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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 Jun 30, 2016, 6:14 pm
  #316  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: MRY - CNX - TXL
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On the bulkhead are the TVs in a fold out armrest or attached directly in front on the wall?

Looped movies or PDE now? Sorry on my phone searching is a pain. The flight amenities on the app was showing seat back entertainment.

Heading out pretty soon can't wait!
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Old Jul 1, 2016, 12:48 am
  #317  
 
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Originally Posted by PurdueFlyer
I'm going in 2.5 weeks ... have seat 2F the whole way. I don't really feel like calling UA to split out the segments, as right now it's sold as HNL-GUM direct. I'll probably get bored with 14 hours in the same seat more than I care about which island has better views, but whatevs.

Really sad I can't make the FT DO in October as I had already booked this before they started planning the DO! oh well.
It is very likely that there will be empty seats on the middle legs, so you'll probably be able to switch to another seat if you'd like. Even if there are no free seats, swapping with other people is easy - nobody really cares about the seat assignments on this flight, the locals treat it more like a bus service.
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Old Jul 1, 2016, 2:42 am
  #318  
 
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Originally Posted by JVPhoto
On the bulkhead are the TVs in a fold out armrest or attached directly in front on the wall?

Looped movies or PDE now? Sorry on my phone searching is a pain. The flight amenities on the app was showing seat back entertainment.

Heading out pretty soon can't wait!
I flew the Island Hopper in April and sat in 7A (first row of E+) in one of the refurbed 738s. The TVs were attached on the bulkhead wall. They had looped movies, but no wifi or PDE available from what I remember. The nice thing is that I had a power plug right underneath my seat, so I was able to keep my phone and tablet charged for the whole flight. Leg room in row 7 was excellent, and the bulkhead doesn't go all the way down to the floor so there's room underneath the business class seat to store a small daypack. I noticed that the overheads were mostly full during the flight after Majuro.
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Old Jul 1, 2016, 7:43 am
  #319  
 
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This assumes you're going eastbound, which is the direction you want to go (since it's entirely in daylight). Which side has the really good views depends on which way you land ( e.g. which way the winds are blowing ), so I've tried to provide some detail in case you want to bug the pilots and then switch to an empty seat at the last minute.
Thanks for the great information. But did you mean westbound instead of eastbound? I hope to make this trip sometime. I'd love to do Pohnpei and Truk.
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Old Jul 19, 2016, 4:06 am
  #320  
 
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Here's the Island Hopper segment of part of a larger TR that includes Taipei, Hong Kong, NYC & HNL.
http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/26936983-post28.html
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Old Jul 19, 2016, 4:38 am
  #321  
 
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Originally Posted by JVPhoto
Here's the Island Hopper segment of part of a larger TR that includes Taipei, Hong Kong, NYC & HNL.
i have been looking forward to your hopper pics, and they didn't disappoint! great as usual.

although the pax on the flight are diverse in age, i'm thinking the infant in your row isn't a coincidence. i was in the same seat with an infant next to me ex-HNL, so the GAs probably assign row 7 (which are 'soft' blocked) to those with lap infants. fortunately my buddy was exceptionally well behaved. i could imagine a screaming kid would go a long way to ruin the row 7 window experience.
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Old Jul 19, 2016, 4:56 am
  #322  
 
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Originally Posted by riphamilton
i have been looking forward to your hopper pics, and they didn't disappoint! great as usual.

although the pax on the flight are diverse in age, i'm thinking the infant in your row isn't a coincidence. i was in the same seat with an infant next to me ex-HNL, so the GAs probably assign row 7 (which are 'soft' blocked) to those with lap infants. fortunately my buddy was exceptionally well behaved. i could imagine a screaming kid would go a long way to ruin the row 7 window experience.
There was a lap child across the aisle as well to MAJ. In fact neither of them cried or got fussy.
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Old Jul 19, 2016, 8:36 am
  #323  
 
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Fantastic. Thanks JVPhoto!!
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Old Aug 6, 2016, 4:38 pm
  #324  
 
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Oops, it looks like I was wrong about my question.

