Air Force Cancels Most Space-A Travel as Pandemic Spreads

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Space-available passengers board a C-17 at Hickam Air Force Base.
Space-available passengers board a C-17 at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, bound for Andersen AFB, Guam. (U.S. Air Force/Tech Sgt. Cohen A. Young)

Air Mobility Command has suspended the majority of the space-available travel it offers on its aircraft, the Air Force announced Sunday. The move comes as the Defense Department dramatically limits international and domestic travel to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The suspension, which took effect Saturday, will continue through May 11, according to the announcement. It pertains to low- and no-cost flights offered to troops, families and retirees on cargo and transport aircraft between regular transit hubs.

"At the recommendation of U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command leadership, Hon. Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, authorized the temporary suspension in order to increase force health protection measures and decrease risk to the Department of Defense mission amidst the outbreak," officials said in a statement.

Related: The Military's Coronavirus Cases: The Latest Rundown

Space-A travel is still available for troops and dependents on emergency leave, and wounded warriors and immediate family members accompanying them, according to the announcement. Other exceptions exist for military retirees living in U.S. commonwealths and territories traveling to obtain specific health care services; overseas workers traveling to and from Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia; and veterans native to and residing in American Samoa who are traveling to and from Hawaii for care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A full list of excepted travel categories is available here.

An AMC spokeswoman, Capt. Nicole Ferrara, said there were 93,085 Space-A travelers in fiscal 2019. Of those, 1,548, or about 1.7%, used the travel option for emergency leave.

From Dec. 1, 2019, through March 3 of this year, 18,372 travelers have taken advantage of Space-A accommodations on Air Force and contracted aircraft, she said, and just 52, or about one-fourth of 1%, were on emergency leave status.

"The Space-Available program, in general, does not guarantee travel to or from any destination or on a set timeline," Ferrara said via email. "No matter the circumstances, Space-Available travel program administrators and passenger terminal personnel encourage travelers to have the means necessary to procure return travel should space not be available."

According to AMC's space-available travel website, pillow and blanket service has also been ended for all travelers on AMC aircraft, and passengers who still qualify for flights are being encouraged to bring their own travel comfort items.

The Air Force's announcement follows a March 13 move by the Pentagon to prohibit most domestic travel for military families to limit the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. The DoD had previously issued a 60-day ban for all military personnel for most travel to regions most affected by the virus, and a prohibition for military dependents and civilians on regions with elevated risk, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That designation is now global.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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