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UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

Old Jun 30, 2016, 1:45 pm
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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
Print Wikipost

UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

Old Jun 25, 2018, 5:26 pm
  #661  
 
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Originally Posted by Miles Ahead
There are 4 737-700's and 5 737-800's based in Guam. They allow one to book only seats on both aircraft until they are sure what airplane will fly the route.
Good to know, thanks. Presumably the same in Y with rows 14 & 15 (only on the -800).

From all the above posts, there doesn't seem to be any advantage to 4F over 3F, except maybe the higher probability of an empty seat next to you (and the companion probability of a downgrade in the event of an aircraft swap). So, thinking better to stay where I am (3F).
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Old Jun 25, 2018, 5:47 pm
  #662  
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj
From all the above posts, there doesn't seem to be any advantage to 4F over 3F, except maybe the higher probability of an empty seat next to you (and the companion probability of a downgrade in the event of an aircraft swap). So, thinking better to stay where I am (3F).
I would agree. The addition of Row 4 is useful if you didn't have the seat you wanted yet, as it frees up a window on each side shortly before departure (4A and 4F).
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Old Jun 25, 2018, 9:54 pm
  #663  
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj
I wondered whether I would have EWR Polaris Club access.
Not unless you can convince someone to honor the -- extremely misleading -- ad copy. EWR-GUM is not a Polaris route. Even if you were flying the HNL-GUM nonstop, it's marketed as United Business, not United Polaris Business, and so I wouldn't expect it to qualify.

United really needs to stop shooting itself in the foot with its website copy, particularly for United Business. This isn't the first time that I've seen nonsense printed there -- there was a thread where that advertising text mentioned lie-flat seating even though it was a domestic F route.
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 4:13 am
  #664  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan
United really needs to stop shooting itself in the foot with its website copy, particularly for United Business. This isn't the first time that I've seen nonsense printed there -- there was a thread where that advertising text mentioned lie-flat seating even though it was a domestic F route.
Why? It probably does nothing, but it might just cause someone to buy a ticket that they wouldn't otherwise. They've known about this for years, and it's still unfixed.
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 8:21 am
  #665  
 
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Originally Posted by Miles Ahead
United won't split the segments without a refare or worse (look upthread for my story).
UA can split segments but they are reluctant to do so for a bunch of reasons as others have stated: breaks fare rules, gives you too many miles (I've heard that line many times), is a PITA.

See my experiences here and here.
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 9:45 am
  #666  
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Originally Posted by Miles Ahead
Why? It probably does nothing, but it might just cause someone to buy a ticket that they wouldn't otherwise. They've known about this for years, and it's still unfixed.
Because it's borderline false advertising, and they can eventually expect a lawsuit over it? I mean, why not promise an on-board masseuse and eleven-course meal, and then not deliver those either? They might sell more tickets...
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 12:10 pm
  #667  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan
Because it's borderline false advertising
And this has stopped United in the past exactly when?

It seems unless there's actual legal or regulatory action, fixes in the customers' favor are at the absolute bottom of the priority list.
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 2:39 pm
  #668  
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Originally Posted by jsloan
EWR-GUM is not a Polaris route.
Not exactly true. EWR-GUM can be a Polaris route. Due to the geographical location of Guam, it can be both an international and domestic route.

There is no nonstop between EWR and GUM. To determine whether the route is a Polaris route, the connecting flights matter. Yes - if you fly through HNL (domestic), then it is not. But if you fly through NRT/HKG (international), then it is a Polaris route (Note - EWR-NRT/HKG-GUM are valid routing that are booked as RT).
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 2:52 pm
  #669  
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Originally Posted by garykung
Not exactly true. EWR-GUM can be a Polaris route.
Fair. I meant EWR-HNL-GUM is not a Polaris route.
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 3:34 pm
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Originally Posted by jsloan
Fair. I meant EWR-HNL-GUM is not a Polaris route.
And that's the route I'm taking which showed the PL access on the HNL-GUM seat map (and now doesn't). I am going GUM-NRT-EWR on the way back. The GUM-NRT segment just shows "United Business" and no mention of PL, but the NRT-EWR segment does show "United Polaris Business" and does reference the PL (which of course aren't available at either HNL or NRT). Still doesn't give me access to the EWR PL I believe.
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 3:41 pm
  #671  
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj
And that's the route I'm taking which showed the PL access on the HNL-GUM seat map (and now doesn't). I am going GUM-NRT-EWR on the way back. The GUM-NRT segment just shows "United Business" and no mention of PL, but the NRT-EWR segment does show "United Polaris Business" and does reference the PL (which of course aren't available at either HNL or NRT). Still doesn't give me access to the EWR PL I believe.
NRT-EWR would give you access to the EWR Polaris Lounge, if you can get back airside (e.g., if you have a further connecting flight).

That's why the seat map graphic was so confusing to me. Flights marketed "United Business" do not provide Polaris Lounge access. It has its own graphic, and yet... ??
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Old Jun 26, 2018, 5:47 pm
  #672  
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Originally Posted by jsloan
That's why the seat map graphic was so confusing to me. Flights marketed "United Business" do not provide Polaris Lounge access. It has its own graphic, and yet... ??
I believe that the biggest confusion comes from the fact that while most people determine the service class (Polaris or not) based on the seat design, UA determine the service class based on the market. So if you are in Polaris market, even you are not in the newly designed Polaris seats, you are still traveling with Polaris. On the other hand, if you travel in an aircraft that equips the Polaris cabin, the market of the flight will determines if it is F (all domestic routes except p.s.) or J (p.s.).
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Old Jun 28, 2018, 7:52 pm
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Hi everyone, long time member on another forum but my first post here on flyertalk. I'm planning on taking the island hopper to ROR in August and I wanted to get some people's thought's on whether paying 110k for a standard J award was worth it on the route or not. Saver Y is pricing out at 65k since GUM-ROR isn't available in saver. Is J worth the extra 45k UA? If I book Y I would probably just pay the $100 for the bulkhead since I have no status. Any thoughts?
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Old Jun 28, 2018, 8:30 pm
  #674  
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Originally Posted by mmgfarb
Hi everyone, long time member on another forum but my first post here on flyertalk. I'm planning on taking the island hopper to ROR in August and I wanted to get some people's thought's on whether paying 110k for a standard J award was worth it on the route or not. Saver Y is pricing out at 65k since GUM-ROR isn't available in saver. Is J worth the extra 45k UA? If I book Y I would probably just pay the $100 for the bulkhead since I have no status. Any thoughts?
Eh.. I would think about it, but I don't really think it's worth it. If you can fly in 7A or 7F for meaningfully less, that's probably a better choice. Bring snacks though!
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Old Jun 28, 2018, 9:27 pm
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Originally Posted by findark
Eh.. I would think about it, but I don't really think it's worth it. If you can fly in 7A or 7F for meaningfully less, that's probably a better choice. Bring snacks though!
Thanks for the reply. That's the way I'm leaning as of now, 7A and F are both available for $117 so that's what I'd probably do. I read upthread that there are sometimes an extra four rows that are added to the seatmap a few days before departure, is row 7 always the bulkhead or could I end up paying for the E+ seat and being stuck a few rows back?
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