Disclaimer: This post was really hard to write. There is so much information out there for Space A and when I was ready to take my own Space A trip to Japan I ended up having all the wrong paperwork and we had to make a last minute scramble to the commander to get an EML authorization form signed. I really thought I had everything prepared but with the mountain of information available I got turned around. I hope my guide will help you understand the basics of Space A and how it applies to living in Korea.
As you begin your research into Space A travel you’ll notice a lot of broken links and outdated information. There is no better source for your Space A needs than calling your local AMC terminal and getting the facts straight from the horse’s mouth.
First, please read my article “Is Space A right for you?” This will give you an idea if Space A is really worth it vs buying commercial tickets. If you are sure that you want to use Space A, then let’s get to it!
Space A – Space Available travel. After seats on a plane are assigned for mission essential personnel and equipment there may be unused seats left over. Space A eligible travelers can fly in these seats for free (there are other expenses such as taxi’s, food, head tax for international travelers etc).
SM/ Sponsor – The Service Member with an active duty ID.
CS/ NCS – Command Sponsored and Non Command Sponsored dependents. If the dependents names are listed on the sponsor’s PCS orders to Korea then they are CS.
CONUS / OCONUS – Continental United States and Outside Continental United States. CONUS refers to the lower 48. Hawaii and Alaska are considered OCONUS or overseas locations.
AMC – Air Mobility Command who ensures mission success around the world by transporting supplies and soldiers to CONUS and overseas theaters. When there are empty seats on flights, AMC releases them on a Space Available basis to eligible passengers.
EML – Environmental Morale Leave. More information on this below.
Patriot Express – US Government contracted flight that serves the military and their families. The planes are a bit old, think commercial airliners from the late 90’s.
Table of Contents
- A Look at the Osan Airbase AMC Passenger Terminal
- What Makes Korea’s Space A different
- Space A for Beginners
A Look at the Osan Airbase AMC Passenger Terminal
Osan Airbase is the AMC hub for South Korea and many soldiers and families will enter and leave Korea through here on Patriot Express flights.
- There are regular flights from Osan to Seattle, WA with stops in Misawa or Yokota, Japan. Call the passenger terminal to find out about other destinations.
- There are monthly Space A briefings for Sponsors and dependents to ask questions and address their unique situation. Call the passenger terminal for future briefing dates.
- There is free longterm parking at the parking garage next to the BX. When we returned from our two week trip to Japan the car was fine, just covered in dust. Many units use the the parking garage for their government vehicles so try and park in an unlabeled spot. Do not park in front of the terminal.
- Have a question? Call and ask! The Airmen at the Osan Passenger Terminal have top notch customer service and are very knowledgeable. You will be happy you called.
- Here are some tips for the Osan Passenger Terminal:
- The Passenger Terminal feels like a small airport with plenty of seating, vending machines, a check-in counter and a family playroom.
- When entering the terminal, go to the left to the customer service desk for Space A check-in. You cannot go to the luggage check-in on the right until your seat is confirmed.
- There is TSA security just like regular airports. Be sure to follow all TSA regulations.
- There is free wi-fi available.
- There are vending machines on both sides of security but there are no money changers or ATM’s. It looks like every airmen there gets cleaned out of their dollars from unprepared families trying to get their screaming kids a snack. I was one of those poor families. No breakfast, no drinks, and no dollar bills. We were miserable by the time we got on the plane. Pack snacks and bring empty water bottles through security and fill them up at the water fountains. The Osan Space A Facebook page says AAFES sells snacks and foods but everything was closed at Osan and Yokota where we landed.
- After confirming our seats I asked if it would be ok to go to the BX to get a bite to eat since, according to our tickets, the flight was four hours away. The one airmen said of course while another cautioned us to stay. I am glad we listened to the second airmen because we were through security within the hour and then it closed down. We waited another hour, staring at the delicious snacks in the vending machines, before we were on the plane and on our way earlier than expected. Do not leave the Passenger Terminal after checking in and confirming your flight. You will find yourself staring at the closed security door and being left behind.
What Makes Korea’s Space A unique
Environmental Morale Leave (EML) – This type of leave is meant to give service members and their family’s relief from their overseas assignment through the Space A program. EML exists solely to improve a sponsor and their family’s category when using Space A for a yearly vacation. Click here for the U.S. Pacific Command’s memo on EML.
- All SM’s and their families are authorized one EML trip in a 365 day period. Commander must sign the EML authorization form.
- Authorized EML destinations from Korea are Hawaii, Japan, Gaum, Alaska and CONUS/the lower 48.
- EML Travel Authorization USPACOM FORM 505/3 must be signed by the unit commander before flying.
- EML cannot be used:
- To move or PCS family members to the sponsor’s locations or to another destination.
- Within 6 months of PCSing to or away from the SM’s overseas location. When I called the AMC terminal, the official policy states that EML can be used twice in a 365 day period because a year of a family’s two year stay is offlimits. However, this is entirely up to unit commanders so expect at least one EML vacation.
- For any type of medical reasons such as convalescence leave, delivery of a baby, sick leave etc.
