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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 Jul 3, 2018, 6:26 am
  #691  
 
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Thanks for the report. Good memories
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Old Jul 3, 2018, 10:58 am
  #692  
 
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Thanks, tarheelnj! You've definitely convinced me to do the island hopper in October!
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Old Jul 3, 2018, 1:08 pm
  #693  
 
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I understand that I can't break the ticket into segments for my westbound hopper on Sept 7th, but I'm wondering what chances there are for an upgrade on the HNLGUM segment and how to increase those chances.

Right now, I'm set into seat 7F for the whole thing. But, it's showing available seats in J on the seat map. I just can't select one. Also, I did the upgrade request thing on United.com and now when I look at the seating map page I see two identical tabs for the HNL-GUM part. One of those is a regular seating map with my 7F seat chosen, the other only shows seats available up front but I can't get one.. I assume this is because I have a pending upgrade.

Are there any tricks to getting that upgrade done? So long as it's a window seat, I'd really like to get up front if possible.



Last edited by PaxALotl; Jul 3, 2018 at 2:10 pm
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Old Jul 3, 2018, 1:24 pm
  #694  
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
I understand that I can't break the ticket into segments for my westbound hopper on Sept 9th, but I'm wondering what chances there are for an upgrade on the HNLGUM segment and how to increase those chances.
Your only chance is for R space to open on the HNL-GUM direct flight. Inventory rules vary wildly - when I flew, there was D space but seldom on the through flight and I never saw any P space even. If you have not cleared by the time you get to the airport in HNL, you odds are basically nil. I don't think you're on 09-Sep UA132 since the seatmap doesn't match, but if you have PN space that might be a good sign.

Originally Posted by PaxALotl
Right now, I'm set into seat 7F for the whole thing. But, it's showing available seats in J on the seat map. I just can't select one. Also, I did the upgrade request thing on United.com and now when I look at the seating map page I see two identical tabs for the HNL-GUM part. One of those is a regular seating map with my 7F seat chosen, the other only shows seats available up front but I can't get one.. I assume this is because I have a pending upgrade.
This is normal when applying an instrument upgrade.

Originally Posted by PaxALotl
Are there any tricks to getting that upgrade done? So long as it's a window seat, I'd really like to get up front if possible.
Other than splitting the segments, no.
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Old Jul 3, 2018, 2:12 pm
  #695  
 
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But, if R space opens on the direct flight, I'll skip it - I really want to take the hopper this time!

I am on the Sept. 7 hopper (made a typo up above), flight 154 and that's the seatmap I'm getting.

From what I've learned, there is little hope of splitting the segments beforehand. IF that's true, is it best to try and split it up during check in, and then grab any available upgrades then? I am fine i seat 7F but if there's a way to move up, I'd go for it.
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Old Jul 3, 2018, 2:36 pm
  #696  
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
But, if R space opens on the direct flight, I'll skip it - I really want to take the hopper this time!
Sorry, by "direct flight" I meant UA154 HNL-GUM, as distinct from R being available on any individual segment. J8 P7 PN0 at the moment.. anything could happen, really, although through R space is somewhat rare.

Originally Posted by PaxALotl
I am on the Sept. 7 hopper (made a typo up above), flight 154 and that's the seatmap I'm getting.

From what I've learned, there is little hope of splitting the segments beforehand. IF that's true, is it best to try and split it up during check in, and then grab any available upgrades then? I am fine i seat 7F but if there's a way to move up, I'd go for it.
Your odds of splitting don't improve at check-in, and I would avoid messing with a complicated ticket with so little time to fix it if it gets messed up.
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Old Aug 3, 2018, 9:04 pm
  #697  
 
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Some info regarding the island hopper:

Because of duty limitations in the new contract, GUM crews will no longer fly the island hopper in its entirety instead they will fly all legs to MAJ and layover in MAJ. An HNL crew will fly the last leg to HNL. Reverse HNL crew will fly the first leg to MAJ and layover in MAJ where the GUM crew will take over and fly the remaining portion to GUM.
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Old Aug 4, 2018, 4:12 am
  #698  
 
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Originally Posted by JOSECONLSCREW28
Some info regarding the island hopper:

Because of duty limitations in the new contract, GUM crews will no longer fly the island hopper in its entirety instead they will fly all legs to MAJ and layover in MAJ. An HNL crew will fly the last leg to HNL. Reverse HNL crew will fly the first leg to MAJ and layover in MAJ where the GUM crew will take over and fly the remaining portion to GUM.
Not sure if good for GUM crew or not, but I liked having the same crew for the whole HNL-GUM trip. They are some of the longest tenured FA's in UA's system. One other downside if you're in J. You may have to take your carry-on with you if you want to get off the plane in MAJ, since the FA's won't remain on the plane to cover for you for the positive-bag-match they do at each stop.

