The friendly skies are friendliest when they’re free, a fact to which most military space available flight passengers will attest.

Pacific region U.S. military officials say the premise behind “Space A” is simple and will continue to hold true for 2009: If there’s a reason for a military aircraft to fly to the States, the opportunity is there for servicemembers to hitch a ride.

A popular Space A flight in the Western Pacific area is the Patriot Express. The military’s only chartered commercial air service in the Pacific, the Express flies every week from Seattle to Yokota Air Base, Japan, to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and back to Seattle.

To snag a seat on the Patriot Express or one of the KC-10, C-17 or C-5 aircraft bound from the Asia-Pacific region to the States requires passengers to follow the same set of Space A procedures as anywhere else in the world.

Military passengers must show paperwork indicating they’re on leave status, and it’s good to have plenty of leave saved up, said Master Sgt. Ray Ortiz, Yokota’s superintendent of passenger and fleet services for Air Mobility Command.

“If an individual has five days of leave, I wouldn’t recommend them getting on an airplane and going to Seattle and trying to get back here flying the space available system,” Ortiz said.

The reason, he said, is that flexibility is key for Space A.

“Space A passengers need to add a little bit of extra time into their travels because delays do occur,” he explained. “And they need to have enough reserve funds to purchase a ticket home if they do not take the flight that they plan on taking.”

Space A flight schedules can be obtained 72 hours in advance by calling the individual terminals. Currently, there is no online booking option, and schedules are not posted on the Web. However, travelers can register by e-mail, as well as by fax, regular mail or in person.

Lt. Col. Shirlene Ostrov, commander of the 735th Air Mobility Squadron at Hawaii’s Hickam Air Base, a major hub for Space A activity in the Pacific, said booking and flight information isn’t likely to hit the Internet soon.

“We’re just not manned to keep up a Web site by the minute and as much as it changes,” Ostrov said. “But each passenger terminal is manned 24/7 to communicate through phone calls. It seems to work pretty well right now.”

Ortiz added that the changes and cancellations that occur abruptly on a daily basis make it difficult to provide more online options.

“There are so many variables there,” he said.

Once passengers show up for a Space A flight, they learn how many seats are available after all duty passengers and cargo have been accommodated. Space A seats normally are identified as early as two to three hours and as late as 30 minutes before the flight departs.

A roll call is taken in order of priority. Category 1 passengers are called first, and they include servicemembers on emergency leave. The last category called is Category 6, which includes retirees and reservists.

The maximum number of passenger seats available on the KC-10, C-17 and C-5 for an AMC flight ranges from 50 to 70.

Regardless of their chances, registered Space A passengers should be ready, Ortiz said.

“They need to come in travel-ready the day that they’re expected to fly,” he said. “They have to have their bags packed, their car parked, and be ready to get on an aircraft and fly away.”

Ortiz said the best times to fly are when kids are in school, since families on vacation tend to take up a lot of seats.

Kadena Air Base, from which the Patriot Express embarks; Yokota Air Base; Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; and Osan Air Base, South Korea, are the main gateways from which aircraft fly to the States. And their likely stateside destinations include Travis Air Force Base in California and McChord Air Force Base near Seattle.

For more information on Space A, visit the Air Mobility Command Web site at

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