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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 May 10, 2018, 2:43 pm
  #631  
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Originally Posted by tonykline1947
Do RPUs ever clear in advance for GUM-MAJ segments? I travel in late Aug. I assume i need to burn only one RPU.
Yes, although you will also be CPU eligible. GUM-TKK and KWA-MAJ-HNL are the more heavily booked segments, but the interior TKK-PNI-KSA-KWA sometimes fly with empty seats up front. When I flew the Hopper, we (2 pax) were 11/12 on GPUs clearing, with 7 cleared before we started in GUM, 1 at the gate in GUM (GUM-TKK), and one each at the gate for TKK-PNI and MAJ-HNL.

It should only be one RPU from GUM to MAJ, but if you've managed to get the blessing of split segments, every time you mess with that PNR is an invitation for disaster, so be delicate! I applied the GPU before splitting, since I was riding it all the way from NRT to SFO across 3 days.

Originally Posted by tonykline1947
Do I need to worry about scanning boarding passes at TKK etc. since technically its a connection, not a stop? Do take a risk of having my itinerary cancelled midway if I do not scan the BP at TKK?
No. The Hopper is a special case and I'm not even sure they have scanners at all the stops. We scanned GUM-TKK and nothing else, despite being in the boarding queue at the stops.
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Old May 11, 2018, 11:25 am
  #632  
 
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Today's UA154 showing an almost 24 hour delay. I guess everything can't be easily fixed by the mechanic on board. The MAJ-HNL inbound with the MX is showing coming from MNL. Wonder what happened?

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Old May 11, 2018, 11:59 am
  #633  
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj
Today's UA154 showing an almost 24 hour delay. I guess everything can't be easily fixed by the mechanic on board. The MAJ-HNL inbound with the MX is showing coming from MNL. Wonder what happened?
N77295 was flying UA155 MAJ-HNL as the inbound when it turned back and diverted to MAJ due to maintenance. (The flight status inbound is bad with direct flights - the frame showed up in GUM as MNL-GUM.)

The in-flight mechanic gets off in MAJ, so even though I don't think he could fix it while airborne, there was no mechanic onboard at the time

Currently sked to continue on from MAJ at 1315J next day, and should get to HNL by 8pm tonight (presumably just a crew timeout, hope everyone is ok). Looking closely, looks like they had an hour mx delay in MAJ, took off, and diverted after about 45 minutes in the air. Plan was to fix that night and turn around, but crew probably timed out or they couldn't fix at night.

Code:
0155/11MAY
P GUM/OUT    809A  E00.11  EST OFF  823A
P GUM/OFF    820A
P TKK/ON     943A
P TKK/IN     947A  E00.24  ☨
P TKK/OUT   1031A  E00.14  EST OFF 1041A
P TKK/OFF   1040A
P PNI/ON    1241P
P PNI/IN    1245P  E00.22  ☨
P PNI/OUT    135P  E00.09  EST OFF  149P
P PNI/OFF    142P☨
P KSA/ON     234P
P KSA/IN     238P  E00.17  ☨
P KSA/OUT    314P  E00.13  EST OFF  326P
P KSA/OFF    320P
P KWA/ON     516P
P KWA/IN     518P  E00.25  ☨
P KWA/OUT    553P  E00.26  ☨
P KWA/OFF    606P
P MAJ/ON     715P
P MAJ/ETA   1044P  E02.06  MAINTENANCE
P MAJ/OFF    904P☨
F MAJ/ETD   1101P  L02.56  MAINTENANCE
P MAJ/FRO   1038P
P MAJ/FRI   1041P
F MAJ/ETD    115P  L17.10  MAINTENANCE
P HNL/ETA    805P  L17.05 MX
    
SKED  GUM  ORIG    820A              GTD   14 SHIP 3295
      TKK  1011A  1045A     GTA    1 GTD    1 SHIP 3295
      PNI   107P   144P     GTA    1 GTD    1 SHIP 3295
      KSA   255P   327P     GTA    1 GTD    1 SHIP 3295
      KWA   543P   619P     GTA    1 GTD    1 SHIP 3295☨
      KWA   543P   619P     GTA    1 GTD    1 SHIP 3295
      MAJ   720P   805P     GTA    1 GTD    1 SHIP 3295
      HNL   250A  TERM      GTA
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Old May 11, 2018, 12:44 pm
  #634  
 
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Originally Posted by findark
N77295 was flying UA155 MAJ-HNL as the inbound when it turned back and diverted to MAJ due to maintenance. (The flight status inbound is bad with direct flights - the frame showed up in GUM as MNL-GUM.)

