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Much of the anxiety of Space-Available travel can be eliminated with the proper paperwork and by following a few tricks of the trade.

Active-duty military members and Department of Defense civilians may sign up for Space-A travel once their leave begins by faxing or e-mailing official leave papers to the Air Mobility Command passenger terminal at departure locations, including for the return trip. Dependents may sign up anytime they’re eligible to travel.

Signup is good until the last day of leave, or, for dependents and retired military personnel, 60 days.

Passengers don’t sign up for a particular flight, but for a destination, such as Guam.

Call the passenger terminal for approximate flight departures. A service agent will usually know the schedule about two to three days out, though some flights are routine, such as the C-9’s nonurgent, aeromedical-evacuation missions. The schedule can change at the last minute, and unexpected flights may be added, so call as late as feasible for an early-morning show.

The day of the flight, check in at the passenger terminal service desk. Passengers must be present at roll call, when a service agent will name who is manifested — or selected for a seat on the flight. Seats are doled out based on travel-status category, and within each category, date and time signup. There are six categories: individuals on emergency leave get first dibs, while retired military members and active-duty reservists are last priority.

At roll call, usually two to three hours before flight departure, passengers must present all required documentation, including leave orders, a current and valid identification card, and passport.

Command-sponsored dependents must have the original letter of command sponsorship signed by the sponsor’s commander.

Only so many seats are released, a number that usually depends on how much room is left after accounting for cargo weight and duty — or required — passengers.

And that number can change minutes before boarding, bumping passengers from a flight in the last travel status category.

When calling about a particular flight, ask about baggage limit. On most flights, passengers are authorized two checked bags of 70 pounds each. Weight restrictions are enforced on the following aircraft: C-9 (70 pounds total), and C-21 (30 pounds total). Each passenger may hand-carry one item, which must fit under the seat or in an overhead compartment.

Open-toed shoes are not allowed on military aircraft.

It’s a good idea to research Space-A before traveling. Some options: the Worldwide Space-A Travel Handbook (spaceatravel.com), which lists, among other things, scheduled flights and most common destinations of unscheduled flights at AMC terminals around the world.

It’s advised to avoid Space-A travel around school holidays, when teachers, families and students all vie for seats back to the United States. Summer time can be very busy for another reason: There are more travelers on the AMC passenger channel missions during the permanent-change-of-station season, many taking the commercially contracted Patriot Express to and from the United States.

Two helpful Web sites are: http://spacea.info/faq.html#Acronyms and http://www.glue.umd.edu/~oard/spacea/faq.txt.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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