First Time Space-A Travel

I am Navy retiree living in Chicago. When I retired after more than 20 years of service in the USN and USNR, naturally I was looking forward to the retirement pay. But I was also looking forward to being able to take advantage of the privilege of flying on military aircraft for free. I hadn’t been retired long before my wife and I found ourselves in the PAX terminal at Scott AFB, Illinois eager to begin the adventure of Space-A travel. Since then I have made several Space-A trips .What follows is based on my own experience and on a book called The Worldwide Space-A Travel Handbook. This book is available at a website called This book has been of considerable assistance to me. I will speak more about it later.

What is it? 

Space-A travel is a benefit which gives active duty personnel, retirees and dependents, free passage on military aircraft both within the US and overseas. Your military ID card proves your entitlement to Space-A travel. If you’re traveling to a foreign destination, you will need a valid passport as well. While no airfare is charged, Space-A travel is not exactly free. First of all, you have to get to a Navy or Air Force base which has Space-A flights. This may involve the expense of driving to the base and parking your car or the cost of commercial transportation to the nearest base. Frequently, you will have to spend at least one night in the Air Force Inn or Navy Lodge. Currently (2010) the charge is about $35 per night. A box lunch on the flight will cost you a few dollars. NB; If you drive your POV to the base from which you intend to depart, you will probably want to return to this same base. Under some circumstances this can be a bad move. Let’s say you’re in Germany and you have departed the US from Dover AFB. You want to get back to Dover, but all the flights leaving Ramstein are going to other US bases. If you had driven a rental car to Dover or gone by AMTRAK, you would be quite happy to return to McGuire or Andrews AFB and to rent a car there or take AMTRAK from there. This could be the difference between a long and a short wait for a flight. The handbook has some ground transportation information and you can find more information at the individual base websites.


There are at least two where questions. “Where do I start from” and “Where can I go?” By going to CDR O’s website ( you can locate the Air Force or Navy Base where Space-A flights are available. You can also determine if there is an Air Force or Navy airfield near your intended destination. This information is also available in the handbook mentioned above. Once you locate the base nearest to you and once you have determine whether flights from this base go to base nearest your destination you are ready to begin. The first step is to sign up. I will address the sign-up procedure below. Of course, the base nearest you may not have flights going to your destination and you may have to fly from one base to another and then on to your final destination. For example, when I want to fly to Hawaii or Japan, I go first to Scott AFB at Belleville, Illinois near St. Louis. Then I get a flight to Travis AFB in California. From there, frequent flights go to Hickam AFB, Hawaii and Yakota AFB, Japan. If I am going to Europe, I could begin at Scott as well, but I usually go straight to Andrews AFB near Washington, D.C. From there, one can get flights to European bases such as Ramstein AFB and Spangdalhlem AFB in Germany and the Navy airfield at Rota in Spain. The fewer bases you utilize, the greater is the chance of avoiding long delays.


This is more a question of when not to travel. When a retirees travels Space-A he is a Category VI passenger. This is the lowest priority. Active Duty personnel and their dependents have higher priorities. On any given flight, there are usually a few seats available after the higher priority passengers have been manifested, but during the summer and during the Christmas holidays, getting a seat on a Space-A flight can be difficult. This is because the dependent children of active duty personnel are often traveling with their sponsor. Some of these guys have big families.


I suppose the most important question is, “How do I go about it exactly?” The first step is to sign-up. You can sign-up in person at the passenger terminal at the AFB from which you wish to depart but this is not practical. Fortunately, you can sign-up on-line. You can go to the Space-A section of the base website or you can go to one of the many sign-up sites on the internet. I use USAF Space-Available You should sign-up for every base that you may be required to use to get where you’re going. For example, if you wanted to start at Scott AFB and travel to Germany you would probably want to sign-up for McGuire, Dover, Andrews and Charleston as well as Scott. If you think that you will be returning from Germany within 60 days, you would also want to sign-up at Ramstein. Signing up involves filling out a short form on-line. A sign-up is good for 60 days. You should print-out a copy of all your sign-ups.

When you get to the AFB of your departure, you will go to the passenger (PAX) terminal. If there is a flight going where you want to go, you check-in at the passenger service counter. You show your ID card, your passport and a copy of your sign-up if requested. The person manning the counter will give you a confirmation form and tell you when the “roll call” for your flight will be held. This may be an actual roll call where names are called, or more likely you will be advised to look at the list posted on the bulkhead. If your name is not on the list, you will be instructed to tell the personnel at the passenger service counter. They will add your name to the list. At the time of the roll call you, must be in the terminal with all your gear ready to go. A few hours before the flight time, the terminal personnel will start calling the category I-V passengers. When they have given all these people boarding passes, they will begin to call the CAT VI passengers. That’s you and the other retirees. You will be called in order of the date and time of your sign-up. For this reason, signing up early may be important. If your name is called, you will be on the flight (unless an active duty person shows up at the last minute.) If you fail to get a seat on a flight, you will usually be placed on the list for the next flight going to the same destination. It is probably a good idea to make sure of this. If you fail to get on any flight that day, what do you do then?

Every AFB has an Air Force Inn. Some have Navy berthing as well. It is usually not too difficult to get a room at these facilities. Sometimes, you have to wait until 1800 when many rooms become available. When you check out of lodging the next day, you should ask to have your room placed on 1800 hold. This way, you will have a room if you don’t get a flight. If you do get a flight, you will not be charged for the room. You can get information about the Air Forces Inns on the internet. At the lodging facility, they usually have maps of the base and information about ground transportation to and from the base. You should also check-out the base internet site for rules about luggage and other restrictions. These can change.


Why travel Space-A? Well, because it’s cheap and it’s an adventure.

Other Questions: 

Q: Can I get flight information in advance?

A: Most bases have a telephone number which you can call to get flight information. Usually flight information is provided no more than 24 hours in advance. This information is always subject to change without notice. Generally speaking, you have to go to the base and just take whatever is available.

Q: How long will I wait to get a flight?

A: On several occasion, I have waited only a few hours for a flight. On the other hand, I waited a week at Yokota, 5 days at Aviano and 4 days Ramstein before I got out. In December 2009, I waited 4 days at Ramstein before I gave up. I gave up because I knew that the following day the kids would be let out of school and the chance of getting a flight was not going to get any better. I went to the ITT travel office at the base, and they were able to get me a commercial flight to Detroit with a connecting flight to Chicago. The flight cost $436.

YN1 Guy H.

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