The in-flight mechanic gets off in MAJ, so even though I don't think he could fix it while airborne, there was no mechanic onboard at the time

Currently sked to continue on from MAJ at 1315J next day, and should get to HNL by 8pm tonight (presumably just a crew timeout, hope everyone is ok). Looking closely, looks like they had an hour mx delay in MAJ, took off, and diverted after about 45 minutes in the air. Plan was to fix that night and turn around, but crew probably timed out or they couldn't fix at night.
....
Forgot about the mechanic deplaning at MAJ. I imagine it would be easy to reach crew timeout, given the end-to-end flight length.
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Old May 12, 2018, 12:18 am
  #635  
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj
Forgot about the mechanic deplaning at MAJ. I imagine it would be easy to reach crew timeout, given the end-to-end flight length.
I'm not actually sure, as the second flight crew has just come on duty in MAJ but I don't how the extra-recline seats on the 737s figure into the rules. Also, the cabin crew is on duty for 15 consecutive hours on a normal day, so any major delay makes their day pretty ridiculous pretty quickly.
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Old May 19, 2018, 6:16 pm
  #636  
 
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I think I might have found a way to cruise the hopper on my biz trip to Manila, without breaking the bank. I almost always for for the DEN to NRT leg at the start of any trip to Asia, since that's really the only decent way to go when you're based out of DEN.

So, typically getting on that route both ways will make just about any ticket to Asia at least $1200, since it's such a popular route. From time to time there are good deals for <$1000 but $1200 is my basic budget for a 'good' flight to Asia.

I somehow found a trip that goes DEN-HNL-GUM (on the hopper) then takes that nice NRT route home, and it came in at $1430. Just a couple hundred more which won't be a problem, and a decent itinerary considering the fact I'm squeezing in the hopper for really no reason at all except that I want to check it out.

Here's the Google Flights link.

Yes, there is that $500 fee for the hopper in the fare, but for some reason I am compelled to go for this trip. I was also considering a mileage run if I wasn't going to make SA Gold this year, and this will take care of that for the not-so-impressive price of .08 CPM!

I'm gonna think about this one for 24 hours then book.
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Old May 19, 2018, 6:37 pm
  #637  
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
I think I might have found a way to cruise the hopper on my biz trip to Manila, without breaking the bank. I almost always for for the DEN to NRT leg at the start of any trip to Asia, since that's really the only decent way to go when you're based out of DEN.

So, typically getting on that route both ways will make just about any ticket to Asia at least $1200, since it's such a popular route. From time to time there are good deals for <$1000 but $1200 is my basic budget for a 'good' flight to Asia.

I somehow found a trip that goes DEN-HNL-GUM (on the hopper) then takes that nice NRT route home, and it came in at $1430. Just a couple hundred more which won't be a problem, and a decent itinerary considering the fact I'm squeezing in the hopper for really no reason at all except that I want to check it out.

Here's the Google Flights link.

Yes, there is that $500 fee for the hopper in the fare, but for some reason I am compelled to go for this trip. I was also considering a mileage run if I wasn't going to make SA Gold this year, and this will take care of that for the not-so-impressive price of .08 CPM!

