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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 Feb 27, 2016, 4:22 pm
  #271  
 
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New Island Hopper Photo TR is Up!

I just posted my Island Hopper full trip report with photos in the Trip Reports forum:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/26253569-post8.html
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Old Feb 27, 2016, 9:35 pm
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Originally Posted by aoumd
I just posted my Island Hopper full trip report with photos in the Trip Reports forum:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/26253569-post8.html
Nice trip report, thanks for posting!
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Old Mar 18, 2016, 4:19 pm
  #273  
 
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Is it possible to select seat by segment,i.e., different seat for each segment?
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Old Mar 18, 2016, 4:48 pm
  #274  
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Originally Posted by jiangning
Is it possible to select seat by segment,i.e., different seat for each segment?
To be honest, I don't remember if they are separate on United.com but I bet an agent could assign different seats. But when I flew it, the only segments that were pretty full were between HNL and KWA, and Chuuk and Guam. In the intermediate segments you can likely move around.
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Old Mar 18, 2016, 7:36 pm
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Originally Posted by jiangning
Is it possible to select seat by segment,i.e., different seat for each segment?
I recall it being a single segment on the seatmap when I booked HNL-GUM, with a single purchase for E+.

However as krazykanuck points out, the middle segments KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK are usually pretty light so you can move around. I'd suggest an E+ window seat on the right, and then move around on the middle legs. No guarantees but a good chance of an empty middle next to you in the middle as well.
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Old Mar 18, 2016, 7:48 pm
  #276  
 
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Originally Posted by aoumd
I recall it being a single segment on the seatmap when I booked HNL-GUM, with a single purchase for E+.

However as krazykanuck points out, the middle segments KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK are usually pretty light so you can move around. I'd suggest an E+ window seat on the right, and then move around on the middle legs. No guarantees but a good chance of an empty middle next to you in the middle as well.
Thanks! I don't have status on UA so I will stick at the back of the plane. I don't want the wings to block the view.
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Old Mar 19, 2016, 5:15 am
  #277  
 
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Originally Posted by jiangning
Thanks! I don't have status on UA so I will stick at the back of the plane. I don't want the wings to block the view.
That certainly works, or if you do spend a little to buy up to E+ in rows 8 or 9, you can be ahead of the wings for a view too. The pros of E+ in addition to the legroom are also being one of the first ones off at the airports, which give you a few more minutes to explore these remote stations. The pros of the very back, of course, are price and the fact that the back is often the last part of the plane to fill up. I'd just avoid the last 3 rows of E- as the seats are physically narrower than the already-narrow Economy seats in the rest of the cabin.
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Old Mar 21, 2016, 12:48 am
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Will the boarding pass be taken during boarding of each segment? Not sure how the 'laying BP on a table' works.
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Old Mar 21, 2016, 4:52 am
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Originally Posted by jiangning
Will the boarding pass be taken during boarding of each segment? Not sure how the 'laying BP on a table' works.
I pre-printed my boarding passes at the hotel in HNL, and they just visually inspected them at each of the out stations upon reboarding. Didn't take anything, didn't even write down the Seq number.

And no scanners (for BPs OR bags). My first time on the 'Hopper when we hit IRROPS, I got a text from United saying the suitcase in my hand was potentially lost in HKG as I was walking in the front door of my apartment building having returned home to IAD.
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Old Mar 21, 2016, 8:51 am
  #280  
 
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Originally Posted by jiangning
Will the boarding pass be taken during boarding of each segment? Not sure how the 'laying BP on a table' works.
took the island hopper in january. it's a visual inspection, they don't take your BP.
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Old Mar 21, 2016, 11:20 am
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What days of the week does this currently operate (in each direction)??

I've been searching and for some reason can't find it.

**UPDATE** I found it on M W F early April 2016, but I was looking in May 2016 and can't find it. Anyone know if/when it comes back???

**2nd UPDATE** Well now I think I have it figured out. The Timetable doesn't show the flight at all, yet if I try booking HNL-GUM v/v it shows up in both directions

Last edited by yyz_atc_qq; Mar 21, 2016 at 11:29 am
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Old Mar 21, 2016, 11:26 am
  #282  
 
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Originally Posted by yyz_atc_qq
What days of the week does this currently operate (in each direction)??

I've been searching and for some reason can't find it.

**UPDATE** I found it on M W F early April 2016, but I was looking in May 2016 and can't find it. Anyone know if/when it comes back???
Short answer: Eastbound Mon/Wed/Fri. Westbound Tue/Thu/Sat.

Complications: Westbound HNL departure times are Mon/Wed/Fri owing to the IDL. Wed/Thu flights skip Kosrae. Sunday night/Monday morning there's an additional GUM-TKK-PNI-TKK-GUM.
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Old Mar 21, 2016, 8:05 pm
  #283  
 
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yep visual inspection only at each island, and sometimes, not even that
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Old Mar 25, 2016, 12:08 pm
  #284  
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UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions

What are the 1K CPU percentages on the HNL-GUM hopper?? Or better to use points to make sure of an upgrade for all the flights?
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Old Mar 26, 2016, 8:16 pm
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Originally Posted by sanfran8080
What are the 1K CPU percentages on the HNL-GUM hopper?? Or better to use points to make sure of an upgrade for all the flights?
If you're booked through as one flight, it's not CPUable - you need a global (with class restrictions like int'l) or use miles. If you can split the segments your odds are pretty good.
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