RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Space Available, commonly known as Space A, is a program at many U.S. military installations around the world that allows military members, dependents, retirees, and certain civilians to ride an aircraft to a destination at either a very cheap price or no cost at all.
The program stems from the concept that if a military or contracted aircraft is headed to a particular destination and extra space is available, eligible passengers join the flight.
Ramstein, which serves as a major Air Force hub, connects to many installations across Europe and the U.S.
Master Sgt. Christian Stamper, 721st Aerial Port Squadron passenger terminal services section chief, emphasized that space availability depends on certain factors concerning the aircraft or the mission it supports. He said because of the unpredictable nature of military flights and missions, Airmen cannot guarantee that Space A passengers will be able to board a certain flight, or if a flight will take off at all.
“Space A is a privilege,” Stamper said. “When mission and cargo holds allow, seats may be available to eligible passengers. Please be aware that Space A passengers must be prepared to cover commercial travel expenses if Space A flights are changed or become unavailable.
Do not demand to fly Space A,” he added. “If you have places you need to be at a certain time, Space A may not be the option for you.”
Passengers hoping to fly Space A fall under six categories, with one taking the most priority and six taking the least.
Category one is for people on emergency leave, while people on environmental morale leave are category two, and active duty members on regular leave fall under Category three. Category four is for dependents whose sponsors are deployed for 30 days or more, while dependents simply travelling without their sponsors fall under Category five. Finally, Category 6 is for retirees conducting leisurely travel.
Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Wood, 721st APS passenger service agent, said one of the biggest challenges Space A passengers may face is obtaining an available seat, especially during peak seasons.
“Active duty members tend to take leave with their children over the summer,” she said. “They will take priority over dependents (travelling without sponsors) and retirees. It’s very common in the summer for us to not even get through all the categories. It is a little harder to try and fly out … summer is definitely the busiest season for us.”
Wood added that passengers who are making a permanent change of station do not fall under Space A, but are booked through the travel office of their branch of service. Thus, PCS passengers take priority over those flying Space A.
Passengers wishing to fly Space A must bring a number of documents depending on their category and purpose of travel.
Active duty members must bring their passport, leave form, and military ID. Active duty members must also wait until their leave officially starts prior to signing up for Space A. Dependents traveling with their sponsor must bring their passport and ID. If the dependent is travelling without their sponsor, they must bring a command sponsorship letter along with the two aforementioned documents. A dependent’s sponsor can refer to his or her chain of command to inquire about command sponsorship letters. The letter must also be signed by the sponsor’s commander. Retirees wishing to travel through Space A must have their passport and ID.
Wood added that passengers traveling on emergency leave should have a Red Cross number in order for passenger service agents to contact and verify the passenger’s priority.
Airman 1st Class James DeCoster, 721st APS passenger service agent, stressed the importance of passengers making sure they have everything they need before showing up at the terminal expecting a flight.
“Make sure you’re 100 percent travel ready,” he said. “Make sure you’ve taken care of your lodging, you’ve turned in your rental car, you’ve got all your baggage to include your personal items, carry-on, and checked bags. If you don’t have all of that, you’re not considered travel-ready and we cannot select you for that flight.”
DeCoster explained that after being selected for a flight, the passenger can be ordered to go straight through check-in and security, and they will not have time to take care of any pre-departure business. He also encouraged Space A passengers to be patient and flexible, saying that they are not guaranteed a seat especially during peak seasons. The seasons a passenger is most likely to obtain a seat are spring, fall, and winter, except for Christmas time, he said.
“One minute can make the difference between being selected to board a Space A flight or having to turn around and pay for a commercial airline ticket,” DeCoster added. “If you’re going to wait until the last minute thinking you’ll be picked up for a flight, it’s probably not going to happen. The earlier you sign up the better.”
Passengers are allowed two check-in bags at 70 pounds each, plus one carry-on bag and one personal item. Those wishing to fly Space A are strongly encouraged to show up one hour before roll call. With the exception of active duty members taking leave, potential passengers can sign up for Space A, 60 days prior to their desired departure date.