So we’re off and running on our latest adventure. Well, sitting, I guess. In the terminal of the Norfolk AMC terminal, waiting on a Space-A flight to Naples, Italy via Rota, Spain. Space-A flights are military transport flights that carry active duty and retirees when they have extra seats. It’s free (or nearly so), but the downside is that you don’t have a guaranteed seat until the last minute. We knew that there was a flight going where we wanted, and we knew that they had 70 tentative seats available. So we showed up at the terminal, signed in at the roll call, and waited. And waited. Eventually our name got called, and we checked our bags. So far, so good. We’ve gotten this far in the past, however, only to find out that our flight was cancelled, the plane had mechanical issues, other passengers with higher priority than us had bumped us, etc. So we’re not quite there yet, but it’s looking good so far.
Space-A travel was one of the few things that actually tempted us at one point to consider staying in the Navy until retirement. That was before we really learned how the system worked, and realized that as a retiree, we’d be at the bottom of the priority list each and every flight. We’ve talked to retirees in the terminals before that had been waiting over a month for their flight. It’s still a great deal if you’re planning on retiring already, but for us it wasn’t enough to make it anywhere close to worth it.
If you’re still in the military and wondering how to “do” Space-A, here’s a few pointers:
- You absolutely need to be on leave before you can sign up for a flight. As soon as you have your papers in hand, email the terminal you want to leave from, and the terminal you’ll be catching your return flight from, and get your name on their sign-up list.
- Look at the terminal’s posted flights (they post 72 hours out) to find the roll-call time for the flight you’re interested. Make sure you’re at the terminal well ahead of the roll-call time to ensure you don’t get bumped before you even start.
- Be prepared for a lot of waiting, and a lot of anxiety, especially if you’re on a tighter time schedule. A delay of some sort is almost inevitable, in our experience, but if you’re expecting it it’s not as bad.
- Call the terminal (or visit in person) the day before your intended flight to make sure they have all the info they need from you to avoid a last-minute crisis at the terminal.
- Luggage policy is generally what you’d expect from a normal airline (one carry-on and one personal item, generally two checked pieces), but there are sometimes exceptions that may or may not be posted in advance. If you’re not sure, and think it may be an issue, call the terminal first to check.
- Some flights do charge a small amount (we’re paying $17.40 per person for our Norfolk to Naples flight) to cover airport fees, snacks on the plane, etc.
- If you’re not on a chartered flight (Patriot Express, etc), you’re probably not going to get any sort of service during the flight, so bring your own snacks and water. If you do get food en route, it can vary wildly in quality, so bring your own snacks and water.
- If you find out that you can’t get on the flight you want, check where the other flights are going. Often you can fly to an intermediate base on a different flight, and then catch a flight from there to your final destination.
- If you just want to travel, but aren’t absolutely dedicated to a particular destination, just be spontaneous and go wherever there’s a flight available!
- We learned the hard way a few years ago about making plans on the other end. We’d planned an entire trip in Germany, and ended up cancelling rail passes and hotel reservations when we just couldn’t get on a flight after five days at the terminal.
We’ll keep you updated once we get to the other side of the pond. Future posts should have way more pictures and excitement!