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

Old Jul 26, 2015, 10:20 am
  #151  
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Give me some advice here. Have enough miles (finally) to book this.

Want to do early next year, but I don't have my schedule yet. What are the odds if I book now to secure availability that they'll be a schedule change that will allow a free change for me once I know exactly when I can travel?

Or should I just bite the bullet, pick a Tuesday early next year, and see what happens?
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Old Jul 26, 2015, 10:46 am
  #152  
 
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Originally Posted by MSPGabe
Give me some advice here. Have enough miles (finally) to book this.

Want to do early next year, but I don't have my schedule yet. What are the odds if I book now to secure availability that they'll be a schedule change that will allow a free change for me once I know exactly when I can travel?

Or should I just bite the bullet, pick a Tuesday early next year, and see what happens?
Not sure if you can really count on a schedule change here, while flight numbers and exact times have changed over the years, the basic structure of the Island Hopper, meeting the hub pulse in GUM, daylight westbound, day-and-night eastbound, has remained relatively constant.

Greatest saver availability is eastbound, and on Wednesdays in both directions ex-HNL/GUM (no KSA means 6 cities x 5 potential other cities = 30 city pairs served by the flight, rather than 7 cities x 6 potential other cities = 42 city pairs on the Monday and Friday flights). So if waiting a couple weeks means you'll have a schedule locked in, that's the plan that would likely have the most saver space later on.
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Old Jul 26, 2015, 1:55 pm
  #153  
 
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Originally Posted by aoumd
Dan's Deals (which did a trip report on the 'Hopper recently) added the video to their Youtube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD_7Ej6ZFNs
Thanks,
First 2 parts of my trip notes are here:
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/66479
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/66509

FWIW there were no other "island-hopper enthusiasts" that I noticed.

Happy to answer any other questions.
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Old Jul 26, 2015, 2:49 pm
  #154  
 
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Originally Posted by ctownflyer
Thanks,
First 2 parts of my trip notes are here:
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/66479
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/66509

FWIW there were no other "island-hopper enthusiasts" that I noticed.

Happy to answer any other questions.
My error, more like 3-5%, earlier post corrected.

On my flight, a friend and I went, and we met a third bucket-lister (flying to cross "Crossing the Pacific on the Island Hopper" off their bucket list) on board. After getting back I learned a travel blogger was on board as well. Three of us went the whole way, the fourth went to either KSA or PNI (about 75% of the route miles). The Int'l Service Manager seemed used to the "bucket list" crowd.

When I went, about 85-90% of the plane was full on some legs and 70-75% on others, so average about 80% of 149 sellable seats (155 less 4 for pilots as the row behind the pilots is held out, and 2 for the mechanic and extra FA),works out to over 3%. Not a huge amount but enough to skew availability when there's only a handful of saver seats and most people on board are otherwise there for round trips out of necessity.
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Old Jul 27, 2015, 11:15 am
  #155  
 
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Airliner World magazine just did an article on the island hopper HNL-GUM . Pretty neat,too .
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Old Jul 27, 2015, 2:52 pm
  #156  
 
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On the one flight I took it, I was the only one going all the way. Flight was pretty full departing HNL (maybe 90%), emptied out to around 50-60% by KWA-KSA, back up to 100% and overbooked for TKK-GUM

As a side point, a SYD/MEL-LAX fare allows routing via the Island Hopper, so my final routing was something like LAX-ITO-HNL-GUM-CNS-SYD, with the last leg on either VA or QF (but must book into the lowest buckets, so finding availability on the Australian domestic legs that time well with the Island Hopper was tricky). Of course with GUM-CNS going, this will soon become history
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Old Jul 28, 2015, 4:09 am
  #157  
 
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Originally Posted by United_727
Airliner World magazine just did an article on the island hopper HNL-GUM . Pretty neat,too .

got any link to that article?
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Old Jul 28, 2015, 4:10 am
  #158  
 
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I am thinking of doing this next year for my birthday present to myself.
Thoughts/advice/comments/warnings from the FT sages?


SFO-KOA-HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM-MNL-NRT-HNL-OGG-SFO

Ticket 1: F on SFO to OGG/KOA & KOA/OGG-SFO
I like to visit both Kona and Maui for a few days but doesn't matter which is on the first and last part of the trip.

Ticket 2: Hawaiian intra island flight to HNL to overnight and then after GUM/MNL to get back to OGG or KOA.

Ticket 3: Y on HNL to GUM Island Hopper...stay 3 days in GUM (is that fine to for a few things but not overkill?) and then to MNL (really end up in Cebu) for like a week.
MNL-NRT-HNL is about an extra 2 hours of travel and no E+ on the NH MNL-NRT but would also be "fun" to fly the 747 within the Pacific from NRT-HNL and I "may" have an extra GPU to use.
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Old Jul 28, 2015, 4:56 am
  #159  
 
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Originally Posted by be001
got any link to that article?
No,I get the print magazine in the mail . Maybe its at your local news stand/bookstore.
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Old Aug 2, 2015, 6:36 pm
  #160  
 
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I'm considering flying the Island Hopper yet again, this time going eastbound.

I remember the right side of the plane was best when I headed westbound on my last adventure (with the exception of some of the further out scenery at MAJ).

So my question now becomes: knowing there are no guarantees, does the right side or the left side generally have the best views going eastbound?
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Old Aug 6, 2015, 12:06 pm
  #161  
 
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Flight UA154

Hi

I have always been fascinated by this flight from Honolulu to Guam, stopping off at the 5 small Pacific islands en route and just wondered if anyone has ever done it, and if there are web links to the history of it after WWII?

I want to do it some day.

If anyone has done it, would you recommend stopping off (ie spending a day there, not just coming down the aircraft steps!) at each place, some of them or none of them?

And I'm assuming because of following the sun, it's better to go HNL-GUM than vv?

Any further information on this route would be much appreciated

Thanks in advance
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Old Aug 6, 2015, 12:19 pm
  #162  
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I spent time on the Marianas/Caroline Islands as a grad student. Going to the bottom of the stairs is enough at Majuro, unless you have an urge for Spam. Truk (Chuuk) has fine snorkeling and diving around some Japanese WWII wreckage in shallow water - water clear enough that the sharks don't bother you. Pohnpei has excellent wall dives. The attraction is mostly snorkeling/diving. The Islands are used as a dumping place for out of date Japanese cars. Japan stimulates its economy by taxing older cars at high rates to encourage purchase of new ones. Old ones find their place in places like the Trust Territories or Far East Russia.
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Old Aug 6, 2015, 12:31 pm
  #163  
 
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Thanks

Thank you for your answers - I'm normally on the British Airways forum so I didn't realise there is a Microsnesia strand, but should have checked.
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Old Aug 6, 2015, 12:42 pm
  #164  
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Did it about 10 years ago. It was extraordinary!
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Old Aug 6, 2015, 1:47 pm
  #165  
 
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Originally Posted by Whenderson
If anyone has done it, would you recommend stopping off (ie spending a day there, not just coming down the aircraft steps!) at each place, some of them or none of them?
Unless you're turning around, you can't just spend a day. If you're continuing the same directions, you must stay two or maybe three nights. If Kosrae, maybe four nights. Only exception is PNI and TKK, you can arrive Saturday afternoon and then continue toward GUM late Sunday night, or if you arrive Sunday evening, you can continue toward HNL Monday morning.
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