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Travel the world for free; how to fly space available from Wright-Patt

Space-available passengers board a C-17 at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, bound for Andersen AFB, Guam. (Tech Sgt. Cohen A. Young)

Space-available passengers board a C-17 at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, bound for Andersen AFB, Guam. (Tech Sgt. Cohen A. Young)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Wouldn’t it be great to be able to fly around the world for free? Space available flying makes it possible, but it’s important to know the rules in order to have an enjoyable traveling experience.

Space-A flying into and out of Wright-Patterson is pretty much what it sounds like – the military flies planes all over the world and sometimes they have empty seats that certain military-affiliated people can ride in. Active-duty service members and dependents traveling with them; dependents whose sponsor is deployed or if they have a command sponsorship letter; and military retirees and their dependents are all eligible to fly Space-A for free, according to Bobbie Murphy, a contract passenger specialist with the 88th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

Eligible flyers only need to call (937) 257-6235 to hear the four-day flight plan from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and then go to takeahop.com to sign up for the flights they want, up to five departure points at a time says Murphy. Registered flyers are put onto a standby list according to their current traveling status – those on emergency leave and environmental and morale leave topping the list with normal leave, dependent travel, permissive temporary duty and retirees rounding it out.

Murphy says it’s important to call back every day up until the day of the flight to ensure nothing has changed with the aircraft’s schedule. Mission changes or maintenance issues can creep up at any time, so it’s important to be sure of a flight before heading into base, especially if coming in from a distance.

“Flexibility is key,” Murphy said. “It’s not like commercial air travel where the expectation is that you’ll fly out. Anything can happen.”

A roll call for each flight is held several hours before the flight is schedule to take off and it’s very important to be on time.

“If you show up late, you’re not going to get on the airplane,” said Murphy. “You’ve got to meet that roll call time.”

Those present will be offered seats according to their category and position on the list until all seats are accounted for. While this is great for those who make the flight, Space-A is not for everyone.

“If you’ve got the time and can defray the cost for lodging in case you can’t get out, yes, it’s great,” Murphy said. “But, if you don’t have the time, it’s probably not the best choice.”

This is because military flights don’t always operate like commercial routes – there aren’t routes flying between two points every day. Instead, aircraft travel to where they are needed on that specific mission. And, this isn’t the only difference.

Space-A flight’s aren’t always on all large aircraft like C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster IIIs or KC-135 Stratotankers, where travelers are allowed two bags, each of which can be no heavier than 70 pounds says Murphy. Sometimes flights are on C-21s, C-12s or C-35s, where each traveler is allowed one piece of luggage no larger than 30 pounds. Anyone showing up for a flight with more baggage than they’re allowed may be denied a seat.

And that in-flight cocktail and cozy blanket you might get on a commercial jet? Not so much on a Space-A flight says Murphy. Traveling this way often means bringing your own food and unopened drinks – sorry, alcohol isn’t allowed – as well as your own comfort items, like a pillow and blanket. For flyers in the back of a C-21, you can expect normal airline seats, but for those flying in C-130s, it’s much more likely they’ll be riding in a mesh bucket seat without climate control and it can be cold at 30,000 feet.

For those flying on the Patriot’s Express, military-chartered flights not available through Wright-Patterson but available at select locations on the coasts, the experience is very similar to a commercial flight but Space-A flyers are required to pay an airport tax, which essentially pays for your food, according to Murphy.

Similar to commercial flights, Space-A flyers can fly with legitimate service animals, documentation required and space allowing. Also, flyers planning on hitting the gun range can transport firearms. They need to be declared at the counter, unloaded, locked in a Transportation Security Administration-approved container and given to the air crew, who will return the firearm at the end of the flight. Ammunition of any kind is not allowed, according to Murphy.

Murphy says that that there has been some confusion recently in regards to who is eligible to fly. Veterans, even those 100-percent disabled, are not eligible to fly Space-A unless they also possess a blue military identification card, DD Form 2 (retired).

Space-A flights can be great for those with the time, patience and funds available to deal with any travel interruptions. For more information, call 257-7741 or email WPAFB_SpaceA@us.af.mil.