10 April 2008

jewls' rules for Space-A Travel

Disclaimer: These are my own tips culled from my own experiences which may not be right for everyone. I can't answer all of the legalities involved in Space-Available travel (also called "Space-A" or "stand-by") right now but I'm planning on doing a show with Wendy and Marie of navywiferadio.com where we'll discuss everything in much further detail and depth.

If you're interested in joining the world of Space-A travelers, please check with your local AMC terminal for complete rules and regulations regarding your personal situation and traveler status. And please keep checking back here for the dates of the show. We'll want you to call in and participate with your questions and concerns. Hopefully, we can get enough interest in the subject that Wendy and Marie will be able to get a qualified representative to come on a future show to address all of your issues.

Let us now continue with

jewls' rules for Space-A Travel...

  1. Don't be a diva. In the Air Force, most of the airplanes available for Space-A travel are C-17s and KC-135s. Yes, these are cargo planes and air-refuelers. If you get one of these airplanes, for the next 8+ hours you'll be sitting in a jumpseat, most likely webbed canvas, straight-backed against the airplane's frame. You'll use the bathroom in a rudimentary version of an airline lavatory but without the amenities even that implies. For instance, the KC-135 we took to Hawaii didn't have a working sink in the lav but the crew was happy to supply alcohol wipes. Usually, one lav serves the crew and all of the passengers (we had about 44 men, women, and children on that flight, excluding the crew).

    No open-toed or high-heeled shoes are allowed in Space-A travel and I would think twice about wearing a dress or shorts. The planes fly very high and it's very, very cold inside. Carry a jacket and a small pillow.


  2. Travel light. Some airplanes have weight limits. Before leaving the house, my husband and I weigh everything, including carry-ons (laptops, cosmetic totes, etc.). Our magic number is 30 pounds total per person. Twice we've gotten the only two seats available on both a C-12 and a C-21 because the weight limit was 30 pounds per person (or 60 pounds total because we were traveling together).

    My husband and I bought backpacks specifically for our Space-A trips: they're lightweight and small enough to fit in the overhead bins but long/tall enough to carry all of our stuff. They have special wet/dry pockets as well as clips inside the compartments for keys, etc. We bring just enough clothes to be tourists in. If you're planning on bringing dressy outfits, the backpack option may not be for you. If you shop when you get to your destination (I certainly do...after all, isn't that the point of the trip???), you can mail your items and extra clothing back home via the USPS at the nearest military base. All that's needed here is a little planning and time management. You might even get to use the internal mailing system known as MPS and send your package back to your home base for free. Ask your USPS clerk.

  3. Be prepared to take lesser accomodations. Our trip last week was to Hawaii. We deliberately made no plans for a hotel because we wanted the freedom to take whatever was available. As soon as we landed at Hickam AFB, we started calling all of the military installations on Oahu, asking what billeting they had available. There were absolutely no rooms anywhere so we called a travel agency that ultimately got us a room at the Waikiki Resort Hotel located barely one block from Waikiki Beach (...and barely one block from Island Soap & Candle Works!). We stayed at WRH for three nights before deciding to branch out and see the other side of the island.

    For the next couple of nights, we stayed on the USMC post, Kaneohe Bay, on the Windward side of the island. One of those nights was spent in the BOQ (Bachelor Officers' Quarters) for $40 a night. The building was WWII era with hand-crank windows and thickly-painted closet doors but it was all part of the charm. (A lot of Hawaii's WWII military buildings are still in use and some of those on the Schofield Barracks Army post still have strafing marks all across the fronts and sides of them from the Japanese attacks.)

    Be aware that many military billeting facilities only have internet available in the lobby or "commons" areas. Don't be shy about showing up in your jammies, with your hair up in a towel...nobody expects you to be beautiful in these places (remember, they're all paying $40 a night, too!). Take your laptop and affect a look of deep concentration and nobody will look at you twice.

  4. Be prepared to take more expensive accomodations. Our last night in Hawaii was the worst for finding a place to stay. It seems Spring Break doesn't occur all at once in the U.S.

