Want to fly cheap or for free? Military families can, if they know and follow the rules.
Space-A flights, the seats left over on military flights after all official passengers and cargo have been loaded, are up for grabs at most military airports for ID card holders. But depending on the time of year and location, those seats can be scarce and the line can be long.
And often, families come unprepared for the regulations and the wait that comes with that free ticket.
Here’s what you need to know to get on and get out as quick as possible.
The air mobility command passenger terminal at Joint Base Pearl Harbor – Hickam in Hawaii is one of the busiest military airports in the world, and most certainly the busiest in the Pacific. Ron Abernathy, flight chief for passenger services there for nine years, said these are the five top things he wished military folks knew before arriving at his terminal.
- Have the correct documentation on hand. Military IDs, in many cases, are not enough. Abernathy suggests calling the AMC terminal you will depart from, tell them your plans and find out what paperwork you need, before you arrive to sign in.
- Military flights follow TSA rules, meaning passengers may bring no more than 3 fluid ounces in their carry-on bags, agricultural checks will be done and passengers must clear customs. Flying into another country? You will need a passport.
- Be prepared to wait. Abernathy said his AMC alone moves about 90,000 people a year with the lines increasing during school breaks. Be prepared financially, mentally and laundry-wise to spend some time stuck in a location while you wait for a flight. “A lot of people put all their space-a eggs in one basket and when they don’t get on the flight they want they don’t have the means to stay and wait,” he said. Military passenger terminals are open 24/7, however, passengers are not allowed to sleep there while they wait. Passengers may have to pay for hotel, taxi and restaurant fees before they finally get on a flight.
- Once you sign in, be ready to leave. Abernathy said passengers should have their bags packed, their rental cars checked in and their billeting paid for before they check in. Military flights cater to the military, not space-a passengers and could leave before they are scheduled. If you are not ready, you will be left behind.
- There is no baggage storage at the terminal. You must stay with your bags at all times, meaning, if you plan on walking to the nearest hotel for the night, you will be dragging your suitcases, or suitcases, with you. Pack light.
Abernathy and many other bases around the nation offer quarterly briefings to explain the intricacies of Space-A rule and regulations. You can check out many of the rules at the Pearl Harbor- Hickam Facebook page here, https://www.facebook.com/notes/joint-base-pearl-harbor-hickam-amc-passenger-terminal/faqs-space-a-travel/362787953790620
Many military terminals make great use of Facebook and post each day’s flights and the number of seats available. The military has also begun rolling out a virtual roll call initiative so that the AMC can email passengers if they score a seat on an upcoming flight. This eliminates much of the waiting inside the terminal as passengers sit for hours just to be told if they made the flight that day or not. Depending on the time of year, passengers can sit for several days before they get a seat.
The most important item to have when you arrive for a space-a flight?
“Patience,” Abernathy said.
“One of the things we stress, is if nothing else, have patience, understanding and flexibility,” he said. “For retirees who don’t have any place to be and have the time to spend, this is great. But when you are active duty you physically have to be on leave before you can sign up and that can be tough.”