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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
Print Wikipost

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

Old Jun 28, 2018, 10:13 pm
  #676  
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Originally Posted by mmgfarb
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?
Row 7 would always be the bulkhead. The rows get added in front of the exit rows.
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Old Jun 28, 2018, 10:37 pm
  #677  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan
Row 7 would always be the bulkhead. The rows get added in front of the exit rows.
Great, thanks.
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 1:22 am
  #678  
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I won't choose Row 7 because of the cutoff. But this is just me.
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 7:59 am
  #679  
 
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Originally Posted by garykung
I won't choose Row 7 because of the cutoff. But this is just me.
What exactly is cut off in row 7? The view out of the window?
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 8:33 am
  #680  
 
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Originally Posted by mmgfarb
Is J worth the extra 45k UA?
Up to you, of course, but it's 15 hours on a 737. There was one stop where only the folks in the front cabin got to leave, as we were falling behind schedule. (Kosrae maybe?)
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 12:19 pm
  #681  
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Originally Posted by mmgfarb
What exactly is cut off in row 7? The view out of the window?
The seats in Row 7 are not divided by armrests, but actual dividers, which make the seat width absolute. If the middle seats are opened (and more), you will still confined with the limited seat spacing due to the dividers.

Given the load on the Island Hopper, they are in fact one of the worst seats in the aircraft.
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 12:49 pm
  #682  
 
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I'm currently booked in 7F, which is always a tough call because of that fixed armrest. The legroom is great, since I'm pretty tall, and I never really mind the fixed armrest that much. It's not great, especially if there is an empty seat next door, but still not too bad. My only other choices were 11a or 11f, and that seems like it might be wing-obstructed.

What I really hate about bulkhead is that the IFE is built into the armrest, so if you want it for too long it hurts your neck. But, I'm not sure if they even have that on this older plane, so I'll load up the iPad and take what comes

What did you mean by 'given the load n the island hopper'?
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 2:23 pm
  #683  
 
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I have a couple questions regarding an eastbound UA155 flight:
  1. I'll be staying overnight in GUM (after flying in from NRT) before getting on UA155. I land at 11pm, and fly out the next morning at 8am. I'm guessing a hotel room is probably the best option here, right? If I were to get up early (4 or 5am), is there any local snorkeling that can be done right from the beach at a hotel near the airport? I won't have a rental car, so I'm hoping to get a hotel with a shuttle to/from the airport
  2. For those that have flown eastbound on UA155, I'm curious what I should do between my arrival time in HNL of 2:50am, and my connecting flight time of 2pm. With ~11 hours on the ground, I'm thinking it would be good to get some sleep, but don't want to get TOO much, since 3am HNL time is 7am DEN time, and that's where I'll be heading later that day. What about getting a rental car, driving somewhere where I can get a couple hours sleep, and then go drive around and check out a beach, get some food, etc, before heading back to the airport for my flight? I just don't see it being very beneficial to get a hotel room for just a couple hours of sleep, since I don't want to sleep the day away while I'm in Hawaii!
  3. I read something where the car rental places open up at 4:30am (or at least, Hertz does)in HNL. Can anyone confirm if that's correct, and if it's the same for the other car rental agencies in HNL as well? I'm guessing there's no way to do a late night pick up (at 3:30am or so) so that I don't have to wait an extra hour in order to pick up the car, right? Anyone have any other recommendations/suggestions?
Thanks!
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 2:28 pm
  #684  
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
What did you mean by 'given the load n the island hopper'?
The flights are not full.
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 2:39 pm
  #685  
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In general, I don't think you value sleep nearly as much as I do, so ymmv

Originally Posted by mpiotrow
I'll be staying overnight in GUM (after flying in from NRT) before getting on UA155. I land at 11pm, and fly out the next morning at 8am. I'm guessing a hotel room is probably the best option here, right?
We did that schedule, and went straight to a hotel, slept, and back to GUM. It was a full night of sleep, but not much time for anything else. If you want to explore GUM, I'd take an earlier NRT-GUM flight. We rented a car for all of 1.5 miles because of the 5.5k Hertz promo

Originally Posted by mpiotrow
For those that have flown eastbound on UA155, I'm curious what I should do between my arrival time in HNL of 2:50am, and my connecting flight time of 2pm. With ~11 hours on the ground, I'm thinking it would be good to get some sleep, but don't want to get TOO much, since 3am HNL time is 7am DEN time, and that's where I'll be heading later that day. What about getting a rental car, driving somewhere where I can get a couple hours sleep, and then go drive around and check out a beach, get some food, etc, before heading back to the airport for my flight? I just don't see it being very beneficial to get a hotel room for just a couple hours of sleep, since I don't want to sleep the day away while I'm in Hawaii!
Up to you, but 2:50am is also 10:50pm Guam time, so I found going to bed to be an excellent choice. We stayed at a HNL airport hotel.

