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UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

Old Jun 30, 2016, 1:45 pm
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Last edit by: sonyeoshin
Best seat advice
See update in post 500
See update in post 690


Best seat on the Island Hopper .. {closed to new posts}

An Island Hopper [Micronesia] Definitive Guide on Where to Sit [UA B737] {this thread}

FAQs derived from findark's post (post #500)
What is the Island Hopper?

The Island Hopper is a United route between Honolulu and Guam, stopping at the islands of Majuro, Kwajaelin, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Chuuk in between. The Island Hopper operates in both directions, and skips Pohnpei on certain days. You are allowed to get off the plane and "transit" at each stop except for Kwajaelin, which is a US Army base.

This route is similar to Alaska Airlines' "milk run" routes in rural Alaska. All of these routes serve as lifelines for the residents living in areas served by the routes, as the sole connection providing supplies and transportation to/from the rest of the world.

What is the Island Hopper schedule (as of 2024)?
UA154 (the full Hopper) departs Mon/Fri and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM.
UA155 (the full Hopper) departs Mon/Fri and flies GUM-TKK-PNI-KSA-KWA-MAJ-HNL.
UA132 departs Sun/Wed and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KSA).
UA133 departs Sun/Wed and flies GUM-TKK-PNI-KWA-MAJ-HNL (skips KSA).

UA193 (GUM-ROR-MNL) departs GUM on the evenings of Tue/Fri and flies GUM-ROR-MNL.

The Hopper arrives around 1800+1, so in order to do the entire flight without a stopover you would need to depart HNL on UA154 on Monday morning.


Should I experience the Hopper?

If you like hopping through short segments, with beautiful island views, as well as a constant parade of amazing cloudscape between islands, the Island Hopper may be for you!

Which direction (west or east) is better?

The prevailing wisdom here seems to be in favor of taking UA154 (HNL-GUM). findark did 155 from GUM to HNL, and I think there were some overlooked benefits. The eastbound Hopper has the advantage of doing all the fun stuff in the morning and afternoon when you're fresh and eager to enjoy. 14 hours onboard a 737 is a long time*, and doing it eastbound you can give in to the exhaustion and conk out for the final MAJ-HNL segment. Even the HNL arrival was actually not too bad - it's only 10:50pm Guam time, so if you head on to a hotel you're pretty much in line for a night's sleep.

The most notable downside of taking the Hopper eastbound is that you visit MAJ in darkness. We ran about 25m late the whole way, and it was full dark by the time we touched down in MAJ. Whichever way you go, don't do it on a Wednesday! Kosrae was my favorite island, and it would be a shame to miss it.

*And, I learned, while the flight mechanic hops off in MAJ and the pilots get to work in shifts, the cabin crew are on duty for the whole 14 hours. They were understandably a bit burnt out by the middle of MAJ-HNL, but were simply outstanding nonetheless - greeting kids and handing out wings as they boarded in MAJ.


What's with the plane configuration?

The Hopper is currently flown by a GUM subfleet 737-800 (currently Version 4 on the United website - Row 1 is set back several inches which yields fewer E+ seats). The seatmap is loaded as the "Asia local" 737 map, which looks roughly like a 737-700. Like with other "generic" maps, it will update to the full seatmap about 4 days before departure, when the additional rows will appear.

1AB are blocked for the augmented flight crew, who change places with the pilots in the cockpit at MAJ. 2AB are also blocked because the crew rest seats at 1AB will recline until almost touching row 2, and it is usually used for crew storage.

Where should I sit?

The key here is understanding approach and wind patterns, along with each airport's runway configuration. The following stops and runways are on the north side of their respective islands:

TKK (4/22), PNI (9/27), KSA (5/23)

The following stops have runways on the south side of their atolls:

KWA (6/24), MAJ (7/25)

The prevailing winds at this latitude blow from the east, so a typical landing goes from west to east (into the wind). Therefore, in order to have best views on final approach and initial takeoff, you want to be on the starboard (right, F) side for TKK, PNI, and KSA, and on the port (left, A) side for KWA and MAJ. If you are flying westbound, or you land backwards at any stop on the eastbound flight, then the flight may need to position into the approach, usually by overflying the island at higher altitude out to sea. In this case, both sides of the aircraft will get views, although the closer views belong to the "correct" side. In my case, we landed "backwards" on 22 at TKK, and used the regular 9, 5, 6, and 7 at the other stops.

