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Sandy Gonyea found out her planned trip back to the States might not be as easy as she hoped.

Gonyea, the wife of an active-duty airman stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, had hoped to use a waiver that allows spouses living in Europe to travel in a higher priority category on space-available flights under certain circumstances.

The waiver, in effect since 1998, put those with spouses deployed for 120 days or more in Category 3 — instead of the usual Category 5 for servicemembers’ dependents — meaning those passengers potentially could be given seats on military flights before active-duty soldiers on leave.

Travelers on space-available flights pay little or no money for the service.

The waiver has come under review and is no longer in effect at the Air Force’s main passenger terminals in Europe.

“The upgrade for Space Available travel for dependents with spouses deployed for 120 days is no longer in effect,” according to a story in the Oct. 28 edition of The Vigileer, the base newspaper at Aviano.

Airmen who answered the phones at the passenger terminals at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and RAF Mildenhall, England, said the waiver was no longer in effect in those places, either.

That means spouses trying to travel to the States while their husbands or wives are deployed won’t get special considerations.

Gonyea said Monday she was told of the change the day she went to check into a flight, but no one told her why the change was made.

Officials at the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command — which runs the space-available program — as well as the U.S. European Command and the Department of Defense also couldn’t provide an answer.

After receiving a series of phone calls and e-mails at the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Capt. Jeffrey Bishop referred Stars and Stripes to the Department of Defense.

DOD spokeswoman Air Force Maj. Susan Idziak referred the query back to the U.S. European Command, where officials were still looking to clarify the situation.

“The EUCOM office responsible for transportation policy has not been notified of any forthcoming changes to this policy,” according to a statement from the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

Gonyea said she’s not sure what the change will mean to her travel plans.

She and her four children, ages 2 to 15, still hope to board the weekly Patriot Express flight that leaves Aviano bound for Lajes Field, the Azores, then travels to Baltimore. From there, she hopes to rent a car and visit a terminally ill aunt of her husband’s.

Her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Gonyea, is deployed.

“He wanted me to take the kids home to see her,” Sandy Gonyea said. “And for the holidays.”

Trying to do that via a commercial flight would be too expensive, she said.

Gonyea said she wanted to make it clear that she didn’t want to bump any servicemembers from a flight.

“If there are seats available, they should go to active-duty servicemembers trying to get home first,” she said. “I agree with that totally.”

Space-available travel categories

The following is a partial list of categories of space-available travel for eligible individuals.

Category 1 — Emergency leave.

Category 2 — Sponsors in an Environmental Morale Leave status and their dependents traveling with them, also in EML status.

Category 3 — Active-duty servicemembers on leave or on house-hunting permissive temporary duty, Medal of Honor holders and foreign military members.

Category 4 — Unaccompanied dependents on EML, and Department of Defense Dependents Schools teachers on EML during summer recess.

Category 5 — Permissive temporary duty students and command-sponsored dependents not traveling with their sponsor.

Category 6 — Retirees and their dependents.

A complete listing of eligible passengers by category is contained in DOD regulation 4515.13-R.

For more information on Space-A travel, visit the Air Mobility Command Web site.

Source: Air Force Air Mobility Command

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