Originally Posted by mpiotrow
I read something where the car rental places open up at 4:30am (or at least, Hertz does)in HNL. Can anyone confirm if that's correct, and if it's the same for the other car rental agencies in HNL as well? I'm guessing there's no way to do a late night pick up (at 3:30am or so) so that I don't have to wait an extra hour in order to pick up the car, right? Anyone have any other recommendations/suggestions?Thanks!
I believe HNL is pretty shut down until 0430 although I haven't dug too deeply. Much easier to allow more time on HNL if you take a later flight home; with an early afternoon departure you're kind of stuck. Sleep or wait for a car and don't sleep.. those seem to be your choices.
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 3:11 pm
  #686  
 
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Originally Posted by findark
In general, I don't think you value sleep nearly as much as I do, so ymmv

Up to you, but 2:50am is also 10:50pm Guam time, so I found going to bed to be an excellent choice. We stayed at a HNL airport hotel.
It's not that I don't enjoy sleep, it's just that I like to be able to enjoy the places that I visit as much as possible with the limited amount of time that I have there!

And regarding the fact that 2:50am is 10:50pm, I realize that, but my key to avoiding jetlag (at least what works for me) is to try and get/stay on my destination time as soon as possible. If, for example, I sleep from 4am-10am in HNL, that's the equivalent of sleeping from 8am-2pm in Denver. That's going to severely screw up my sleep schedule when it comes to the fact that I plan to fly back to DEN the following morning and go straight into to the office!
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Old Jun 29, 2018, 3:24 pm
  #687  
 
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow
It's not that I don't enjoy sleep, it's just that I like to be able to enjoy the places that I visit as much as possible with the limited amount of time that I have there!

And regarding the fact that 2:50am is 10:50pm, I realize that, but my key to avoiding jetlag (at least what works for me) is to try and get/stay on my destination time as soon as possible. If, for example, I sleep from 4am-10am in HNL, that's the equivalent of sleeping from 8am-2pm in Denver. That's going to severely screw up my sleep schedule when it comes to the fact that I plan to fly back to DEN the following morning and go straight into to the office!
​​​​​​Propery used, melatonin can make that work with minimal jetlag 😆
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Old Jun 30, 2018, 1:42 pm
  #688  
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow
It's not that I don't enjoy sleep, it's just that I like to be able to enjoy the places that I visit as much as possible with the limited amount of time that I have there!

And regarding the fact that 2:50am is 10:50pm, I realize that, but my key to avoiding jetlag (at least what works for me) is to try and get/stay on my destination time as soon as possible. If, for example, I sleep from 4am-10am in HNL, that's the equivalent of sleeping from 8am-2pm in Denver. That's going to severely screw up my sleep schedule when it comes to the fact that I plan to fly back to DEN the following morning and go straight into to the office!
Indeed - but for myself, I find that I will sleep at least 6 hours every ~24, whether I try to or not. So if I don't sleep some, I will be in no condition to do any visiting.

I don't know how long you're in Asia, but we were coming home from a week there, so with what was blocked as a double-redeye (MAJ-HNL, followed by the 9pm HNL-SFO), we actually treated both as late-night flights and got ~6hrs of sleep after arrival in both HNL and SFO. I don't have any issue swinging my sleep schedule a few hours a day (I fly TCON regularly and notice absolutely no effects), so going from 6am to noon on a "Friday night" getting back home to a work schedule by Monday morning was no trouble for me. It turned out being a lot less brutal than I was expecting.


It's all just a long way to say that it's very different for each person though
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Old Jul 3, 2018, 12:35 am
  #689  
 
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UA 154 trip (Westbound)
73U (738 Micronesia config)
HNL-GUM
Seat 3F

There are plenty of TR’s out there on this route, so I’ll try to stick to more of the technical details and a limited number of shots out the window.

First note is that this trip (part of a EWR-HNL-GUM-NRT-EWR MR) does confuse UA’s reservation listings somewhat. On UA.com, the itinerary showed as EWR-GUM on the My Trips listing on the home screen. It showed as EWR-HNL on the full Manage Reservations page. And it showed as EWR-EWR on the reservations listing on the mobile app. EWR-HNL and GUM-NRT/NRT-EWR showed up automatically under “My Flights” on the mobile app Trip Status screen, but HNL-GUM never showed up. I had to use the “By City” search and scroll past the nonstop and 1-stop options to get to UA 154 to check the status. When I arrived at HNL the previous day, I went to the UC and asked them to print my boarding passes. All they could print was a single card stock BP showing HNL-GUM. They were unable to split up the segments (to try to get additional PQM’s). I might have been able to do it the morning of the flight at the ticket counter, but I didn’t try. However, when I printed my BP’s at the hotel, I got five individual BP’s, one for each segment. I was only credited for a single HNL-GUM segment.

PQM’s (Z class purchased) – 7602. RDM’s (with 1K multiplier) – 5145 base plus 6174 bonus.

