, access to commissaries & exchanges, and the camaraderie. I'll try to post a link to a couple of Facebook albums of our Space A trips, the first to Omaha Beach, Pegasus Bridge, Paris Disneyland and other (primarily French) locations most probably more of interest to us. For this Space A trip we flew out of Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) to Ramstein AB, Germany and rented a car (VW Polo, € 201 for a week) on base. Space A has an actual counter at BWI in the same wing as the other small/unusual airlines. Just go to "John W Tilford" on Facebook, then "photos", then "albums", then "Normandy [with side trips] late October 2010". I've added remarks to the right of each of the pictures in the Facebook album. Some of the remarks are intended as helpful hints, some are intended to be humorous, some were primarily for our friends. If you are only interested in Space A photos, just look at the beginning and the end.
I usually telephone the Space A "PAX" (passenger terminal) where we plan on departing to listen to their recorded list of upcoming outgoing flights and/or talk personally to a Space A representative. I can ask them current/real time information regarding the likelihood the expected departure flight will take place, maybe delayed, etc. I also usually call the PAX where we expect to arrive about on-base and nearby housing, local travel such as military shuttles, etc. The Air Mobility Command provides a current list of commercial telephone numbers (as opposed to DSN, the Department of Defense telephone system) for most Space A PAX. We have Vonage (voice over the internet protocol, or "VoIP") at home and pay next-to-nothing to talk to, for examples, Ramstein AB, Mildenhall AB, andTravis AFB. Most PAX terminals are staffed 24/7 - not all, but most. I have never, ever, been disappointed in the courtesy or helpfulness of the PAX counter attendants in person or over the telephone. Here's a link to the AMC Space A page:
From the AMC Space A main page - which also provides eligibility requirements, restrictions, etc. - you can click on "AMC Travel Contacts, Click Here" to see the AMC current list of Space A PAX telephone numbers, or the following link should take you straight to the same pdf file:
When talking to the PAX representatives ask about on-base and nearby lodging. If PAX does not have the lodging telephone numbers (they usually do, and some will even email you the same list with telephone numbers they give walk-ins) you can probably get the numbers from the base web page for on base lodging from a Google search for lodging in the closest town . Some on-base lodging accept Space A reservations. I've reserved lodging on Ramstein, Travis, and Aviano on this basis.
Here are some additional tips from other Space A travelers:
"Although the throw-away, foam type hearing protection ear plugs are usually provided, Bose noise canceling headsets make a long trip feel like a short trip in noisy aircraft."
"If your aircraft might be a KC-135R, C-117, or similar cargo aircraft, dress for warmth. I’ve seen people flying Space A show up in shorts in summertime and pay the price at 41,000 feet in a minimally (if at all) insulated aircraft. Better yet, if traveling in the summer, dress in layers so you can adapt."
"Remember to rent or bring a GPS if you are renting a vehicle. Last year I did not and thought that Google maps on my cellphone would suffice. Twelve clicks out of Berlin I lost signal...Ugggh."
"Use Tripadvisor.com to find some interesting things to do if stuck for 24 or 48 hours with no flights and nothing to do. This past October waiting to get out of Mildenhall, with Trip Advisor and Google Maps -Transit on my cellphone, we utilized the local bus to visit Bury St Edmonds.....something we’ll never forget."
And a some additional tips from me:
Download and install Google Earth both at home and on your travel laptop (or whatever the equivalent is these days):Download Google Earth. Use it for overhead imagery to conduct reconnaissance. Placemark locations in order to measure distances between them using the ruler function under "tools".
You must have your passport with you when you sign up in person before an international flight and when you report at "show time". You always have to show your military identification card for any Space A flight. We just renewed our passport at $110 each, but, you know, that's $11 per year over the ten year life. Here's how to get a Passport .
Last, but maybe most important: have the "Plan B" credit card(s) handy. Secure, but handy. I was stuck in Mildenhall AB in early July 2014. The Cat 6 people keep getting left behind as more Cat 1 through 5 (mostly 3) continued to show up for flights during the double-rush (summer and US holiday). You know, it's almost like they can log on to Pepperd's too. So, after a few days of checking out of my room on base, lugging the luggage to the PAX, getting passed over, checking back in to another room (at least I was lucky in that respect), and doing the same the next day - I bit the bullet and went to Hotwire.com on my little traveling laptop and bought the cheapest commercial one-way ticket back home. A related note: get and use a credit card which does not charge currency conversion fees. Currency conversion rates - which the all have to apply - also vary between cards. When asked about conversion rates, all the companies reps talk a good game, but the good company reps tell you exactly how they determine their conversion rates.
I hope you enjoy traveling Space A!