So you're going to take a 'hop' ...
Team Dover's first C-5M Super Galaxy, the Spirit of Global Reach, lands at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Feb. 9, 2009. Gen. Arthur Lichte, Air Mobility Command commander, was the delivery official. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jason Minto)
by Capt. J. Alan Acevedo
614th Air and Space Operations Center
8/28/2009 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Space-available travel, also known as "Space-A" or "hop," is a great benefit for active duty members who desire to take a flight to exotic locations like Japan, Germany or Hawaii on Department of Defense or military-controlled aircraft for little or no cost. Here are a few personal tips to help you for your journey:
1) Be Flexible: Taking a hop can potentially involve waiting a few hours from the moment you are placed on standby to boarding time. Remember, you are running on the aircraft's mission schedule, not the other way around. I've heard the need for flexibility associated with Space-A travel many times, and it always holds true.
2) Be courteous to the staff: It's unfortunate to see self-centered travelers act rudely to the young airman or civilian agent that is busily signing people in and answering flight information questions. A positive and courteous attitude to Space-A staff is contagious throughout the terminal! Bottom line: Be as professional out-of-uniform as you would in-uniform.
3) Bring some cash: Some terminals should have a Robin Hood sandwich shop, sundries store or other Army and Air Force Exchange Service concessionaire available to sell snacks. Also, you'll also need approximately $5 per person to purchase a box lunch that is served on the aircraft. In addition, some on-base long-term parking lots only accept cash as payment.
4) Find the long-term parking lot and shuttle services: If you are driving yourself to the terminal, plan ahead by knowing the location and distance from the terminal to the long-term parking lot. For example, Travis AFB's passenger terminal is a 25-minute walk from the long-term parking lot. While local taxi service is available, there is no base shuttle for the long-term parking lot.
5) Take a periodic "reality check": You likely won't travel the same day that you sign up for Space-A. Factors to consider are aircraft operational requirements, aircraft mission, itinerary changes, aircraft breakdowns/maintenance, weather and passengers with higher travel prioritization.
6) Know when to sign up: You can sign up for Space-A travel only when you officially enter leave status; you are not allowed to sign up prior to this time. Think about how you should schedule your leave. If you have leave days you are willing to burn, you can schedule your leave to include buffer time before and after the period of intended travel. Also, if you return from your trip early, you can sign-in from leave at any time.
7) Sign up for Space-A travel as soon as you begin leave status: As people on the register drop off due to being selected or leave expiration, your name will go higher on the list. Travelers remain on the register 60 days after registration, for the duration of their leave orders authorization, or until selected for travel, whichever occurs first.
Let's say I worked a half-day on Sept. 1 and I chose to enter leave status on Sept. 1 at 1 p.m. Although my chargeable leave begins Sept. 2, I could sign up for Space-A travel on Sept. 1 at 1 p.m., and thus add a few hours to my sign-up time.
Signing up for Space-A is done with an Air Mobility Command Form 140, and submitting it via fax or in-person to the PAX terminal. Most PAX terminals also accept e-mail requests; check with your destination for their accepted sign-up method. PAX terminal contact information is available online, to include the AF Portal. Signing-up only puts you on the register, which prioritizes travelers based on category and the date and time that they submit their travel request. When you show up at the terminal and check-in, you are placed on standby for a specific mission/destination.
Once you check-in, you should plan to remain in the terminal until roll call. At the time of roll call, check-in for the desired mission is closed, and passengers on standby are prioritized by category and date and time of sign-up. Category 1 passengers are selected first, followed by Category 2, Category 3 and so on. The number of passengers (to include active duty dependents) ahead of you and the number of seats available will determine if your name gets called for the mission. Once selected, you will check in your luggage, order box lunches and head to the gate to await boarding.
8) Know your bases and aircraft: Air Mobility Command bases such as Hickam AFB and Yokota AFS have frequent missions using C-5 and DC-10 aircraft that support Space-A travel, thus increasing your chances for getting flights on these aircraft. Also, PAX terminals offer outbound departure information via phone; keep in mind that due to heightened security restrictions, departure times and available seats are not announced until 24 hours prior to departure, and subject to change.
9) Plan for contingencies: It happens. Even the best laid out plans can encounter unforeseen challenges. If this occurs, don't panic. Call your supervisor if it looks like you'll be stuck at your destination, and you need to extend your leave. Keep your supervisor in the loop of your plans, to include contingencies, and have some extra money available should you be delayed.
10) Wear covered shoes: I've seen it happen where a family is all ready to get on the bus that will take them out to the aircraft, only to be stopped by the Airman that informs one of them that they cannot wear slippers on board a military aircraft. And to think that their shoes are in the luggage that is now deeply stowed in the plane!
11) Ask other Space-A flyers for advice: Knowledge and wisdom are grown from the seeds of experience. Other experienced Space-A travelers can give you stories and lessons that will aid you in making your Space-A flight the best ever.