Last edited by tarheelnj; Aug 4, 2018 at 4:26 am
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Old Aug 4, 2018, 6:07 am
  #699  
 
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj
Not sure if good for GUM crew or not, but I liked having the same crew for the whole HNL-GUM trip. They are some of the longest tenured FA's in UA's system. One other downside if you're in J. You may have to take your carry-on with you if you want to get off the plane in MAJ, since the FA's won't remain on the plane to cover for you for the positive-bag-match they do at each stop.
Actually, since there is a crew change, I wonder if everyone has to deplane now, including bags. This would increase the turn time at MAJ and the overall trip length of the Hopper.
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Old Aug 5, 2018, 11:55 am
  #700  
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Originally Posted by JOSECONLSCREW28
Some info regarding the island hopper:

Because of duty limitations in the new contract, GUM crews will no longer fly the island hopper in its entirety instead they will fly all legs to MAJ and layover in MAJ. An HNL crew will fly the last leg to HNL. Reverse HNL crew will fly the first leg to MAJ and layover in MAJ where the GUM crew will take over and fly the remaining portion to GUM.
Sad not to keep the consistent service, but it was kind of crazy that the FAs were on duty for 14+ hours straight. Does this mean that the augmented flight crew is also gone, due to the change in MAJ?

Originally Posted by SFO 1K
Actually, since there is a crew change, I wonder if everyone has to deplane now, including bags. This would increase the turn time at MAJ and the overall trip length of the Hopper.
I'm not super familiar with the rules, but I assume they could board the new crew first, which would remove this requirement.
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Old Aug 6, 2018, 9:52 am
  #701  
 
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I'm flying the hopper in just a few weeks and will report back!
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Old Aug 26, 2018, 11:15 pm
  #702  
 
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Thinking about going solo January or Feb next year.

A few questions:

1. Will definitely fly HNL-GUM. How much will I gain by returning to HNL on the hopper rather than nonstop?

2. Upgrade does not seem the optimal strategy since will either be (a) stuck in the window (hate that if is a "stranger" in aisle) or (b) if select aisle and window is occupied, will have dramatically reduced viewing. Better strategy is to get an entire row in coach. Which day of week will give the highest likelihood for getting an entire open row--or is that a rare occurrence? I have no problem not sitting in economy plus--back seat of aircraft is just fine.

3. Is sitting on right or left of aircraft HNL-GUM likely to provide the more favorable views?
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Old Aug 26, 2018, 11:30 pm
  #703  
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Originally Posted by travelexpert
1. Will definitely fly HNL-GUM. How much will I gain by returning to HNL on the hopper rather than nonstop?
I think you get your fill of island hopping by doing it once - coming back on the Hopper again without stopping over on an island is overkill. Depending on how your fare is constructed, consider coming home via NRT and visiting Japan.

Originally Posted by travelexpert
2. Upgrade does not seem the optimal strategy since will either be (a) stuck in the window (hate that if is a "stranger" in aisle) or (b) if select aisle and window is occupied, will have dramatically reduced viewing. Better strategy is to get an entire row in coach. Which day of week will give the highest likelihood for getting an entire open row--or is that a rare occurrence? I have no problem not sitting in economy plus--back seat of aircraft is just fine.
Your odds of getting an entire row to yourself are probably about the same in Y and J, which is to say pretty small. Some of the interior segments like KSA-PNI are more lightly booked; for example, when I flew our J cabin went out something like 8 (+4 blocked) / 16, but HNL-KWA and TKK-GUM frequently sell out.

Originally Posted by travelexpert
3. Is sitting on right or left of aircraft HNL-GUM likely to provide the more favorable views?
I can't do better than the long description in the wiki of approach paths and views
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Old Aug 27, 2018, 6:23 am
  #704  
 
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Originally Posted by travelexpert
Thinking about going solo January or Feb next year.

A few questions:

1. Will definitely fly HNL-GUM. How much will I gain by returning to HNL on the hopper rather than nonstop?

2. Upgrade does not seem the optimal strategy since will either be (a) stuck in the window (hate that if is a "stranger" in aisle) or (b) if select aisle and window is occupied, will have dramatically reduced viewing. Better strategy is to get an entire row in coach. Which day of week will give the highest likelihood for getting an entire open row--or is that a rare occurrence? I have no problem not sitting in economy plus--back seat of aircraft is just fine.

3. Is sitting on right or left of aircraft HNL-GUM likely to provide the more favorable views?
+1 to findark's comments

Don't come back GUM-HNL on the Hopper, as some of the flight is at night with not much of a view. Depending on where you're going next and how quickly you need to get there, the NRT connection may make the most sense. (For example, the GUM-HNL nonstop misses the daily HNL-EWR nonstop.)

You have to have a window seat (read the Wiki for the best seats). If you're concerned about feeling trapped, only the HNL-MAJ flight is the long one - the rest of the flights are relatively short. More importantly, you could have an interesting seatmate which will add to the experience. On the MAJ-KWA leg, I sat next to a Majoran native and spent a great flight hearing about his community and culture.
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Old Aug 27, 2018, 2:23 pm
  #705  
 
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Originally Posted by findark
Your odds of getting an entire row to yourself are probably about the same in Y and J, which is to say pretty small. Some of the interior segments like KSA-PNI are more lightly booked; for example, when I flew our J cabin went out something like 8 (+4 blocked) / 16, but HNL-KWA and TKK-GUM frequently sell out.
Does day of week matter for getting a lighter passenger load?
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