You should absolutely have a window seat - why else are you here?! The best seats are therefore any window in the Business cabin (note that 1A and 2A are blocked), 7AF and 8AF in Economy Plus (10AF has a misaligned window but is okay, the missing window will kill you in 11 and then the wing really starts intruding), and anything nice and far behind the wing in Economy. In this vein, I declined an upgrade on GUM-TKK since only 2E was left, and we flew in 4A/7F, 2F/4A, 2F/3F, 3A/4A, 3A/4A, 2F/7F.


What can I do at the stops?

The best thing to do is get off the plane! You can take tarmac photos and get amazing close-ups of the plane. You will then be shepherded into the gate area, where there are restrooms (some lacking soap and/or towels) and often locals selling souvenirs and snacks. On our trip, the most substantial souvenirs were available at MAJ. If the flight is running late they will make an announcement requesting transfer pax to stay on the plane; however, as obviously savvy travelers who were along for the whole ride and could get on/off quickly with no bags to stow, we got absolutely no pushback from the purser whenever we went outside anyway.

If you do disembark, you are required to take all carry-on baggage with you. They conduct a security sweep onboard the aircraft and will remove unclaimed bags. As is mentioned many times in this thread, KWA is the exception - as it's a US Army base you cannot get off unless ticketed to there. On our flight, we were requested not to take photographs but were allowed to look out the window. I didn't see anything terribly interesting.

You can also use WiFi in the terminal/transit area when you disembark and at some stops you can get your passport stamped. MAJ, PNI, and KSA have confirmed free WiFi. Passport stamps have been confirmed at PNI, KSA, TKK without "exiting" just ask security about getting a stamp at these 3 airports and they should be able to accommodate you.

Should I check my bags?

Yes. As annoying as it was to wait ~10 minutes for our bags in HNL, it was a lot less annoying than having to haul them around each stop, and find bin space again once on board.


What is the food situation?

Going east is a slightly different meal schedule than west. GUM-TKK and KSA-KWA are coded Snack, and MAJ-HNL is Dinner. The first and last meals are reasonably substantial in J (think like a Breakfast and Dinner code) and somewhat small in Y (somewhat less than a meal in int'l Y - was six pieces of fruit and a muffin in the morning, followed by a turkey sandwich for dinner). The middle snack was just a pass of the snack basket up front; neither of us sat in Y that segment but I would guess they just offered almonds. Additionally, every segment they were offering J pax some packaged almonds.

My general verdict is if going the distance in Y, pack some snacks or buy them at the stops along the way. If you're in J then there's enough food for 14 hours of sitting.


And how about IFE?

Look outside! That's actually about all the IFE there is. The GUM fleet has no WiFi and only DirecTV. Note that DirecTV does not work outside of CONUS, so really it just has the 8-10 looping movies of DirecTV (slightly different movie set for an Asian audience). The movie loop resets at each stop, so unless you want to watch the first 1h30 of a movie six times, there's not much use to the IFE. It is at least free in Y. I brought a book and read it for the middle 20 minutes of each segment and until I fell sleep on MAJ-HNL.


Can I get an upgrade on the Hopper?

Empirically, yes! We were offered upgrades of 11/12 eligible segments; I declined a GUM-TKK upgrade to keep my window, and my companion's MAJ-HNL upgrade was eaten by UA IT (agent in MAJ apologized profusely but understandably wasn't going to remove the already-handed-out upgrades to the next 2 pax on the list).

In order to have any shot, however, you need to be able to split the direct flight into six segments. This generally cannot be done on a mileage ticket or a paid through fare, and would need to be done via multi-city ticketing if visiting an island. In my case, I spent a very long time getting an extremely wonderful pmCO agent who was able to hack my ticket together with 9 connections on the way home. As this is also the only way to choose different views for the different approach directions, I recommend asking for this rather than for upgrades. It causes quite the headache for UA systems, but in the end I felt like it was a huge benefit to fly pretty much all of it in J. Absolutely something I credit to the value of being 1K: I was able to ring the 1K desk many times to get agents to deal with the various hiccups that came along with a PNR that had eight tickets and at one point 36 segments attached to it.

