Space A travel, also known as Military Airlift Command or MAC flights, are military flights that travel the globe. These flights are scheduled for the needs of the military – to move troops or move military families on their Permanent Change of Station (PCS) when moving to OCONUS locations including Hawaii. While these flights are at a significantly reduced cost, they also require some serious flexibility.
Where To Look
First thing first – where do you find Space A information? The first stop is the Air Mobility Command website. The website provides the most up-to-date information on AMC travel. Many stateside bases that once had Space-A flights, have stopped post-2020. So while there may be a history of flying from places like MacDill Air Force Base, there have not been flights open to Space-A travel in the last three-plus years, so do not expect it to open anytime soon. While it is still listed on the AMC list, check with the specific passenger terminal for information.
Once confirmed that the terminal is open to Space-A travel, find their social media pages. This is often where the flight schedule is listed. The flight schedule will list the location the flight is going to and the number of open seats. For instance, a flight to Hickam AFB (Hawaii) may be leaving Kadena AB, Okinawa and have 60 seats available on a certain date. The priority for seats always goes to the active-duty military with military-assigned jobs. For instance, if a unit needs a last-minute flight to Hickam, they will get the seats before anyone else – even if they show up at the final boarding call – the flights are military-operated, after all.
Who Can Fly
In general, only service members, retirees, and their family members can fly. Each group is assigned a category of eligibility. The higher the category, the higher the likelihood of who will get a seat on the flight. National Guardsmen, reservists, and their families may be eligible when they are active or deployed.
The categories are as follows:
- Category I: Emergency leave unfunded travel
- Category II: Accompanied Environmental and Morale Leave
- Category III: Ordinary leave, relatives, house hunting permissive temporary duty, Medal of Honor holders and foreign military
- Category IV: Unaccompanied EML
- Category V: Permissive temporary duty (nonhouse hunting), students, dependents, post-deployment/mobilization respite absence and others
Category VI: Retired, dependents, reserve, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate, Civil Engineer Corps, veterans with a permanent service-connected disability rated as total, surviving spouses of service members who died in active duty, inactive duty training or annual training status, and retired military members
The cost is generally free. There may be charges for baggage or food, but this terminal and flight dependent. With air travel costs soaring in recent years, free air travel is a huge budget saver. Patriot Express flights are flights planned for military moves, and generally have a nominal fee per ticket if being utilized for Space A travel.
The flights are much more relaxed than standard commercial flights. All the passengers on board are military service members and their families – their collective background is a great way for people to communicate and connect. On flights, kids spread blankets, play together, share snacks, and parents share their travel plans.
When using Space-A, your travel dates must be flexible. Take a wide amount of leave. If you are planning a week’s vacation, take two weeks off. Start the process to fly out early. Most Space-A flights are scheduled Mondays through Fridays. Do not plan on flight availability on drill weekends or school breaks, as higher category eligible groups will likely take all available seats,
One family shared that they left Japan for Hawaii on the first day they started to depart, but ended up buying commercial tickets as all the spots for return flights to Japan were taken by active duty members flying for an exercise.
Be location flexible as well. Make sure to watch the 72-hour flight schedule frequently to see where flight destinations are and consider alternatives. If you want to get to Spain, and a flight to Germany is available, consider the Germany flight and look into ground transportation from there to Spain.
Being flexible in flights means having flexible hotel stays for arrival at your destination. Military hotels typically have the most relaxed cancellation policy and can provide the most flexibility. Check the cancellation policy on car rentals, or plan to use Uber or cabs to maximize flexibility.
Sign Up Early
Sign up for travel early – as early as 60 days prior to desired travel date here. Input passenger information, category, departure terminal, desired destinations and leave dates. Signing up allows email and text notifications about the desired terminal or travel destinations.
The day of the flight has arrived – check-in as early as possible – this can be 6 hours prior to the flight. Read all the terminal-specific guidance to know when and where to check-in. Each terminal page will also list baggage limits.
Be Prepared To Wait
Checking in early means long waits. Flight schedules change with staffing and weather, which can extend the wait time. Plan ahead with lots of snacks, games, and any entertainment that travels well. Some AMC. Terminals have playgrounds on the grounds, which is great for those traveling with children.
Pack For Every Contingency
Flights get diverted for the needs of the military. This means packing for cold weather, beach weather, and everything in between. This allows for maximum flexibility. Flights themselves can get cold, so packing winter hats, blankets, and gloves in carry-on baggage is useful. Like any other flight, consider packing noise-cancelling headphones for everyone in your travel party.
Have you ever taken a Space-A trip? How was the trip?