- For emergency leave.
- In essence, EML was created for the sole purpose of bumping soldiers and their families up a category for Space A. This way families can be reasonably sure they will have an opportunity to rest away from South Korea at least once a year.
- Command Sponsored Dependents may use EML unaccompanied. Families need a Command Sponsorship letter signed by the sponsor’s unit commander.
Command Sponsored (CS) dependents may use Space A as much as they like.
- CS Dependents are authorized to travel CONUS <-> Overseas and Overseas <-> Overseas as much as they like unaccompanied. The only restriction is that they can obtain a Command Sponsorship letter from their unit commander each time.
- CS Dependents cannot travel CONUS <-> CONUS and must make their own way to their destination after landing in the lower 48.
- Unaccompanied dependents must carry a Command Sponsorship Authorization Form, signed by their unit commander, whenever traveling without the sponsor. The letter is good for 90 days and one round trip. Dependents can sign up for flights 60 days before their expected travel date.
Non-Command Sponsored (NCS) Families may utilize Space A in Korea under Cat V.
- NCS dependents may visit their sponsor from a CONUS or overseas location to the sponsor’s location in Korea once a year for a total of 30 days. They must fly to and from the sponsor’s overseas assignment, they cannot meet up at another destination. This is different from other overseas assignments where NCS families can visit as often as they like.
- This is what I found from an online source but when I called the AMC terminal they said unaccompanied NCS families can travel just as often as CS families with the restriction that they get a letter for each trip. NCS families cannot travel unaccompanied using EML.
- Accompanied NCS dependents may travel in other categories with their sponsor.
- Unaccompanied NCS dependents must carry a Non-Command Sponsorship Authorization Letter, signed by their unit commander, to travel without the sponsor. The letter is good for 90 days and one round trip and they are restricted to CAT V. Dependents can sign up for flights 60 days before their expected travel date.
Space A for beginners
First of all, there are better sources for Space A information than myself. I am hoping my guide will get you started but really SpaceA.net is the way to go.
The No’s of Space A
- Cannot be used in conjunction with a PCS or to move family members (CS or NCS) to the sponsor’s overseas assignments or back to the states.
- May not be used for monetary gains or employment.
- Pets are not authorized for Space A travelers. Ask your AMC terminal about service animals.
- Cannot be used to transport regulated/ illegal items. Space A travelers are under all of the restrictions created by the TSA. Go to TSA.gov to learn what can be packed in luggage for international and domestic flights.
Steps to using Space A in Korea
Which AMC terminals will you be using for your trip?
- AMC terminals are listed here on the Air Mobility Command Website.
- Follow your target AMC terminals on Facebook. Don’t forget the return trip terminals.
- Don’t like Facebook? Sorry but it’s the only way to see upcoming flight schedules for Space A.
- AMC terminals use a similar format on all their pages but some pages offer more information than others. I suggest that everyone to follow the SEA-TAC AMC terminal. They offer traveling trips, yearly statistics and reminders for their travelers.
- Start watching terminals now and get a feel for how flights work for your destination. Learn how often flights are, how many seats are available on average, if there are regular delays due to weather, maintenance, mission etc.
- Most AMC terminals (I didn’t check them all) will delete old flight information from the album and update with new photos. They post flights 72 hours in advance.
- Look at the Notes and About section of each AMC terminal to find unique information about them such as food services, shuttle bus hours, parking etc.
- Keep all of your target AMC terminal’s phone numbers and emails in an easy to access location.
- Call your target AMC terminal.
- This is the best way to get the most accurate and up to date information. Go ahead and finish reading this guide but it is extremely important to call and double check that you have everything you need and you know that this terminal can get you to your destination.
What’s your category?
- CAT I – Emergency Leave
- This category is often one-way so expect to travel back under a lower category or commercially.
- CAT II – Accompanied Environmental Morale Leave (EML)
- Sponsors and their dependents are put in a higher category to ensure that they successfully complete their EML leave and come back to Korea rested and refreshed.
- CAT III – Sponsor and their dependents for regular leave, TDY for house hunting, dependents visiting their sponsor who is deployed 365+ days etc
- Dependents visiting their deployed sponsor are the last ones in CAT III chosen for a seat. It’s almost as if there is a hidden category called, unofficially, CAT III b.
- Sponsors who are TDY for house hunting may bring one dependent with them.
- CAT IV – Unaccompanied EML dependents, dependents visiting their sponsor who has been deployed 120-364 days and DoDDS teachers using EML for summer break.
- EML bumps unaccompanied CS dependents up one category from CAT V. Must have the Commander’s signed letter when traveling.
- CAT V – Permissive TDY, unaccompanied CS and NCS dependents and students.
- Unaccompanied CS and NCS must have the Commander’s signed letter with them when traveling.
- Call your departing AMC terminal and they will email you forms and authorization letters. Go here to SpaceA.net to see example documentation.
- Basic documentation every international traveler needs:
- U.S. Passport – Children under 10yrs old need proof of birth from a passport, birth certificate etc. Note: A no-fee passport can only go between Korea and the United States. Do not use a no-fee passport to visit overseas countries. Tourist passports need to be used otherwise the terminal may not let you board.