I'm gonna think about this one for 24 hours then book.
Don't even think about it and just do it. One of my biggest regrets was a few years ago when it came down to this: I could either fly NRT-HNL, HNL-LAX, LAX-NRT on JL (and qualify for AA EXP) or do NRT-GUM-HNL on the hopper, HNL-LAX, LAX-NRT (or the other way around, whatever). I chose to go for EXP and somewhat longingly regretted it ever since (obviously, EXP, even being the comparatively lame status that it is, was still likely a smarter choice in the circumstances, but "it's the things we don't do that we regret more than the things we do"). I was very happy to get an opportunity to do a mileage run last month on the hopper - I stumbled upon an incredible fare that I spent no time munching about on, and even though I ended up with a business trip right before that (I did something like NRT-LAX-JFK-MIA-SCL-MIA-SFO-JFK-NRT, overnight, then back to North America, then on the hopper to NRT, etc - I was literally in a plane for like a couple of weeks), I have no regrets.

The point I'm trying to make is if you a) have the time and b) found the right fare to do it, then JUST DO IT. Before they pull the fare.
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Old May 19, 2018, 6:38 pm
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I don't know if that's good advice or bad advice, but that's the advice I was looking for
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Old May 19, 2018, 6:41 pm
  #639  
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
I don't know if that's good advice or bad advice, but that's the advice I was looking for
Considering I chose to fly SCL-MIA-SFO-JFK-NRT rather than the more normal SCL-DFW-NRT that everyone else flew on (it did help it was full J earning 300%...), my definition of "good' might be a little bit different from most ... then again, it fits snug as a bug on FT.
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Old May 19, 2018, 7:20 pm
  #640  
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
I'm gonna think about this one for 24 hours then book.
Since it's more than 7 days in advance, you have these two steps backwards
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Old May 21, 2018, 11:41 am
  #641  
 
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Booked! See you on the westbound hopper flight 154 on Sep. 7!!

Now to fuss over seating

Allright, fussing over seating has commenced.

The hopper threads are mixed when it comes to the 'best' seat. Also, SeatGuru doesn't quite match what I am reading, if only because they say that row 8 has a 'misaligned' windows. That can be trivial so I'm not worried about it.

I have my choice between 7F and 8A. I am tall, but not so much that I'd need prefer a bulkhead seat for the legroom if it's not the best view,. Even on a crappy domestic, I stare out the window so I am looking forward to this one and want the best view.

I understand that these things are a bit subjective and unpredictable, but I've chosen 8A - so if anyone has any thoughts on that I'm all ears!

Last edited by WineCountryUA; May 21, 2018 at 4:27 pm Reason: merging consecutive posts by same member
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Old May 21, 2018, 2:09 pm
  #642  
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
I understand that these things are a bit subjective and unpredictable, but I've chosen 8A - so if anyone has any thoughts on that I'm all ears!
With normal wind directions, I would prefer the F side of the aircraft, although flying west you will normally be overflying all the islands before landing. East landings give better starboard views at KSA and PNI in particular, which are spectacular approaches.
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Old May 21, 2018, 3:20 pm
  #643  
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Originally Posted by findark
With normal wind directions, I would prefer the F side of the aircraft, although flying west you will normally be overflying all the islands before landing. East landings give better starboard views at KSA and PNI in particular, which are spectacular approaches.
And yet having had the F seat I literally got no views except MAJ and TKK. So yeah ... winds.
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Old May 21, 2018, 9:01 pm
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Ok, those last two comments weren't what I was hoping for
Is there a 'under typical circumstances' best side? Obviously we can't account for wind, and really the whole day could be a stormy nightmare,. But hey, I gotta go for it.
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Old May 21, 2018, 9:05 pm
  #645  
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
Ok, those last two comments weren't what I was hoping for
Is there a 'under typical circumstances' best side? Obviously we can't account for wind, and really the whole day could be a stormy nightmare,. But hey, I gotta go for it.
Based on a ton of reading I did, F side seemed to be best on average going HNL-GUM, and A side for GUM-HNL. The wiki has good info on it, so I'd trust it. My experience is NOT representative, to be fair.

I did A for HNL-MAJ and F for the rest (just to get the six boarding passes), and that worked well - A was great for MAJ (so if you're coming the other way, I'd maybe choose F for the segment landing in MAJ).
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