The first five Hopper segments (going east) are CPU eligible; MAJ/HNL requires a GPU. We had GPUs on our reservation and did a mixture of advance clearing and clearing at the gates in the islands (where amazingly enough they had the new J BPs waiting!).


Where to stay and what to do in GUM and HNL?

I think this depends on lot on which way you're going. Flying east, we arrived in GUM around 11pm (maximizing time in Tokyo, but not crazy enough for the 2am arrival), and spent the night at the Days Inn Tamuning. It was at the very bottom of my quality standards, but quite affordable and with 9h45 of total ground time all in the dark I did not want to pay double for a beachfront property I would never enjoy.

In HNL, I took up the excellent recommendation in this thread of the Best Western Plaza Honolulu. It was the cheapest of the few airport hotels in HNL. Having cleared customs by 3:45 (we arrived late), it was off to bed quickly. The arrival is only ~11pm Guam time, so I highly recommend going straight to a bed on arrival in HNL. Afterwards, we took advantage of the 24h connect rule to spend the whole day in HNL before continuing on home to SFO. We were pretty exhausted after another redeye home, but the beach time in Hawaii was well worth it, especially after being taunted by all the beautiful mid-Pacific islands.

Big Metal Bird Episode 8: Island Hopper - 2018
Originally Posted by COEWR2587
They just did a video in the Micronesia island hopper flight which is pretty interesting
https://youtu.be/TPueM5OF1Wc
Print Wikipost

UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

Old Apr 6, 2015, 4:12 am
  #136  
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Originally Posted by manneca
Sure sign the route will be dropped.
Unless UA files for bankruptcy again, never going to happen.

UA is the only airlines operating GUM-HNL (Non-stop or Island Hopper).

There is a reason why this route alone is so expensive.
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Old Apr 6, 2015, 5:57 pm
  #137  
 
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The route won't be dropped. The reason is pretty straightforward : The Government of the Marshall Islands pays UA $$$ to provide the service. Its their lifeline for education, medical care, etc.

If you are interested in learning more about the Marshall Islands, I strongly recommend this book:

Surviving Paradise
One Year on A Disappearing Island
By Rudiak-Gould, Peter

Rudiak-Gould volunteered for one year on one of the outer islands not served by the Island Hopper. The book delves into their history and was a fascinating read.
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Old Apr 6, 2015, 6:11 pm
  #138  
 
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Originally Posted by Antonio8069
The route won't be dropped. The reason is pretty straightforward : The Government of the Marshall Islands pays UA $$$ to provide the service. Its their lifeline for education, medical care, etc.
On my hopper trip in Jan, I sat next to the postmaster general for the Marshall Islands and the mail moves on the hopper. Another good contract to keep it going.
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Old Apr 7, 2015, 12:38 pm
  #139  
 
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Originally Posted by AFAM-DFW
On my hopper trip in Jan, I sat next to the postmaster general for the Marshall Islands and the mail moves on the hopper. Another good contract to keep it going.
Plus the US government's interest in the RMI, Kwajalein specifically. The route will remain. The govt fare from HNL to KWA is around $1000 each way.
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Old Apr 7, 2015, 2:47 pm
  #140  
 
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Originally Posted by schnitzer
Thanks, I saw it twice yesterday (some guy got up during the safety video and the FA said we had to play it again). I tried recording it on my phone the second time but it came out terrible.

It says "Estimated fleet completion: July 2015" for wifi 738's. For power, it says "Power outlet installation begins in 2015" for 738 Pacific with no completion date. I wonder if the island hopper planes are included. If they got that installed, that would probably be the push I needed to finally take the trip.
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Old Apr 7, 2015, 9:14 pm
  #141  
 
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Originally Posted by spearsba
Plus the US government's interest in the RMI, Kwajalein specifically. The route will remain. The govt fare from HNL to KWA is around $1000 each way.
I watched them completely fill one luggage hold with plastic containers of tuna in MAJ bound for HNL. Add this this to the US govt. contract and a planeload of pax, and this must be one of UA's more profitable routes.
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Old Apr 25, 2015, 8:22 pm
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Originally Posted by schnitzer
Thanks for the video. Just wondering, how did you find this? I didnt see it on youtube.
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Old Apr 26, 2015, 10:55 pm
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Originally Posted by eng3
Thanks for the video. Just wondering, how did you find this? I didnt see it on youtube.
I found it on their Internal site.. I hope I don't get in trouble for posting it.
Its too bad they don't update their youtube.
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Old Jun 4, 2015, 12:09 pm
  #144  
 
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Busan Air launches service Seoul to Guam

I see that a 3rd Korean carrier is launching service on this route.