But I'm planning the Island Hopper next summer with stopovers to dive in Majuro, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Truk. If I can figure it out and it's not an arm and a leg, I'll add Palau, Yap and the Philippines. Tho if I do, I may be in serious need of dry land.

Last edited by manneca; Aug 6, 2016 at 5:06 pm
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Old Aug 14, 2016, 2:02 am
  #325  
 
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Best way to book United Island Hopper route from MNL with points?

I'm currently based in Manila and was looking at booking the United Island Hopper route from GUM - HNL via Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Truk. I would be starting and ending in MNL, and have a fair amount of points to play around with.

I also wanted to tack on a stopover in Palau either on the way there or on the way back.

Info I've found in past threads has been helpful, but mostly geared towards US based flyers.

I can see that this is doable on points from Manila, but I'm not positive what route would yield the best value, making the most use of stopover possibilities. Any tips?
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Old Aug 14, 2016, 3:05 am
  #326  
 
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Originally Posted by Mallis
I'm currently based in Manila and was looking at booking the United Island Hopper route from GUM - HNL via Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Truk. I would be starting and ending in MNL, and have a fair amount of points to play around with.

I also wanted to tack on a stopover in Palau either on the way there or on the way back.

Info I've found in past threads has been helpful, but mostly geared towards US based flyers.

I can see that this is doable on points from Manila, but I'm not positive what route would yield the best value, making the most use of stopover possibilities. Any tips?
Well, a round trip award allows one free stopover. One only. So if you want that to be Palau, I don't see how you're going to squeeze in any more. The best you could be would be a 23 hour layover somewhere, but that may only be feasible at GUM or HNL, never at the Micronesian islands or MAJ, and definitely not at KWA.

And that's the rules if you book now. After the new rules kick in in October I don't think you can even squeeze in that Palau stopover anymore.
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Old Aug 14, 2016, 3:47 am
  #327  
 
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IIRC there is a separate GUM-TKK-PNI service v.v. that operates independently to island hopper, so in theory a 23hr connection is possible there?
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Old Aug 14, 2016, 11:08 am
  #328  
 
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Having dug through half this thread and a couple of other blogs, I think I have a small understanding of how to piece this together. I want to book this before the October changes. While I have about 80k, my travel buddy only has 50k so trying to keep this at 50k. We fly out of EWR so we would be buying our own flight from EWR to HNL. I also chose the flight with the NRT long layover on purpose. We would fly out friday to get the weekend in HNL before the trip.

We are most interested in beaches and diving so decided to do a stopover in Pohnpei, and end the trip in Palau.

1) Any advice as to any changes or different places I should chose to stopover instead?
2) I want to make sure im correctly getting all the stopovers on this route, I am not exactly sure as I know its not available every day, just wondering if I chose the correct routes?
3) Westbound is best for the stops due to daytime sunlight?
4) Any time of the year this is best recommended or would it still be fine around January? Not sure about the weather in that region and if it would negate any beach/diving enjoyment.

The route I constructed and found availability is as follows:

Monday UA154 (7:25am-2:51pm) HNL-PNI Stops in MAJ, KWA, KSA

Thursday UA 154 (2:35pm-5:15pm) PNI-GUM connecting to
Thursday UA 157 (7:55pm-9:05pm) GUM-ROR

Sunday UA 186 (12:20am-5:02am) ROR-GUM connecting to
Sunday UA 828 (7:00am-9:25am) GUM-NRT connecting to
Sunday UA 902 (7:00pm-6:40am) NRT-HNL


Last edited by xkr0p; Aug 14, 2016 at 12:56 pm
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Old Aug 14, 2016, 3:04 pm
  #329  
 
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Played around a little more and for 10k extra I can openjaw the return flight to Newark instead of HNL to get home. for 20k I can start and end in EWR but that would only give us an overnight in HNL and we wanted a few days prior to the trip. We would probably rather just buy a one way ticket nyc to hnl, and return with the ewr open jaw.
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Old Aug 14, 2016, 3:44 pm
  #330  
 
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Will the new Excursionist Perk work from either (both) GUM or HNL to enable a trip on the Island hopper?

I ask this question early, so that people who anticipate taking this adventure some day can determine whether it gets easier or harder after October.
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