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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 Aug 27, 2018, 2:46 pm
  #706  
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Originally Posted by travelexpert
Does day of week matter for getting a lighter passenger load?
Probably, but not in any hugely significant way (I haven't figured out an obvious pattern). You should at least pick a day that makes all 5 stops, though
findark is online now  
Old Aug 27, 2018, 4:43 pm
  #707  
 
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Hey!
I'm thinking about doing the hopper in 2019, and I want to be prepared for the trip.
Few questions: From where/when do I get the cheapest flight? Any tips and tricks to know?
Is there a better time of the year to go in terms of weather?
Should I be concerned about delays? (Have heard a few bad stories out there)
And finally... is it worth investing in economy plus? I'm a non UA *A Gold member, so any chances for an upgrade?

Regards
BertilFTW is offline  
Old Aug 27, 2018, 6:01 pm
  #708  
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Originally Posted by BertilFTW
Few questions: From where/when do I get the cheapest flight? Any tips and tricks to know?
You can't get cheap fares from this route. End of story. (A lot of people travel this route on award ticket.)

Originally Posted by BertilFTW
Is there a better time of the year to go in terms of weather?
The islands are close the equator. So the weather is pretty the same all years.

Originally Posted by BertilFTW
Should I be concerned about delays? (Have heard a few bad stories out there)
Island Hopper does not involve plane change. So you should have nothing to worry unless you have any further connections.

Originally Posted by BertilFTW
And finally... is it worth investing in economy plus? I'm a non UA *A Gold member, so any chances for an upgrade?
No chance for upgrade. So investing in E+ is worthy for you.
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Old Aug 27, 2018, 6:31 pm
  #709  
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Originally Posted by garykung
You can't get cheap fares from this route. End of story. (A lot of people travel this route on award ticket.)
I did SEL-TYO-GUM-HNL-SFO for ~$700 a/i so I wouldn't categorically say that. They have been closing loopholes though, so without further research I can't say what's possible now.



Originally Posted by garykung
Island Hopper does not involve plane change. So you should have nothing to worry unless you have any further connections.
Forced overnight is a bonus
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Old Aug 28, 2018, 12:46 am
  #710  
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Originally Posted by findark
I did SEL-TYO-GUM-HNL-SFO for ~$700 a/i so I wouldn't categorically say that. They have been closing loopholes though, so without further research I can't say what's possible now.
I am talking about the Island Hopper alone.
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Old Aug 28, 2018, 1:41 am
  #711  
 
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Originally Posted by BertilFTW
Hey!
I'm thinking about doing the hopper in 2019, and I want to be prepared for the trip.
Few questions: From where/when do I get the cheapest flight? Any tips and tricks to know?
Is there a better time of the year to go in terms of weather?
Should I be concerned about delays? (Have heard a few bad stories out there)
And finally... is it worth investing in economy plus? I'm a non UA *A Gold member, so any chances for an upgrade?

Regards
HKG-GUM-UA200-HNL-UA154-GUM-HKG in most cases has great rate at $500~
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Old Sep 7, 2018, 10:04 am
  #712  
 
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Checked in and waiting at the gate for the hopper today!
I'm #2 on the upgrade list, with 16 capacity (-4 blocked seats) and 5 booked, 4 checked in so far. I think I might actually get up front!

But I really want a window seat so if they only have an aisle I might decline the upgrade and stick with 7F. Looking forward to this long day!
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Old Sep 7, 2018, 10:12 am
  #713  
 
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You might have to break it up by segment. Right now looks like. HNL-MAJ - plenty of windows, MAJ-KWA - no windows, KWA-KSA - plenty of windows, KSA-PNI - plenty of windows, PNI-TKK - one window, TKK-GUM - one window. Good luck!
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Old Sep 7, 2018, 10:49 am
  #714  
 
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Originally Posted by DealsRock
As a US passport holder, do I need any visas or anything for UA to allow me on this flight? I realize I won't be leaving the airports at the 5 stops.
Answered previously: No. But here's a related question: does a US citizen need a passport to travel on the Island Hopper, if they are ticketed all the way through HNL-GUM or GUM-HNL? The non-stop flights between those two points are doable with just a driver license if you're a US citizen.
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Old Sep 7, 2018, 11:16 am
  #715  
 
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Originally Posted by Steve M
Answered previously: No. But here's a related question: does a US citizen need a passport to travel on the Island Hopper, if they are ticketed all the way through HNL-GUM or GUM-HNL? The non-stop flights between those two points are doable with just a driver license if you're a US citizen.
I answered this question here earlier: https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/30161342-post65.html

Originally Posted by HkCaGu
You have left the country, so every bit of international requirement applies. It doesn't matter, and they can't be sure, whether you got off or didn't. Not only the FSM/RMI, but plenty of GUM-US travel goes through Japan. It doesn't matter if you entered Japan or stayed airside, you left the country.
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Old Sep 8, 2018, 8:48 pm
  #716  
 
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Few the hopper yesterday, wonderful experience. Some thoughts:

1) Yea it's a long day. Bring some food, although there is a not-great snack served on the first segment.

