I am writing this from the passenger terminal on Ramstein Air Base in Germany, waiting for a flight back to the USA. I decided this would be the summer I take advantage of one of the Army's best benefits, space available travel. Quite basically, the Armed Forces operates flights all over the world on a regular basis to move soldiers to their new duty stations and overseas assignments, and whenever these flights have open seats, soldiers, both active and retired, and their dependents can request these seats for free. That's how I got a flight from BWI in Baltimore to Ramstein, Germany for only the $17.20 in head tax. Again, one of the Army's best benefits.
To plan my trip, I considered several options. Summer is the busiest flight season, with so many families moving to new stations and other families trying to take vacations and visit family and friends while kids are out of school. I knew I would have to be flexible and think ahead to get the most out of this system. The second I signed out on leave, I emailed the passenger terminals at BWI, Dover, Andrews AFB, and Norfolk NAS to get on their passenger lists. I checked all their flghts, which are posted online 72 hours out, to see where they were flying, how many seats were available, and how many people were competing for each flight.
I arrived at BWI on a Sunday night and again the next morning to mark myself present for that day's flights. There were two flights scheduled that day for Germany, so I was feeling lucky. I ended up flying out Monday night on a contracted commercial flight with some extra seats. The destination: dropping off troops in Manas for deployment to Afghanistan, with a layover in Germany.
After landing in Germany, I took the train to Paris and Rome, then up to Venice, where I swung back over to Aviano Air Base at the base of the Alps. From there, I was lucky enough to catch a hop back up to Germany, which otherwise would have been a ten hour trip by bus and train. I definitely preferred the six seat plane with an hour flight time. Since mission always comes first, I almost didn't make it onto this flight., due to weight requirements, but luck prevailed.
Now I'm waiting for that luck again as I join about 200 others waiting for a flight back to the US. I've been amusing myself and sleeping in the terminal while watching my number go up and down on the passenger list, and the flight information screens update with plane maintenance information. Hopefully I will be home soon though!
Here's a few tips for anyone trying out space-a:
- Have patience, and plan ahead. Mission always comes first, this is just an extra benefit for you, not a right. Sign up online as soon as you sign out on leave, for both leaving and returning flights.
- Make sure all your documents are in order. Bring a copy of your leave form, id card, and passport, and keep them handy.
- Pack light. Some small planes have a weight limit, and that extra pair of shoes might be enough to kick you off a tight flight.
- Be prepared for extra costs. While these flights are typically free, or only charge a small head tax, if you have to stay somewhere overnight to catch a flight tomorrow, you'll need a hotel room. Also, if you don't get a flight home before your leave ends, you may have to buy a last minute commercial ticket.
- Flights aren't just to Europe. There are plenty of CONUS flights from east coast to west coast bases, as well as flights to Hawaii, Alaska, and bases in the Pacific region.
Traveling overseas has been awesome, and I'm definitely already plotting my next adventure. Perhaps next time I'll really go outside my comfort zone, and try Korea or Japan. Or maybe I'll just take a hop to Hawaii and try out my beginner surf skills. When my husband comes home, we would definitely love to try to get back to Italy for some real skiing. I know my options are open!