Flight boarded 10 minutes before scheduled boarding time. Even though the flight departed on time, we had to fly around weather HNL-MAJ, which put us about 30 minutes behind schedule for the rest of the trip. Great crew, very attentive throughout. They work very hard considering that after the first leg, they are constantly preparing for departure/arrival for the reminder of the time to GUM. The two FC FA’s had 32 and 36 years with the airline (going back to Air Mike days), and one FA in Y had 40 years.

I got off the plane at each stop (except KWA, where you can’t get off unless you’re terminating there). At each stop continuing passengers wanting to deplane are told to take all their belongings with them. They did let FC passengers leave their bags on the plane, promising to tell the agent that comes on to do a bag-match which ones are for continuing passengers. I saw up-thread where there was a mention of a mandatory deplaning by half the Y passengers at each stop. That didn’t happen at any of the stops on this flight. I had no problem getting passport stamps by going through the immigration line, then backtracking to the Transit Lounge afterwards.

Amenities at each stop were as previously described – very limited. You should definitely heed the advice to bring your own snacks. (I put pictures of the on-board meals in the “2018 Let’s Eat – United First, United Business…” thread.) In FC, it was: EWR-MAJ (breakfast), MAJ-KWA (snack basket), KWA-KSA (nuts), KSA-PNI (nuts), PNI-TKK (nuts), TKK-GUM (hot sandwich).

The flight crew not on duty were in 1AB, and they placed some of their bags on the 2AB seats, as those two seats aren’t assigned because of the extended recline of 1AB. The mechanic boarded at MAJ and rode in 7C the rest of the way to GUM. The crew bags took up most of the overhead space on the AB side, so there was limited overhead storage in that cabin. Note that 1AB and 2 AB are usually sold for shorter ex-GUM routes (like GUM-NRT I took the day after arrival in GUM). There’s a pin in the row 1 seats that is set on those flights to prevent the extended recline and allow normal pitch between the first two rows.

There was no WiFi, and the Directv system only showed 8 looped movies (4 Western, 4 Japanese). You can only watch a full movie on the HNL-MAJ leg, since the system is reset at each stop and there isn’t time to watch a movie all the way through (which isn’t why you’re on the flight anyway). There is a flight map, which annoyingly keeps cycling back to a map of the US. Prepare yourself to watch the safety video five times. By the safety video on the last leg, you’ll have your own music coming through your noise cancellation headphones turned all the way up and your eyes shut.

At each stop, the Transit lounge had some kind of food stand or (at PNI) a VIP lounge and cafť. Didn’t find out what the VIP lounge was. There was also some local crafts for sale, usually at the same food stand. The GA at some stops used a hand-held mic, and none of the stops had scanning equipment at the gate. The GA’s just looked at your BP. The boarding sequence was as it usually is, although at PNI, the GA boarded Business Class right after GS and before Zone 1.

Here are some photos, with limited shots from the window, although the view was spectacular at each landing. There may have been even better views by sitting on the left side for certain segments, but I was happy where I was and took loads of pictures of clear blue & green water, atolls ranging from sparse vegetation to wooded, and videos of every takeoff and landing. I had great seatmates on each leg, including a Majuro native heading to work at KWA, who was delighted to talk about his town, people, and culture. It’s a long way to go on a 738, but for me, I’m glad I did.


At gate in HNL


Each destination listed separately



Blocked seating 2AB


Crew rest 1AB


After the 5th time on the same flight watching the safety video, you say "rip" out loud at this moment in the film.


Limited movie offerings


Crew luggage


Crossing International Date Line


MAJ




Portable jetway used at each stop




Approach to MAJ



MAJ snack bar






Passport stamp from each stop except KWA


Onboard mechanic joins at MAJ, seated in 7C


Landed KWA


Portable jetway


Takeoff from KWA


Landed KSA


KSA departure lounge


at KSA


GA with handheld mic



Departing KSA


On way to PNI


Approach to PNI


Landed PNI




Flight deck






PNI Cafe & Lounge


PNI departure lounge





Boarding at PNI



View shortly after takeoff from PNI




On way to TKK



Approach to TKK


Landed TKK



Firetrucks appeared to greet us at each stop



Families waiting for arriving passengers at TKK




At TKK


TKK departure lounge






Lining up on TKK runway 22


On way to GUM



Approaching GUM



Landing GUM at sunset


Welcome to Guam




View exiting GUM airport

Last edited by tarheelnj; Jul 3, 2018 at 9:23 am Reason: spell check
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Old Jul 3, 2018, 12:50 am
  #690  
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj
<snip>
... I had great seatmates on each leg, including a Majuro native heading to work at KWA, who was delighted to talk about his town, people, and culture. Itís a long way to go on a 738, but for me, Iím glad I did.
Tell me about it! I had a really interesting seatmate on my flight (see link), and her comment was exactly the same. Apparently it costs a lot more to fly MAJ-HNL-xxx (MNL on that particular day) than to do the complete hopper and then GUM-MNL, so it's a rather common occurrence.
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