- Government ID
- Other documentation required to travel on Space A:
- Visa to enter target country – Many countries require a visa to enter. Get this documentation started right away. Japan and Korea do not require visa’s for a 90 day tourist stay.
- Unaccompanied NCS/CS authorization letter – For dependents traveling without their sponsor.
- EML form – For sponsors and/or dependents taking Environmental and Morale Leave.
- Documents that will make your trip a little less stressful:
- A list of travelers with their names, birth dates and passport numbers – There are always forms to fill out and life will be easier with this in your wallet.
- Pinpoint Orders – No one ever asks for these but it’s always a good idea for the sponsor and family members to carry them for worse case scenarios.
- A list of prescription medications and phone numbers/ emails of their doctors – It happens to everyone, they are traveling and something happens with their prescription medication. Have on hand a list of medications including their names, dosages and prescription numbers. Better yet, take a picture of each medication bottle and email it to yourself.
- Emergency Contacts – Have a list of emergency contacts in case you need help in a hurry. Include contacts from your departing and arriving destination.
- A print out of all of your hotel and tour reservations.
Pick dates for traveling
- Do not expect to leave exactly when you want to. Be prepared to wait a few days for a seat to open up or to not get on a flight at all.
- There was a lady at the terminal who was traveling CAT V and was trying to get home to the states in time to see her daughter’s graduation. She had been trying for two weeks to get a flight that took her all the way to Seattle and that day was her last chance to make it. She was unable to get a flight all the way to Seattle so she went to Yokota, Japan and was prepared to sit there and wait for two more days to try and make it to the states.
- Sea-Tac terminal posts a yearly trend graph showing how many seats were available each month and how many were used by Space A travelers. It’s easy to see that the heavy travel months are during the summer and winter school vacations.
- CAT V and CAT IV travelers will have a hard time flying during holiday seasons, summer break and peak PCS times depending on their destination.
- Ask your AMC terminal the best time to travel and watch their Facebook page to see how the flights are filling up.
- Most AMC Facebook pages give a Roll Call report for the previous week showing what was the lowest category that made it onto flights and how many seats were available. When we traveled in September the plane was practically empty to Japan but was full to Seattle.
- Flight times and days can change without notice. Our flight from Osan left an hour early and our flight back from Yokota left 6 hours late. There were no notices put out on Facebook and with how quickly things change at the terminals I wouldn’t expect them to. There are multiple factors going on in the background that cause plane delays and date changes so be willing to go with the flow.
Sign up as soon as your documents are completed and dates are picked!
- Signing up for a flight essentially saves your place in line. People who were signed up 2 weeks ago as a certain category are further ahead in line than others who signed up the day before in the same category. This means, the longer you’ve been waiting the better your chances are of getting on a flight.
- Service members can sign up for Space A on the first day of their leave, not before. Dependents will sign up at the same time under the sponsor’s name. Ask your departing terminal exactly how to sign up. For Osan, we had to send an email with my husband’s name, number of dependents, number of seats needed, destination, and his leave form and EML form.
- Unaccompanied dependents can sign up 60 days before their intended flight with their command authorization letter (which is good for 90 days). This can be tricky because it may be tempting to sign up exactly 60 days beforehand but there is no way of telling if a flight will take off on the exact day of your choosing. Leave yourself a week or two of space when signing up. Ask your departing terminal the best way to sign up as an unaccompanied dependent.
Prepare for your flight
- Pack light and bring snacks
- There’s a chance you will do a lot of traveling between the passenger terminal and hotel rooms as you try to get a flight. No need to lug around a huge suitcase the whole time.
- Space A travelers cannot go over the baggage limits so be careful how much you bring. Go to the AMC website for more information.
- Pack some dollar bills, snacks and empty water bottles in your carry-on luggage. Both times we were at an AMC terminal, AAFES was closed and we were starving.
- Bring a book and chargers for your electronics. You are going to be bored, trust me.
- Double check your documents. Don’t get to the terminal to find out you are missing something.
- Be ready to pay for taxis, hotels and any head taxes. When traveling to Seattle, travelers can expect to pay around $18 per person for a head tax. In the Yokota Passenger Terminal, about half the vending machines required Yen so consider having money exchanged before traveling.
Arrive at the AMC passenger terminal one hour before roll call on the day you want to fly out and check-in with the customer service desk, not the luggage counter.
- Travelers can check into their terminal up to 24 hours before roll call but it doesn’t improve their chances of getting on the flight by checking in early. A traveler’s place in line within their category is determined by how long ago they signed up for flights. Checking in an hour before roll call is sufficient.
- After checking in, wait for roll call when the terminal staff call out or display on a monitor who has made the flight.
- If your name was called proceed to the luggage counter and check your bags like a regular airport. Wait for security to open up and you are on your way! Do not leave the passenger terminal for any reason after you are confirmed a seat through roll call.
- Didn’t get called? That’s ok, come back next time and try again. The longer you wait the better your chances to get chosen within your category.
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