The Patriot Express (PE) is a type of military flight many in uniform are quite familiar with. The Patriot Express is used for official travel—especially for those on permanent change of station moves to military assignments overseas.
PE flights will often be a combination of those on leave, going to or from new duty locations, and those retiring or separating from military service. The rest of the available seats may be placed on the “Space-A” list. What does this mean?
There are many things about the military world that civilians don’t understand. One of those things is the option for currently serving military members, their families, and even military retirees to fly “Space-A” on military aircraft such as the Patriot Express.
“Space-A” stands for “space available” and refers to the practice of allowing other travelers to fill vacant seats on airplanes flying missions on official business. Not every plane will be full for the official travelers, and it makes sense not to waste the available seats.
We mention this because there are many uses for Patriot Express flights and Space-A travel is a tradition in the military community. If you don’t think you’ll ever need to consider using the Patriot Express outside the official travel channels, you might change your mind after arriving at your first overseas base.
How The Patriot Express Works
Military members and their families receive permanent change of station orders from stateside bases to overseas bases, and vice versa. The Patriot Express is one way to make that travel happen.
Some take assignments from one overseas base to another, and Patriot Express flights may be used to facilities that kind of travel, too, depending on circumstances.
The Patriot Express isn’t just one jet airplane—it’s a whole group of chartered air travel arranged by U.S. Transportation Command and administered by Air Mobility Command. These are commercial airplanes chartered by the Department of Defense to fly specific routes to bring military members and their families overseas and back again.
The Patriot Express once traveled to a wide range of destinations including California and selected bases in the United Kingdom; cuts in service eliminated many of those stops including Los Angeles.
All Pacific-bound troops depart from Seattle-Tacoma Airport in Washington. Which leads us to the next important detail—where PE flights originate.
Patriot Express Departures And Arrivals
Which Patriot Express you fly depends greatly on where you are headed. Those departing the United States for overseas bases in the Pacific will depart from Seattle, Washington’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) terminal to the following destinations—what are listed here can safely be assumed to be round-trip flights, though mission requirements and other factors may change that on individual flights:
- Misawa AB, Japan
- Yokota AB, Japan
- MCAS Iwakuni, Japan
- Kadena AB, Japan
- Osan AB, Korea
- Andersen AFB, Guam
Patriot Express Flights also originate from Travis Air Force Base, California to Pearl Harbor/Hickam.
Those departing from the East Coast may use the AMC terminal at Baltimore Washington International for the following destinations:
- Ramstein AB, Germany
- Thule AB, Greenland
- McGuire AFB, New Jersey
- Incirlik AB, Turkey
Some East Coast departures will be from Naval Station Norfolk to the following destinations:
- Guantanamo Bay NS, Cuba
- NAVSTA Rota, Spain
- Naples NSA, Italy
- Sigonella NAS, Italy
- Djibouti, Africa
- Souda Bay NSA, Greece
- Diego Garcia
Some flights may or may not have stops along the way; much depends on variables including mission requirements, ops tempo, threat levels, and other concerns.
Signing Up For Patriot Express Travel
Those who are traveling on official business (PCS, TDY, permissive TDY, travel as part of professional military education, etc.) are not required to sign up for Space A travel, their seats are reserved and they will register for their flights as directed by the local command.
Those who are not traveling on official business but are flying with leave paperwork are required to sign up for Space A travel from a specific passenger terminal (see above) and may or may not be assigned a seat on a Patriot Express aircraft—it could be any departing flight that is going to the traveler’s destination.
Those flying on orders do not pay a fee as opposed to those flying Space A, who will be charged a small fee for travel. This fee is usually charged in cash only—ask before you rely on a different form of payment.
Patriot Express Roll Calls
When you fly PE, you should expect to be present for a roll call at the passenger terminal you depart from. In some cases there may be TWO roll calls in situations where the PE flight originated from one location, and lands in another that is not your final destination. There may be one roll call after your plane lands, plus another after the check-in time for the last space-required passenger. Be sure to ask about roll calls when checking into your flight.
Things To Remember About The Patriot Express
Flying on orders is no problem for most unless there are mechanical problems, weather delay issues, or even mission-essential activities that require delays or cancellations of certain flights. But for those who fly Space A on a PE flight, there are a few things to remember. One of the most critical issues to make not of? The timing of your travel—does it coincide with PCS season?
Permanent Change of Station season involves a high volume of military travel, especially for the Patriot Express. Space A travelers are frequently warned about this high-traffic time of year–so why is this a concern for those who don’t have to worry about a seat on the aircraft due to having travel orders?
Processing times for the flights, luggage concerns, and overall comfort of the experience will depend greatly on the sheer volume of passengers scheduled for any one flight.
Best advice? Arrive very early for Patriot Express travel during PCS season and expect delays, unusually-timed departures that may limit your access to typical travel accommodations like coffee shop drinks and airport restaurants. Knowing these issues and preparing for them makes overseas travel via PE far more relaxing and comfortable.
- Active duty and other mission essential travel has priority on Patriot Express flights unless otherwise announced.
- Pets may not be permitted on Space A flights depending on the command, current policies, and mission requirements. If you are traveling on PCS orders it is likely you will be given specific kenneling, transport, and other instructions for transporting a pet to the host country. Do not assume those requirements will not apply if you attempt to bring an animal with you instead. Always ask ahead of time if pets are allowed on your flight. Trained service animals may be permitted depending on a variety of factors.
- Flying Space A on the Patriot Express may come with certain “risks” for those with limited amounts of time to find other travel options. For example, at every stop along the way on a Space A flight, non-essential travelers risk losing their Space A seat of mission-required travel fills up the flight. If your final destination is Japan, and your flight makes a stop at Hawaii, you could lose your seat in Hawaii due to mission requirements. Never assume that any Space A flight is definitely available to you unless you are seating on board and the aircraft is moving. Up to that point, changes are possible.
- Space A flights on board Patriot Express aircraft are not necessarily representative of other Space A travel opportunities. Commercial aircraft on PE routes are only one form of Space A travel and if you assume all Space A situations are as comfortable and user-friendly as PE flights, you may be disappointed in other types of military Space Available travel. PE is one of the most comfortable options.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
|Space-A Travel||State Veteran’s Benefits|
|Space A Travel Tips||PCS, TDY, and Deployments|
|PCSing with Pets||PCS Tips For Military Families|