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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 Aug 6, 2015, 2:46 pm
  #166  
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 5,441
Note that the cheapest fares are through-fares from the US to Asia/Oceania and they don't allow any sort of stops enroute - of course you can stop, but the fare will be a lot higher.
belfordrocks is offline  
Old Aug 6, 2015, 2:48 pm
  #167  
 
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Originally Posted by belfordrocks
Note that the cheapest fares are through-fares from the US to Asia/Oceania and they don't allow any sort of stops enroute - of course you can stop, but the fare will be a lot higher.
An award would allow for a free stopover.
ctownflyer is offline  
Old Aug 7, 2015, 4:36 pm
  #168  
 
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Needed to get from PNI to MAJ...united's fare was 500.00 w/no award saver level open (so 25,000 one way). Ended up booking on Our Airline for $162.00

This route just started in June. I wonder if/when United will come down on their fare for intra island travel. Rumor has it Our airlines is also trying to secure landing rights to HNL from Air Marshall Islands who hasnt used their landing rights in decades.
be001 is offline  
Old Aug 7, 2015, 6:49 pm
  #169  
 
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Aren't they now Nauru Airlines?
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Old Aug 8, 2015, 12:35 pm
  #170  
 
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Is this accurate?

Originally Posted by be001
Needed to get from PNI to MAJ...united's fare was 500.00 w/no award saver level open (so 25,000 one way). Ended up booking on Our Airline for $162.00
This route just started in June. I wonder if/when United will come down on their fare for intra island travel. Rumor has it Our airlines is also trying to secure landing rights to HNL from Air Marshall Islands who hasnt used their landing rights in decades.
I read this one with a huge grain of salt. I looked at the 2 sites listed here:

http://www.visitmarshallislands.com/...rshall-islands
One is for an airline which "does not exist". The other is marketing for hotels on the islands.

Is there a new airline serving Marshall Islands? During my visit in Feb, UA was it and they are receiving subsidies to fly the route. Why would a new competitor enter the market in the face of such unfavorable economics?

I did see one Air Marshall Islands turbo parked in MAJ during my visit. Believe you me, it was in no shape to fly - anywhere!

As for flights to OZ, they may be more viable (didn't UA just announce they were no longer flying to/from Cairns?) but again I am skeptical. I did not see a single OZ visitor during my stay.
Antonio8069 is online now  
Old Aug 8, 2015, 1:04 pm
  #171  
 
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Originally Posted by Whenderson
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
I did it in February and got to spend the night in Majuro and another night in Chuuk thanks to mechanical issues at the former, and pilot rest issues in the latter. My trip report was posted to FT here:
http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/unite...iday-13th.html

As others have said stopping over on the islands intentionally is an expensive proposition, but will show you parts of the world most never see. My travel companions and I saw kids swinging across streets on large vines and families playing baseball barefoot in TKK, and walking around MAJ was quite an adventure too: the entire island is one two lane road wide, much of the local commerce is to walk-up stands. Very, very different than what you see in UA destinations in the US.

HNL-GUM westbound is all-daylight, coming east most islands are in daylight, only MAJ and the approach to HNL would be at night, but HNL's arrival is 2:50 AM. Eastbound seems to have more saver award seats, likely there are only a handful available and some of that handful get gobbled up by other "bucket listers" (the Int'l Service Manager on the 'Hopper I was on seemed to know his flight would get this niche market, he could pick us out because we needed GUM immigration forms upon takeoff from HNL).
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Old Aug 9, 2015, 12:53 pm
  #172  
 
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Quick question for any recent Island Hoppers. Trying to book SFO-HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM-HKG-SFO with a GPU or MileageAward Upgrade but it always fails on the Island Hopper.

I'm assuming I can upgrade everything provided it is all W and above once ticketed. Is this correct? And if so would this entire trip only consume 2 GPU?

