Whay Space-A Travel Is Not A Viable Option
So there's been a lot of questions posed, especially by skeptics of the LBEH project, about whether or not military personnel can travel for free on military flights. The program they're talking about is called "space available" travel, or "space-a" for short. It means that after all the military cargo and people travelling on official government business have been loaded on the plane, those travelling for non-official purposes can board the plane as passengers, on a space available basis.
Also understand that while the "official" policy on these space-a seats is on a first-come-first-serve basis, it doesn't happen that way in the real world. "Rank has it's privileges" and if an Airman (E-2) comes in for a seat the same time as a Colonel (O-6), it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who's going ot get the last seat.
So to apply what we've learned about space-a travel to a real world request. Let's pretend I'm back in the Air Force as an airman stationed at Hanscom AFB in Massachusetts, and want to "catch a hop" on space-a flight to see my folks in Rochester, New York...
Let's start by looking at the nearest bases to where I'm going. Griffiss AFB in NY which was 90 minutes from Rochester was closed down in 1996. Next closest was Plattsburgh AFB also in NY used to be 6 hours away, but sorry that too was closed down around 1993. So now I'm looking at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio which is a 10 hour drive from Rochester, or Maguire AFB in New Jersey which is a mere 7 hours drive.
Well, the only flights in/out of Hanscom are the bi-weekly medical flight to Virginia, and weekly supply flights coming from a handful of other bases scattered throughout the country. None of which are to Ohio or New Jersey. That means assuming one of these flights is actually departing during the start of my (inflexible) leave dates, I have to hope to catch a seat on one of these "hops" to another base, which in turn has another flight going to one of my two targets destinations of Ohio or New Jersey. And hope to actually get a seat on that flight as well.
I start out with 14 days of leave, and spend a day in Hanscom's terminal hoping to get one of the available seats. But it's my lucky day and after a day's wait I happen to catch a 5 hour flight on a C-130 with hard plastic seats and no soundproofing, sitting wedged between a HUMVEE and a pallet of tank treads, wishing I had the foresight to pack a sandwich, and heading to a base somewhere in North Carolina.
After arriving 200 miles further from my designation from when I started, I'm told there's a flight leaving in 12 hours for Wright Patterson AFB and I've got the last seat -- I'm ecstatic. So after waiting for 10 hours laying in a corner using my suitcase for a pillow, a lieutenant, who happens to make three times as much money as I do, walks into the hangar and carrying a set of TDY orders, gets my seat. So now I have to wait around the next flight which is in 48 hours.
But again my lucky stars shine on me, and after shelling out money for a night in some shabby hotel near base, I get a seat on the next flight for Wright Patterson, this time on a jet powered C-141, but still with no soundproofing or cushioned seats to make my 4 hour trip a little more hospitable. Instead of a HUMVEE to lean against, I've got huge crates of radar dome parts and thirty 50-gallon drums of motor oil to use as a sofa. Again I wish I had packed a sandwich.
Now after having spent 72 hours travelling with no real place to sleep, shower, or eat, I arrive at my "destination" an airbase that's still a 10 hour drive from my home. I'm hungrier than hell, I can't hear a damned thing, and my butt hurts.
Luckily my parents drove the 10 hours to meet me so I don't have to blow $200 on a rental car. They buy me something to eat, but only before we spend another day driving back to New York -- for a total of almost 4 days travel. One way. Assume the same amount of time will be spent on the return trip, so now the 14 days I had planned to spend on my family for the holidays is now 6 days. Merry Christmas.
And of course if for any reason, I can't catch the series of hops back to base and report on station by the time my leave is up, I can face punitive action for being absent without leave (AWOL).
So yes, "space-a" travel is in theory possible for the folks I'm asking you to help purchase airline tickets for, but only on paper. For these junior enlisted troops that are least capable of affording a commercial plane ticket and are most deserving of it, the closest they're going to get to catching a hop to where they need to go is indeed, "just in theory."