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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 Oct 18, 2015, 9:04 pm
  #211  
 
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I thought there was only one relief pilot in F?
belfordrocks is offline  
Old Oct 18, 2015, 9:31 pm
  #212  
 
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Originally Posted by belfordrocks
I thought there was only one relief pilot in F?
Nope.
ctownflyer is offline  
Old Oct 19, 2015, 7:36 pm
  #213  
 
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And I'm booked AGAIN on the Island Hopper for this coming February, UA154 was available for Saver Economy Award Space, so my wife and I are extending our Hawaii vacation to include a few days in GUM as well.

One big change since I flew this past February: United is showing (and selling E+) as if the Island Hopper now has a "normal" 737-800 layout with the full amount of E+, rather than the PMCO Micronesia layout 738 which only had a handful of E+. My wife and I are happy to have scored 8E/F, so we can both have the extra legroom and also be among the first in the main cabin to deplane at the intermediate stops (except KWA of course), maximizing our time stretching legs, taking photos and maybe scoring some souvenirs.

How long has the Island Hopper had the normal number of E+ rows?
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Old Oct 19, 2015, 7:53 pm
  #214  
 
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Originally Posted by aoumd
How long has the Island Hopper had the normal number of E+ rows?
Just the last few months, as UA has rotated out the old GUM-based 737 fleet in exchange for planes from the mainland operation, allowing for the ex-Micronesia birds to get refurbished.
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Old Oct 19, 2015, 9:54 pm
  #215  
 
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Originally Posted by krazykanuck
You're quite the trooper to do UA154 twice in 1 year!
the weather was a lot better when we went! there didn't seem to be anyone else who did the entire HNL-GUM this time. loads were also much lighter until KSA.
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Old Oct 19, 2015, 10:19 pm
  #216  
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Originally Posted by rmadisonwi
allowing for the ex-Micronesia birds to get refurbished.
And perhaps more important to UA, get a rest from the salt air - this is what UA says, not I.
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Old Oct 20, 2015, 12:38 pm
  #217  
 
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Originally Posted by belfordrocks
I thought there was only one relief pilot in F?
Maximum Flight Duty Periods (FDP) vary for augmented and un-augmented flights. United has a unique situation with the Island Hopper. There can be as many as 6 legs I think and a very long duty day. One crew flies GUM-TKK-PNI-KSA-KWI-MAJ legs and another flies the MAJ-HNL leg. The same is true on the return, just in the reverse order.
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Old Nov 5, 2015, 10:56 am
  #218  
 
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YAP - closest stone money to the airport

I'm headed to Asia in a few months and am considering one of two possibilities for briefly visiting YAP on the way to see the stone money in person. Ideally, I'd spend the three days there that the normal flight schedule would require. But I won't have that kind of time on this trip, and who knows if I'll have the opportunity in the future.

So - my two options are a 1h10m connection on the ROR-GUM flight (which would be my preference) or a four-hour trip GUM-YAP-GUM. Both layovers would be in the middle of the night, but I've done crazier things. I really want to see that stone money in person!

Those of you who have been to Yap - where is the closest stone money to the airport? With a 1h10m connection, I'd need something pretty darn close to the airport (unless the plane has a mechanical). With a 4h trip, I could venture a little farther afield.

I did the traditional Island Hopper on UA154 last year and found that the hour-and-change layovers were sufficient to get out of the airport briefly in a couple of spots along the way (especially Majuro and Chuuk). Maybe my Yap plan isn't possible in that kind of time frame - but I'd kick myself if I didn't at least explore the idea.
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Old Nov 9, 2015, 9:10 pm
  #219  
 
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http://www.civilbeat.com/2015/11/u-s...ampaign=hawaii


Island hopper gvts are disappointed in united
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Old Nov 9, 2015, 9:39 pm
  #220  
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Originally Posted by be001
http://www.civilbeat.com/2015/11/u-s...ampaign=hawaii


Island hopper gvts are disappointed in united
Ongoing discussion in http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/unite...-cnmi-ags.html .
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Old Nov 9, 2015, 10:12 pm
  #221  
 
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Originally Posted by be001
http://www.civilbeat.com/2015/11/u-s...ampaign=hawaii


Island hopper gvts are disappointed in united
Guam and CNMI are not exactly Island Hopper governments.
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Old Nov 10, 2015, 4:34 pm
  #222  
 
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another resource on Island Hopper

The NYT reviewed a new book, Pacific by Simon Winchester, which traces the long, lonely flight path of UA 154:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/02/bo...book.html?_r=0
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Old Nov 11, 2015, 4:37 pm
  #223  
 
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UA201 -> UA154 successful change

Just did the Hopper last Friday, so meant to share one piece of my experience since I had an unanswered question about it earlier in this thread.

I was originally booked EWR-HNL-GUM-HKG-SGN-HKG-EWR, and in particular on the direct HNL-GUM UA201. Snagged very low fare, less than $500.

I arrived in HNL on UA15 on Thu afternoon (what a crappy flight, no complementary food served for 11h!!! Separate issue though.) The day before I called UA reservations to check if I could switch from UA201 to UA154. The agent said ok, but better wait until 24h to get same-day-change. So in HNL I called UA Premier Line again. This time the fellow would not bulge. He first said there is no morning flight. Then asked why I would want to go on a non-direct. Finally said too many segments, so no go. Hung up, called again only to get the same guy

I then went to HNL UA Lounge. The two front desk ladies were so pleasant and helpful. They looked at my itinerary, wondering a bit about why I would want to suffer on UA154. But one of them quickly said: "Yes, he just wants to try it out." They could not do the change there, had to call reservations. After 20min of back and forth they helped reservations figure out UA154 actually exists (for some reason it was not showing on their screens, at least not as top choice.) Then another 20min waiting for rate desk. Well, that's when the bad news came in: rate does not allow this change. They could not quite explain why.

Quite disappointed, I was about to leave. But then a fellow who apparently works for UA walked in (he was in the lounge, personal travel I guess). The front desk agents asked him for help. He set behind the terminal: click, click, click. Looked at fare rules for a while. And said: "Hey, this should not be a problem! Same day change, legal routing." It took him a bit of time to make the change---what a great fellow, he was doing this while being late for his own flight. So few minutes later, I had the UA154 in hand for Friday morning!

As for the Hopper itself, it was a great experience. Largely beautiful weather on route. Lots of photos. And one cranky old flight attendant who was screaming at everyone (especially near KWA, making sure no-one takes photos. "Are you taking a photo? Are you taking a photo? Do you want to go to jail?

Thanks again to the super helpful HNL UA Lounge staff. I wish all UA employees were like that.
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Old Nov 11, 2015, 5:07 pm
  #224  
 
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Take the longer layover. I did it a few weeks ago and any delay will basically capture you on the plane. Longer layover is better if you want to actually see something.
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Old Nov 13, 2015, 1:56 pm
  #225  
 
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Originally Posted by Antonio8069
The NYT reviewed a new book, Pacific by Simon Winchester, which traces the long, lonely flight path of UA 154:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/02/bo...book.html?_r=0
Thanks for posting! Apparently Santa will be leaving this for me!
kirkwoodj is offline  

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