I recently returned from my first space available flight back to the U.S., here are some tips that I hope will help any of you who might use this service while living overseas.
First, head to www.spacea.net. This website is a tremendous resource. You can find information about all of the passenger terminals, the planes that allow passengers, and how to sign up for these flights. All of my information leading up to my flight came from their website.
NOTE: Not everyone is eligible for space available flights, check here to see if you are.
The following tips are observations that were not mentioned on the website so I am letting you know here.
- Everyone who is traveling with you must be listed on the required command sponsorship letter. There was a person trying to check in the morning of the flight at Ramstein who was flying with her baby. Her name was on the command sponsorship letter, but her baby’s was not. Luckily, she was based on Ramstein, so she was able to obtain a new letter that morning before the flight, but it was a very close call. This letter is good for one round trip flight to the US and back within 90 days of the date on the letter. Also note that your sign up date can be no earlier than the date that this letter is signed.
- Hold onto your passport during the entire trip. It should be second nature, but any important documents, especially your passport/orders/ID card, should stay on your person during the entire trip. There was someone on my flight who put their passport into their checked bags. They showed up at customs gate to find out that they would have to go get them to proceed any further. Remember, you will go through customs on the other end of your flight before you get your checked bags.
- Sign up by email early. You can sign up at any base up to 60 days before you plan to fly. If you are going without an active duty member, sign up early so you will have a higher priority in your category. If you are going with an active duty member, you will have to wait to sign up when his/her leave starts. Also, print the email. This will ensure that your initial request date will be honored, even if the system is down or they lost the email somehow.
- Check in early. You can check in/be marked present for a flight up to 24 hours prior to a flight. If you are flying out of Ramstein, avoid the lines and check in the day ahead if it’s an early morning flight. Just stop by the passenger service desk with your letter, passport and the dated email of your space a request. You don’t have to stay in the terminal after being marked present, however, if your name is called during roll call and you are not there, you risk being pulled off of the flight.
- Space-A is not always free. Flights on military aircraft are free, but chartered flights from Patriot Express are the following prices: OCONUS to CONUS flights are $35, while CONUS to OCONUS flights are $17.50. You should be able to pay with credit/debit card, but it’s a good idea to have some cash just in case. (This tip was on the website)