Thanks!
snowed is offline  
Old Aug 13, 2015, 5:11 am
  #173  
 
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Originally Posted by Antonio8069
I read this one with a huge grain of salt. I looked at the 2 sites listed here:

http://www.visitmarshallislands.com/...rshall-islands
One is for an airline which "does not exist". The other is marketing for hotels on the islands.

Is there a new airline serving Marshall Islands? During my visit in Feb, UA was it and they are receiving subsidies to fly the route. Why would a new competitor enter the market in the face of such unfavorable economics?

I did see one Air Marshall Islands turbo parked in MAJ during my visit. Believe you me, it was in no shape to fly - anywhere!

As for flights to OZ, they may be more viable (didn't UA just announce they were no longer flying to/from Cairns?) but again I am skeptical. I did not see a single OZ visitor during my stay.

Yes its accurate, check the fares out for yourself: http://www.ourairline.com.au/


Yes, my mistake its Nauru Airlines again yes
be001 is offline  
Old Aug 13, 2015, 5:14 am
  #174  
 
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Originally Posted by snowed
Quick question for any recent Island Hoppers. Trying to book SFO-HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM-HKG-SFO with a GPU or MileageAward Upgrade but it always fails on the Island Hopper.

I'm assuming I can upgrade everything provided it is all W and above once ticketed. Is this correct? And if so would this entire trip only consume 2 GPU?

Thanks!
Yes. It should be sfo-hkg and back. 2 GPU. There aren't many first seats available as 4 of the 10 seats are taken by the pilots rest seats and the government travelers all buy first class outright
be001 is offline  
Old Aug 18, 2015, 5:53 pm
  #175  
 
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Question MAJ vs PNI stopover

I've decided to book a YYZ-HNL-ROR award flight using 90K Aeroplan points instead of paying the $3K+ for stopovers.
The award ticket allows 2 stopovers or 1 stopover+1 open jaw.

I am thinking YYZ-HNL-MAJ/PNI (stop) - ROR, ROR - GUM (stop) - YYZ.
On return, I will buy a revenue ticket GUM-SPN-ROP-GUM for about $260.
The total trip is 15-18 days, including about 5 days at ROR.

Which is a better stopover for 2 nights? MAJ or PNI? or any better options?

Any suggestion is greatly appreciated!
ericw is offline  
Old Sep 6, 2015, 3:06 pm
  #176  
 
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Well I am doing it! Booked it for my birthday (and present) next year.

EWR-HNL (6 days, may go to OGG) HNL-Island Hopper-GUM (4 days) GUM-HNL-SFO

J on EWR-HNL since it had R7 space which was my last RPU so used 30k miles to upgrade GUM-HNL-SFO on the way home which was at R3.
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Old Sep 6, 2015, 4:19 pm
  #177  
 
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Originally Posted by JVPhoto
Well I am doing it! Booked it for my birthday (and present) next year.
I'm doing it for my second time at the end of this month. Sitting on the right side instead of the left this time. Be sure to grab a row 7 seat with the mobile app (assuming that 'trick' still works).

Now that I know you're going, I'll leave the dslr at home!
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Old Sep 6, 2015, 4:27 pm
  #178  
 
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Yes the app will let me pick 7 windows, the site wasn't. Which side should I go on for a first timer. I see 7 D/E are already blocked. Is that the mechanic & spare pilot?
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Old Sep 6, 2015, 4:36 pm
  #179  
 
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I would go 7F. Other than the approach to MAJ (which is breathtaking), I felt as though the F side offered better views. The mechanic sits in 7C; a benefit of 7A is that you can converse with him easier than 7F. A lot of cool stories and insight.

EDIT: if 7D is blocked, then perhaps they moved the mechanic to that side instead of 7C?
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Old Sep 6, 2015, 5:39 pm
  #180  
 
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This is about 9 months away and right now 7 C D E are occupied as of the seatmap. The app let me pick 7F so I went ahead with that.
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