Space-A: Free flight is hit or miss at Mildenhall
Stars and Stripes June 6, 2007
UK weekly edition, Wednesday, June 6, 2007
RAF MILDENHALL — Free airfare is something that travelers will probably never come across in airports around the world. However, it’s a reality at RAF Mildenhall’s Passenger Terminal and happens frequently as part of its space-available travel program.
First, there are some guidelines to this great deal that must be followed before you can land a free flight to an air base in the States or Europe. A few that stand out are:
n Fill out the required paperwork.
n Register for one or more flights.
nBe patient, very patient.
Tech. Sgt. Adam Malone, the terminal’s noncommissioned officer in charge, also stressed the need to have a backup plan in case a return flight cannot be accommodated.
“It’s cost-effective, but you have to plan accordingly,” he said of the Space-A program.
Since no-cost travel isn’t at the top of the Air Force’s priority list, flights to a certain destination or roundtrip airfare can be hit or miss.
A few destinations that the Mil- den-hall terminal had aircraft departing to recently were Ramstein Air Base, Germany; Aviano Air Base, Italy; McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.; Dover Air Force Base, Del.; MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.; and Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.
Malone said that there are no guarantees on when and where aircraft fly. His advice is to check the terminal’s three-day flight tracker by using Mildenhall’s Web site or coming into the terminal.
Potential passengers also can call the terminal to obtain flight information on the next 24 hours, he said.
One tip to tackling a return flight to Mildenhall, especially from a destination in the States, is to use Ramstein as a connection.
“A lot people go to Ramstein from the States, which is easier to get to, and try to get back here,” Malone said.
Last year, more than 1,300 passengers took flights from Mildenhall using the Space-A program. At the end of April, about 360 passengers had flown so far this year.
Most people who use the Space-A program at Mildenhall are spouses and dependents, as well as a lot of retirees and some active-duty airmen, Malone said.
“They visit family, go home or see the world,” he said.
And having the opportunity to do all of that without dropping hundreds of dollars for commercial travel can’t be beat. Yet, with every good deal there are stipulations and horror stories. Space-A is no different.
Malone recalled being stuck in California and Hawaii for a couple of weeks while trying to travel to Guam.
“I ended up spending more money on billeting and whatever else than I would have for a commercial ticket to Guam,” he said.
Glenys Mitchell, the terminal’s passenger operations manager, remembered a woman getting stranded at Mildenhall with no money and four children during Christmas a few years ago.
The plane that the woman was traveling on — destined for Germany — stopped to refuel at the base but got pulled for another mission, she said.
“We collected money and contacted the chapel to help her,” Mitchell continued. “You always have to make sure you have money or a credit card to fall back on.”
Travelers may want to avoid the terminal’s peak periods in July and August, Mitchell said.
A variety of aircraft participate in the program, and depending on the aircraft and its configuration, passengers can expect to sit on cushioned seats or uncomfortable webbing seats, she said.
Commercial charters stop at Mildenhall, as well, but charge a nominal fee for tax purposes, which is about $20, Mitchell added.
RAF Mildenhall’s passenger terminal
Contact: DSN 238-2248/2526 or commercial 01638 54 2248/2526E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.orgFor more information on the Space-A program, check out this document found on the Air Mobility Command Web site: www.amc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-060328-001.doc