Space-A Signup: What Military Retirees Need to Know

A military aircraft on the tarmac with rolling stairs outside.

Knowing how, when, and where to sign up for military Space-A flights is an important part of understanding how to incorporate Space-A travel into your plans.

Space-A travel for retired military is, in many ways, easier than for other military travelers, because you don’t need to worry about leave or travel restrictions. However, since retirees are in the lowest Space-A priority group (Category or “Cat” 6), it’s very important to understand how to maximize your chances of getting a seat.

Here are some specific tips related to Space-A signup that you need to know as a retiree along with a few examples of how the rules work in practice.

Note: These signup tips also apply to other Space-A travelers in Cat 6. Some travelers in this category are not eligible to fly to foreign countries, but the examples below illustrate the rules and process.

If you are new to Space-A flying, read this Quickstart Guide to Space-A Flights first to get a basic understanding of how the process works.

1. Aim to sign up for Space-A flights 45 to 50 days before your desired travel date.

A Space-A signup is valid for up to 60 days.* After 60 days, your priority is reset, meaning you go to the end of the “virtual” line.

Example: You are at the terminal waiting for Roll Call and you signed up 60 days ago. You will be among the first Cat 6 passengers selected for the flight if seats are available.

But if Roll Call is delayed until tomorrow, you will lose that priority because your 60 days will have expired. You will need to sign up again, meaning your new signup is only 1 day old.

*At certain Naval Air Stations, including NAS North Island and NAS Fort Worth, the maximum advance signup is 45 days. If you plan to travel through these locations, aim to sign up 35 to 40 days in advance.

2. Do not sign up for Space-A flights at the same location more than once before you travel.

Signing up at the same terminal will reset your priority at that location to whatever is the most recent signup date.

Example: If you sign up to fly out of JB Andrews with the intention of traveling 6 weeks from today, do not send that passenger terminal a new Space-A signup “just to make sure they received it” (see tip #4 below). If you sign up at Andrews again a week prior to travel, you will go from having more than 40 days of “seniority” to only 7 days.

On the other hand, if, after signing up at Andrews, you decide that you should sign up for other Washington, DC-area bases such as BWI and Dover to expand your options, those signups do NOT affect your seniority at JB Andrews.

Many terminals will not reply to acknowledge receipt of your signup. To confirm that your signup was received, try calling the passenger terminal directly. You can find a list of all military passenger terminals and their contact info in the Passenger Terminal Directory on the Air Mobility Command Travel Site.

Get the full scoop on using Space-A flights and lodging with our free 45-page Guide to Military Space-A Travel.

3. Sign up for multiple departure locations – everywhere you could possibly want to fly from.

You can sign up for as many departure terminals as you want.

The most efficient way to do it is to send one e-mail and copy all of the passenger terminals from which you may want to fly. You can also use the MilSpaceA travel app (available in the Apple and Android app stores).

Passenger terminal e-mail addresses change periodically, so make sure you have the most current address. The Air Mobility Command (AMC) Travel Site has contact information for all military passenger terminals (scroll down to the Passenger Terminal Directory).

Don’t forget that you should also sign up for the bases from which you may want to return at the end of your travels. Depending on how long you plan to spend at your destination, wait the corresponding amount of time to sign up at your return terminals.

Example: You live on the West Coast and are trying to fly Space-A to Japan. You want to spend about 3 weeks there.

You sign up with the Seattle AMC terminal, JB Lewis-McChord, Travis AFB, Anderson AFB, and JB Pearl Harbor Hickam approximately 50 days prior to your desired travel date.

You should wait at least 3 weeks before sending requests to Yokota AB, Misawa AB, and Kadena AB, which are possible bases from which you may want to return to the U.S.

Advanced Example: You want to go to Osan AB in Korea. Having monitored Space-A flight schedules, you know that Seattle has weekly Patriot Express flights to Osan via Yokota and Misawa, so those are two of the departure bases you sign up for (along with the other locations noted in the first example).

You end up hopping a cargo flight from Travis to Yokota, where you compete for the Patriot Express and get a seat to Osan.

        | Related Reading: 9 Things to Know About Flying Space-A on the Patriot Express

You might also want to return to the U.S. via Yokota. Therefore, as soon as you arrive in Yokota, you send that terminal another signup for your trip back to CONUS.

You must sign up for Yokota again, because after you compete for and are manifested on a flight from a particular base, you are no longer on their Space-A signup list.

If we take this example a step further, we have yet another possible scenario. If you board the Patriot Express in Seattle and are manifested all the way to Osan, the stopover in Yokota will NOT affect your place on the Yokota signup list. You do not need to sign up at Yokota again.

4. Keep copies of your “sent” Space-A signup e-mails.

If the passenger terminal has no record of your signup (as is often the case) when you mark yourself present, they will usually honor your proof of the date/time you sent the request.

At most military passenger terminals, an electronic copy of your signup is sufficient, but it never hurts to have a paper copy.

You can expedite the process of marking yourself present by having all of your required travel documents readily available, including your signup e-mail and the military IDs and passports (if traveling to a foreign country) of all travelers in your party.

         | Related to Space-A Signup: Lessons Learned from Flying Space-A Across the World

When marking yourself present, you should also confirm that any signup information the terminal has is correct, including the date and time of signup, the number of travelers, and the final destination.

Note: Signup dates and times for all terminals worldwide are recorded in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) aka Zulu time.

5. When you receive your boarding passes, verify that the final destination is correct.

Even if your current flight is only the first leg of your journey, your boarding pass should always indicate your final destination. This is particularly important when you hop a flight going to multiple locations, and you are manifested to the last destination.

Example: You are at Travis AFB and want to fly Space-A to Germany. There is a mission on the schedule that stops at JB McGuire before continuing on to Ramstein AB.

You mark yourself present for that flight and tell the agent that your final destination is Ramstein. You are selected for the flight.

When you get your boarding pass from Travis to McGuire, you should verify that two fields are correct. The Destination field should say “McGuire.” The Final Destination field should say “Ramstein.” If it doesn’t, ask the agent to make the correction.

There is a good reason why this is important. If you are manifested to the final destination of a mission that has scheduled stops along the way, you do not need to compete with other Space-A passengers for seats at the interim location(s).

However, in the example above, if your boarding pass does not accurately reflect that you have a seat all the way Ramstein, it’s possible that you would need to compete for Space-A seats again at McGuire.

Final Advice for Retirees Flying Space-A

Military retirees can fly Space-A any time of year. Your best chances of getting a seat are outside of summer PCS season and whenever schools are in session (the winter holidays are not a good time).

Following the signup tips above will also boost your chances of getting a seat. To maximize the likelihood that you make it to your target destination, follow our tried-and-true strategies for a successful Space-A adventure!

Ready to fly? Check out these other articles to help you plan your travel:

Space-A Packing List: What to Wear and Bring on a Military Hop

How to Use TRICARE When Seeking Medical Care Overseas

Poppin’ Smoke’s Space-A Location Guides

Top photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.