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‘Space Available’ travel still an option for service members, families

Northwest Guardian

Published: 02:33PM August 30th, 2012
‘Space Available’ travel still an option for service members, families

Ingrid Barrentine/Northwest Guardian 2011

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Dinunzio, a passenger service supervisor at the AMC Passenger Terminal on McChord Field, helps a customer.

As the cost of airfare for commercial airline flights rises, military personnel, retirees and families are looking for ways to save on travel.

That is just what the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command provides through about 40 AMC terminals all over the world, including one at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Better known as “Space Available” travel, active duty service members and retirees and their family members, along with National Guard and Reservists, are eligible to fly for free to several destinations.

According to passenger service supervisor Tech. Sgt. Thomas Hatch, flights operate daily out of McChord Field to several stateside terminals, including ones in Maryland, Delaware, California and Nevada. Flight schedules are usually published 72 hours in advance and can be accessed in person at the McChord Field AMC Terminal or online through the Terminal’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mcchordpt.

To take advantage of Space A travel, passengers must register with each AMC terminal from which they intend to fly. For example, a round-trip from McChord Field to Scott Air Force Base, Ill. would require passengers to register at both terminals. However, the registration process is a simple one, said Hatch, and can be done in person, by fax or email.

There are no baggage fees associated with Space A flights. Passengers may check two bags with a weight limit of 70 pounds each and one carry-on item is allowed. Strollers and car seats do not count against the baggage guidelines.

While the economic advantages of traveling Space A are obvious, some passengers may not realize that there might be extensive wait times associated with Space A travel. Because Space A travel is based on military flight schedules and operations, flight times are subject to change without much notice. And recently, a regulation was updated that requires passengers to be present at least two hours and 20 minutes before every flight. That is true at McChord Field, Hatch said, but other terminals may ask you to be there even sooner.

“We do have to complete our missions as the requirements dictate, so there may be changes or even cancellations,” Hatch said.

Hatch reminds passengers that most flights are operated on cargo planes, such as C-17s. Even though the accomodations are not what most people are used to, Hatch said they are finding more and more families taking advantage of Space A travel.

“Any period where there is a school break is a busy time for us,” Hatch said.

Another benefit of Space A travel is the connection it affords to military families who may be struggling through deployments. Military dependents are able to fly without their sponsor if that sponsor is deployed for 120 days or more, affording family members the opportunity to visit their relatives while their sponsor is deployed. Higher priority is given to family members whose sponsor is deployed for one year or more. Family members who are living with their sponsor who is stationed overseas are allowed a one-time round-trip without their sponsor to the United States.

International flights are available through Space A travel as well, facilitated by an AMC Terminal located at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Called the “Patriot Express,” these flights operate just as commercial flights with a supply of in-flight amenities such as meals and movies. Overseas flights may incur a nominal head tax, usually less than $20 per person.

The McChord Field Terminal is open seven days a week, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is located at 1422 Union Ave., McChord Field. The 24-hour flight recording number, 982-7259, provides accurate, up-to-the-minute details on upcoming flights.

Passengers can email the terminal at eagle@mcchord.af.mil for more details, or visit www.amc.af.mil/amctravel/index.asp to determine Space A eligibility requirements, location information and download necessary documents to fly.