2) Easy to get passport stamps if you want them, you just have to ask. They seemed a little annoyed by this in Majuro so ask nicely!

3) Very easy to move around on the flight - so many of the passengers are locals and don't much care about the view, so it's not a big deal to swamp a window on one side for a window on the other side. The load varied greatly from segment to segment, but once we hit Phonpei it was packed.

4) On my flight, it was gorgeous and scenic from both sides, but you would be best seated on the left side of the aircraft. For sure.

5) The bulkhead, row 7, is pretty nice - there is space enough for a medium size backpack underneath the bulkhead so an ideal set.

Overall a great experience and a nice way to go from HNL to GUM. I wouldn't do it again - it's long day! But if you enjoy the open ocean and landing little islands, quick turnarounds, friendly crew, it's very cool.
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Old Sep 8, 2018, 9:06 pm
  #717  
 
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Oh and one more thing - the IFE is truly tragic. Bring your own entertainment unless you want to watch the first 45 minutes of Forrest Gump repeatedly
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Old Sep 9, 2018, 9:04 am
  #718  
 
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Originally Posted by PaxALotl
Oh and one more thing - the IFE is truly tragic. Bring your own entertainment unless you want to watch the first 45 minutes of Forrest Gump repeatedly
Worse was having to watch the Mardi Gras, etc-themed safety video 6 times in a row. That aside it was a wonderful experience and I'm glad I did it. I was happy with a window on the right side, but actually experience depends in some cases on wind direction (see Wiki) so YMMV. I had the same difficult time getting a passport stamp in MAJ ("we don't give out souvenirs here"), but it was worth it. Best two parts were 1) the views and 2) meeting the locals. And if you're in Y, definitely bring some food.
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Old Sep 13, 2018, 9:01 am
  #719  
 
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Hi All,

I'm about a month away from my Island Hopper experience eastbound on UA155. Couple of questions:

1) I'm currently in 8F with my wife. I think eastbound we're on the wrong side but there's confusing info, would it be better to move over to A/B?

2) I currently arrive into GUM at 150AM from NRT and depart on UA155 at 820AM. I don't think it's worth the hotel for a couple of hours. Is there a suitable place to lie down/sleep at the airport? Would like to be rested for the long flight ahead.

3) In terms of getting the stamps, is it matter of just going to an immigration kiosk and asking for a "souvenir" stamp and turning around and going back to the gate area? From what I read MAJ is the hardest to get one at.

Thanks!
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Old Sep 13, 2018, 2:22 pm
  #720  
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Originally Posted by Redwood839
I'm about a month away from my Island Hopper experience eastbound on UA155. Couple of questions:

1) I'm currently in 8F with my wife. I think eastbound we're on the wrong side but there's confusing info, would it be better to move over to A/B?
The wiki has the most comprehensive information available, but if you have access to only one side of the plane for the eastbound Hopper, I would absolutely stay on the F side. The prevailing approaches on the "big" islands that will be in daylight for you (particularly runway 9 at PNI and runway 5 at KSA) will be almost nothing other than open ocean from the A side.

It's a little more complicated for HNL-GUM since the prevailing approaches will involve circling which gives both sides views, and the F side better views, but if you land the other way only the A side gets views. Flying east, even if you get a reverse landing you will still overfly the airfield out to sea and the F side will still get the longer-range view.

Originally Posted by Redwood839
2) I currently arrive into GUM at 150AM from NRT and depart on UA155 at 820AM. I don't think it's worth the hotel for a couple of hours. Is there a suitable place to lie down/sleep at the airport? Would like to be rested for the long flight ahead.
I'm not sure, but GUM is a pretty bare-bones airport. I would recommend attempting an SDC to the earlier NRT-GUM if possible.

Originally Posted by Redwood839
3) In terms of getting the stamps, is it matter of just going to an immigration kiosk and asking for a "souvenir" stamp and turning around and going back to the gate area? From what I read MAJ is the hardest to get one at.
Follow the signs for arriving passengers to the immigration hut/building, ask for a stamp, and then make sure you don't actually go through immigration or you will be stuck on the island! The issue is that you need to be very upfront that you are a transit pax asking for a souvenir, and some customs people (especially at MAJ) don't want their time wasted by you.
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