Sunday, January 25, 2015

So, How do I Space A?

I used Space A travel to my advantage this month. I got word that my 93-year-old grandmother was having some health issues, and that my parents were a little down due to some family bullsh*t that I'd love to rant publicly about but, as a mature adult, I realize I need to take the high road on this and keep my ranting private. The end of December and January are slow times for me with regard to work and volunteering in Iwakuni. It was the perfect time to travel to the States. Of course, last minute commercial travel can be expensive, especially when you are traveling halfway around the world. Cue Space A travel. If you are an eligible member of the military community, have the time, own nerves of steel and are very lucky, you can make it to the States from Iwakuni for $35 or less.

I have had both great and horrible luck with Space A travel in the year and a half that I have lived in Iwakuni. Space A is short for space available, and you can hitch a ride on aircraft to destinations all around the world if you are a member of the military or a military dependent attached to an overseas installation. I am a dependent attached to an overseas installation, therefore, I am eligible for Space A travel without my sponsor, i.e., husband. I need a Command Sponsor Letter that is good for 90 days. If I want to jump up a category (there are 6 categories) for a better chance of getting on the flights I want, I need to get an EML, or Environmental and Morale Leave letter. You can get an EML letter once every 6 months. Your command administration should be able to issue you these documents.

I decided to roll the dice at the end of December and get my Command Sponsor letter and EML paperwork. I took the documents to the Iwakuni terminal and had them stamped with the date and time. The sooner your paperwork is stamped, the higher up on the priority list you are within your category. Thanks to my documents, I was Category 4. Only an active duty Marine could beat me out of a seat... but with only one available seat listed for the Patriot flight bound for Seattle, I wasn't expecting to get on the flight. I hadn't been able to get on flights with more seats available in the past. But, I figured I would think positive... if I was meant to go to the States, then I would get on the flight. If I wasn't, well, then, I wouldn't. I had to be at the terminal 3.5 hours before the flight was scheduled to take off... and I wouldn't know if I made it on the flight for an hour after I arrived, luggage and documents in hand. The thoughtful spouse brought me lunch at the terminal while I waited....

It was about this time that I was told I had won the Space A craps game... I got a seat on the flight to Seattle! I paid my $35 for required taxes and fees and sat back down in the waiting area, boarding pass in hand. Now it was time to Skype the family back home and let them know they would need to pick a surprise up at the airport the next afternoon (in their time zone)... and I wasn't sure which airport. Cue the nerves of steel.

Is all of this sounding like a complicated, crazy role-playing game, complete with dragons and dungeons, and a ton of weird rules and rituals? You're right. It is. Only there are C-130s instead of dragons and airport terminals instead of dungeons. Do not ask me to explain Space A to you.... and don't ask anyone else who has experience with it, either. At least not until you have done some research on your own so you can ask pointed, specific questions. Going up to an experienced Space A traveler and asking, "How do I Space A?" is a waste of your time and theirs. Mostly theirs. Because you'll retain a quarter of the useful information they will tell you, and it will have taken them an hour to tell you the most basic useful information. So, in an effort to annoy other people less, and to save yourself some time, if you really want to take advantage of Space A travel, here are some places to start:

1) MCAS Iwakuni offers Space A classes a few times a year. Keep an eye out in the Preview magazine published online and on base monthly for class listings. Register for the class early - it is a popular one.

2) The Yakota Terminal Facebook page has some good, but very basic, info to get started with. Here is the link. (All of the major terminals have Facebook pages with Space A info. "Like" them all. If you are in Iwakuni, I recommend "liking" the Iwakuni, Kadena, Yokota, Travis (California), and Seattle AMC terminals at the very least.)

3) The Air Mobile Command has a site for Space A travel. This is the know all, be all, of current rules and regulations regarding Space A. It's worth spending some time on this page before planning any Space A trip, or asking an experienced Space A traveler any questions.

4) Dirk Pepperd's Space A message board site is one you have to become a member of, but the information available to you is astounding. Seasoned Space-Aers post their experiences, what flights are being posted, chances of getting on a flight, etc., and it can be very useful if you are trying to string several Space A flights together to get to your final destination. One thing to keep in mind is that if you are a dependent flying without your sponsor, you cannot hop flights within the U.S. Once your plane ends its journey at its final destination, that is where you must find your own commercial transportation. If your plane is scheduled to travel from Iwakuni to Kadena (Okinawa) to Hawaii to Travis (California), you must get off at Travis and then take a shuttle to one of the airports nearby for a commercial flight. San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento are all in the vicinity, FYI. But you cannot grab a Space A flight out of Travis to Texas or Virginia. Active duty personnel may have other options).

So, I did manage to get to the SeaTac AMC terminal. But that is where my $35 flight ended. I had to purchase a ticket to Southern California from there. I could have planned ahead, and searched the internet for a cheap flight with a couple of lay overs, but I wasn't in the mood. I paid for the next direct flight to the airport of my choice... and from the time I landed to the time I was wheels up again was less than 2 hours. So, after traveling for 24 hours, and having shelled out less than $400, I got to teach my grandma what a selfie was... in person.

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