    The first week we were there, everything was booked because of Spring Break. The second week we were there, everything was still booked because of the second wave of Spring Breakers.

    So we decided to go to the MWR hotel - The Hale Koa - right on Waikiki Beach and take anything they had...even if it was a closet with a Murphy bed inside. Turns out, they only had one room, oceanside, overlooking the beach, the pool, and the courtyard. Darn the luck! Of course, we took it. It cost us $179 but ended up being worth every penny. At sunset, we sat out on our deck above the palm trees and the ocean and watched a flotilla of sailboats move lazily past. It was quite romantic.

  5. Be prepared to have NO accomodations. We met a young spouse who was traveling back to Okinawa from her Space-A trip to the east coast, stateside. She told us she and her baby had slept in the AMC terminal at Travis AFB because there were no rooms to be had anywhere. She didn't make a fuss about it. She knew the Space-A ropes and just shrugged her shoulders.

  6. The trip home. "Space Available" means just that: Space Available. Period. Military aircraft are not obliged to carry passengers. It's their perogative and our privilege. You may or may not get the flights you want, either coming or going.

    The military flights from Hawaii to Japan, or even to Guam, had dried up during the last few days of our stay. We finally had to buy a commercial ticket on Saturday to get out of Hawaii (we were sad to go but, after a week of tourism, our vacation money was running out). We flew back to Tokyo because there were no commercial flights to Okinawa for another week (fallout from the ATA closure). We checked into the Kanto Lodge at Yokota AB and started working on getting a Space-A flight home which means we packed our stuff and trucked over to the AMC terminal every single day until we got lucky on the third day.

    Old School travelers see it as a game. They laugh when they don't get a ride and then they stake out their position in front of the schedule monitors that hang from the walls of the terminals, telling each other which flight is likely to go and which "TBD" flight will drop to "0" under the PAX column.

  7. Space-A Speak. Some buzz-words to know when you're in the Space-A rotation are: Show-Time for Roll Call or simply Show-Time (this tells you what time they'll call the names of the lucky few chosen to be on today's flight...show up early and get yourself checked in or they won't call your name at all), Seat-Count (how many passengers will be allowed on the flight you want...this number is listed under the column usually called PAX on the schedule and more often than not says "TBD" - To Be Determined), and Weight or Weight Limit (how much weight you will be allowed...a combined total of your checked and carry-on baggage).

    When you're stranded in the terminal after your show-time of 0400 has been delayed, these are the topics that will be discussed over and over by everyone around you. Use your new buzz-words and join in on the conversations. You'll learn so much about how to be a successful Space-A traveler that you'll be "hopping" every chance you get.

My husband is somewhat of a guru on how to find obscure information on every subject imaginable so he gave me the following links to share with you:
  1. spacea.info - everything you wanted to know about Military Space-A Travel
  2. takeahop.com - how to sign up online and more.
  3. pepperd.com - Derk Pepperd's Space-A message board
I hope you've enjoyed this article. Please share it with others and please keep checking back for the date of the upcoming navywiferadio.com show on Space-A travel.

~ jewls

7 comments:

Kittieb said...

wow! thanks so much for the info :)
we want to take space a to Texas soon, so this is pretty helpful.

wendy said...

Thanks for all the tips. My kids and I are planning to try a little space A this summer. maybe....

I'm glad you had a fun time here in Hawaii!

Anonymous said...

Your site was the most informative I have found. We were packing 70lb luggage, and now I know better! Thanks so much!

chito peppler said...

Thank you for the great info. Fantastic blog

Anonymous said...

This was helpful. I'm looking now for a way to get my wife to Korea from Hawaii because her Mom isn't well and don't believe bad off enough for the RedCross. Thanks, "KAL"

jennyspouse.com said...

I'm glad I could help everyone. I'm going to repost this so others can find it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank You! I'm trying Space A for the first time this week, and this was very helpful, especially the part about the shoes!