This will put more competitive pressure on UA:

Air Busan to Start Busan Guam Service from late-July 2015
Posted: 03 Jun 2015 11:20 PM PDT
Update at 0620GMT 04JUN15

South Korean carrier Air Busan starting 19JUL15 is launching Busan Guam service, on board Airbus A320 aircraft. The airline plans to operate this route 4 times a week.

BX612 PUS2205 0310+1GUM 320 x125
BX611 GUM0410 0710PUS 320 x236

Air Busan is the 3rd Korean carrier to operate this route, operating on identical days and nearly similar timing to its competitor:

KE2115 PUS2140 0245+1GUM 73H x125
7C3154 PUS2205 0305+1GUM 737 x125

7C3153 GUM0400 0710PUS 737 x236
KE2116 GUM0410 0730PUS 73H x236
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Old Jun 4, 2015, 2:31 pm
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Originally Posted by artvandalay
I watched them completely fill one luggage hold with plastic containers of tuna in MAJ bound for HNL. Add this this to the US govt. contract and a planeload of pax, and this must be one of UA's more profitable routes.
Its quite a site at luggage claim at HNL upon arriving from MAJ. Its an endless stream of ice chests.
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Old Jun 5, 2015, 4:59 am
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Originally Posted by spearsba
Its quite a site at luggage claim at HNL upon arriving from MAJ. Its an endless stream of ice chests.

Fish. Cheap. Tuna is less than $1/lb compared with $20/lb in the states. Or people have mangrove crabs (delicious) which arent easy to come by anywhere. Or of course sakau (fresh, not dried, kava root - its on the state flag of pni) or betelnut but I think customs might nab some of those coolers.

Its a cool custom I will say. Bring a cooler if your coming bra!
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Old Jun 6, 2015, 2:50 am
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Originally Posted by warreng24
You can't split the KWA segment. IIRC, you can't book KWA online, you need to do it via phone. You need special paperwork to deplane at KWA.
Not true. You can book online and deplane. You just won't be allowed on the base
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Old Jul 25, 2015, 9:16 pm
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Just booked a run for myself. No R space available but the option to waitlist for an upgrade with 25,000 miles is available. It's showing the leg as HNL-GUM but obviously has all of the intermediary stops. Is it safe to say that this would never clear because of the system issues?
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Old Jul 26, 2015, 7:50 am
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Originally Posted by eng3
Thanks for the video. Just wondering, how did you find this? I didnt see it on youtube.
Dan's Deals (which did a trip report on the 'Hopper recently) added the video to their Youtube Channel:
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Old Jul 26, 2015, 8:05 am
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Originally Posted by riphamilton


i'll admit, one of the two immigration officials did seem a lot less friendly than the other. also scored in pohnpei and chuuk.
RMI and FSM could probably make a nice buck or two if they allowed transiting passengers who wanted a stamp to go to the "entering RMI/FSM" line and charge like a $10 or $20 fee to get a transit-only stamp (or in a place like TKK, just charge the $20 exit fee to a transiting passenger who wants a stamp). This is a recurring request, the officers are already on the clock at arrival time and the RMI and FSM could use the money.

Based on my flight on the Island Hopper I'd say 3-5% of the passenger miles on the westbound flight are aviation and transportation enthusiasts, travel bloggers and others crossing "Flying the Island Hopper" off their bucket lists. (The westbound gets more of this traffic as it has an all-daylight schedule, while the eastbound is daylight until Majuro then touches down at Honolulu at 2:50 AM...but seems to have more saver availability).

Last edited by aoumd; Jul 26, 2015 at 2:50 pm Reason: Corrected percentage of estimated pax flying UA154 for the experience vs. actual transportation
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